From the Windup is FanHouse's daily, extended look at a particular portion of America's pastime.
As the final week of the regular season unfolds, millions of baseball fans across the nation are being treated to several close races.
Except for me, of course. I live near Detroit, and the only race the Tigers are involved in is the race to avoid last place. And after losing 6-2 to the Royals last night, the chances the Tigers might take sole possession of the AL Central's basement by Wednesday is a very real possibility.
This got me thinking: the Tigers have to be the most disappointing team in the majors, right? (It's actually been a recurring thought all year, but now seems like an appropriate time to dwell on it ...) They have the second-highest payroll in baseball and haven't been relevant since opening the year with seven straight losses.
As I see it, no other team comes close.
The Yankees had a disappointing final season in their stadium, but at least they're guaranteed a winning record (and haven't officially been eliminated from the playoffs, though that should happen any day now). The Rockies hoped for a chance to defend their NL pennant, but last year's finish was a little too incredible to be surprised by a let-down this season. I didn't expect the Mariners to be the worst team in the majors, but I also never thought they'd contend. Plus, this year wasn't a complete waste; at least they rid themselves of Bill Bavasi.
If the Tigers have been this year's most disappointing team, who's been the game's most disappointing players? It's a fuzzy question, so let's try to establish some guidelines.
When Tim Marchman of the New York Sun tried to determine who was the game's least valuable player a couple of weeks ago, one of his criteria was that the player received regular at-bats and was "bad to no purpose." In other words, he ruled out players whose bad seasons could be considered growing pains to a brighter future. His selection, the completely useless Gary Matthews Jr., fits the bill.
But our use of the term "disappointing" obviously implies there were once high expectations before the season. Matthews, while certainly not very valuable, can't be included on your list since no one expected anything from him in the first place.
Should injured players be included? I don't see why not. Not to kick a guy when he's down, but we're talking about failed expectations, pure and simple. That said, someone who tried to play through an injury and had their numbers adversely affected (see: Bedard, Erik) certainly deserves the benefit of the doubt over someone whose general suckitude has no explanation (see: Francouer, Jeff).
So who makes up the All-Disappointment Team? Let's take a look:
Catcher:Kenji Johjima. After hitting .291 (103 OPS+) as a rookie and .287 (101 OPS+) last year, Johjima was just plain awful this year with a .215 average (56 OPS+).
First Base: We all know Todd Helton will never again be the hitter he once was, but did anyone see this year coming? After hitting .320 (133 OPS+) over 154 games last year, he's slipped all the way down to .264 (100 OPS+) in 83 this year. In his defense even in his worst year he's a league-average hitter, but he's set the bar too high throughout his entire career to be satisfied with that.
Dishonorable mention:Daric Barton, 23, may have a bright future, but he certainly had a dim season, hitting just .215 over 427 at-bats.
Shortstop: Troy Tulowitzki
Dishonorable mention: Edgar Renteria Khalil Greene
Third Base: Ryan Zimmerman David Wright
Outfield: Andruw Jones
Compared to Jones' downard spiral, Jeff Francoeur's fall from grace doesn't actually look that bad. The bad news is that a brief trip down to the minors did little to change his approach. The good news is that he's still only 24 years old and can theoretically bounce back next season. He's hitting just .216 against lefties this year after murdering them in the past. He's still too aggressive for my tastes, but if that trend reverses itself next year, a bounce-back season isn't out of the question.
Kosuke Fukudome's season numbers aren't too far off from preseason expecations, but it's almost comical the way he's faded: after hitting .305 in April, he's proceeded to hit .293 in May, .264 in June, .236 in July, .193 in August and .179 in September. Rarely do you see a player fall apart with such symmetry.
Starting Pitcher: Let's just put every Tigers starter not named Armando Galarraga right here. Of the 40 American League starters who pitched enough innings to qualify for the ERA crown, Justin Verlander (4.87 ERA) ranked 35th , Kenny Rogers (5.70 ERA) 38th and Nate Robertson (6.15 ERA) dead last. Of course, that doesn't include Dontrelle Willis (10.61 ERA), who was so bad early in the year he spent most of the season in the minors, $29 million extension and all.
Closer: At least you can't fault Eric Gagne's timing: he signed a $10 million contract with the Brewers just days before it was revealed he appeared in the Mitchell Report. Needless to say, he won't be signing another eight-figure contract this winter, not after posting a 5.82 ERA while saving just 10 of 17 games.