Baseball’s Biggest Underachievers

The season’s second half is now well under way, and patterns are now mostly established for the kind of season each player will have. Daniel Murphy’s having a great season, Andrew McCutchen isn’t, and Matt Harvey…well, let’s forget this one for him. Several players had projected to do much better than what they’ve produced. It’s still early enough in the season for them to recover, but it’s starting to get a little late.  Let’s have a look at some of baseball’s biggest underachievers this season:

Jason Heyward:

He makes this list courtesy of the monster eight-year, $184M contract he signed with the Chicago Cubs before the season began. He’s a defensive whiz, but we all keep waiting for an offensive outburst after his stellar 27-homer, 21-steal campaign with the Atlanta Braves in 2012. But that was four years and two teams ago, and now it’s the end of July and Heyward is batting just .234 with four home runs and 28 RBI. His WAR, which was a robust 6.5 last year, is now a 1.6. The Cubs are still in first place and should be fine, which helps keep the focus off the offense he’s providing for that contract.

Andrew McCutchen:

This man has gotten MVP votes each of the past four seasons and won the award in 2013, but he’s floundering this season along with his Pittsburgh Pirates. His WAR in 2013 was 8.1, and it dipped to a 6.3 before hitting 4.9 last season. Right now, it’s an unsightly -0.5 and it’s fair to wonder if he’s hurt. McCutchen’s batting .242 right now. He does have 14 home runs, but here’s a guy who used to get 20-30 steals a season and now sits at three. There has even been some rumbling of trade talk, which was inconceivable when he and the Pirates were soaring instead of scuffling.

Jose Bautista:

Bautista managed to hit a low-for-him 12 home runs in 65 games for the Toronto Blue Jays before hitting the disabled list with turf toe, but it’s his .230 batting average that also puts him on this list. He is playing rehab games now, and should be back soon. A guy who slugged 75 homers with a .921 OPS the past two seasons has a long way to go if this season – his first non-All-Star campaign since 2009 – is to measure up to his norms.

Billy Burns:

The Oakland A’s possibly had a rising star last season when Burns hit .294 with 26 stolen bases and 70 runs scored, and then finished fifth in Rookie of the Year voting. He stole 14 bases this year but his anemic .234 batting average (.173 over his last 31 games) saw him getting increasingly less playing time. He’s now suiting up for the Triple-A Nashville Sounds.

Ken Giles:

The Houston Astros gave up Vince Velasquez and four others for Giles, probably expecting him to be their closer of the future after two stellar up-and-coming years with the Philadelphia Phillies. Giles lost the closer’s job in spring training to Luke Gregerson (who later lost it to Will Harris), and has struggled in middle relief this season. He still gets the strikeouts, with 52 of them in 38 2/3 innings, but his ERA now sits at 4.19 and his 1.34 WHIP is a tough number for a would-be closer to carry. He’s improved since a horrid April and ugly May, but it doesn’t seem like he’ll be closing anytime soon. He might yet have a bright future, but his season thus far has clouded it a bit.

Justin Upton:

Upton signed a big deal with the Detroit Tigers last season that will net him $133 million over six years, but so far he hasn’t quite produced at the level that Tigers executives expected. His 0.0 WAR this season is far cry from last year’s 4.4 with the San Diego Padres. His batting average has gone from .270 in 2014 to last year’s .251 to the current .237. He has 10 home runs to go with a fairly anemic 39 RBIs. His 114 strikeouts so far this season are nearly more than his full-season totals in his big years with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2011-2012. Only five more years to go after this one, Tigers fans.

Dallas Keuchel:

Last year’s Cy Young Award winner (and New York Yankees Wild Card vanquisher) has had an ugly season. Last year’s sparkling 20 wins and 2.48 ERA has turned into a 6-9 record with a 4.70 ERA. He’s already given up more earned runs this season than he did in either of the past two. Keuchel’s pitched better over his past handful of starts, and the Astros are hoping that continues as they chase the suddenly vulnerable Texas Rangers for the division lead.

Trevor Rosenthal:

Rosenthal established himself as a top closer with the St. Louis Cardinals, saving 93 games over the past two seasons with a 2.70 ERA. He made the All-Star team last season and even got some MVP votes, and at just 25 years old he was poised for years of dominance. He’s notched 14 saves this season, but he melted when the weather got warmer. A 9.90 ERA in June and an 8.31 ERA in July cost him his closer’s job, and manager Mike Matheny currently doesn’t plan to use him in close games. That’s a pretty amazing fall from the perch he’s been on the past few seasons.

Erick Aybar:

The Atlanta Braves traded for him in the offseason because… well, we don’t really know why they do anything these days. Aybar was a proven commodity with a .273 batting average while averaging 14 steals for the past three seasons with the Angels. Now, in a season that included a chicken-bone injury (you read that right), he’s batting .213 with two stolen bases. His OPS+, which adjusts for ballpark factors, is 43. According to the Wall Street Journal, that would be the lowest for any player in a full season since 1980. He’s 32 years old now, and set to become a free agent after this season. Good luck.

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