The 2017 MLB season is nearly one-month old, and we're starting to get an idea of which teams and players are for real, and which ones are going to disappoint.
Baseball is the sport that draws the most usage of that annoying cliche "It's still early." So the 6-16 Toronto Blue Jays are going to turn things around because they made it to the ALCS in 2015 or 2016? The last-place Kansas City Royals will surge soon because "it's still early"?
Yours truly believes only a few short weeks are needed to determine the direction of a team and a player throughout the season. Thanks to baseball science (especially you, FanGraphs), it's not hard to guess which struggling players will finish 2017 in major disappointment and shame.
Hey, there's always the chance I could be wrong. But there are 15 MLB players whose track record suggests they're not going to overcome tough starts in 2017. Here's a look at who those 15 players are...
*Stats courtesy of ESPN.com*
15 Alex Gordon
After winning the World Series in 2015, the budget-conscious Kansas City Royals opted to keep stud outfielder Alex Gordon -- re-signing him to a four-year deal worth $72 million. But it's been well-documented that the Royals' top stars are soon to become free agents, and the low market ball club won't be able to keep most of them.
So the fact they chose to keep Gordon, who is significantly underachieving right now, only adds to the frustration for Kansas City. Gordon batted .271 in 2015 with and .809 OPS, but his numbers have gone down significantly since.
Gordon batted just.220 with a .692 OPS in 2016, and his start in 2017 has been dreadful. Gordon's batting just .188 with a .495 OPS. The Royals offence is the worst in baseball right now, and Gordon's a big reason why. Don't expect him to turn things around on this slumping team.
14 Dexter Fowler
Fowler played a huge role in helping the Chicago Cubs end their 108-year World Series drought. As a premier leadoff hitter, Dexter Fowler hit 13 home runs, stole 13 bases with a .276 batting average, .840 OPS and 4.3 WAR. He set himself up nicely for a huge deal in the winter, and the St. Louis Cardinals handed Fowler a five-year deal worth $82.5 million.
But Fowler hasn't been able to bring much to the plate for St. Louis. He's batting just .224, has struck out 24 times in 85 at bats with a woeful .683 OPS. Fowler has also posted a very mere 0.1 WAR.
Fowler was an ideal fit for the Cubs, but the slumping Cardinals are struggling as a whole. Fowler just hasn't been accustomed to playing for a new team, and the 31-year-old hasn't been an elite player for a few years now. Expect the Cardinals to wish for a mulligan by season's end, while Fowler ends 2017 in disappointment.
13 Byron Buxton
The Minnesota Twins have been among baseball's worst teams since 2011, and after years of frustration and disappointment, they finally found a franchise star to build around -- 23-year-old centerfielder, Byron Buxton.
But the promising speedster has been anything but a franchise star so far. He played 46 games in 2015 and batted just .209 while finishing with 44 strikeouts in just 129 at bats. The Twins hoped Buxton could finally put it together in his first full season last year, but he batted just .225 with 10 home runs.
Hoping 2017 would be Buxton's breakout year, the Twins haven't seen him put it together. Again. He's batting .145 with a .420 OPS and has struck out 28 times in 62 at bats. Looks like the Twins are going to have to wait even longer for Buxton to break out.
12 J.A. Happ
The Toronto Blue Jays idea of replacing David Price in free agency last winter was to sign J.A. Happ to a three-year deal worth $36 million. Man, J.A. Happ should have included an opt-out in the first year of the contract, because he would have gotten paid big time.
Happ became the ace of Toronto's rotation in 2016, going 20-4 with a 3.18 ERA, 163 strikeouts and 1.17 WHIP. Regression was inevitable in 2017, because 33-year-old pitchers don't suddenly become Cy Young-caliber throwers. Unfortunately for the Jays, the regression for Happ has been worse than expected.
He's 0-3 so far with a 4.50 ERA, racking up just 20 strikeouts through those three appearances. Happ hasn't been fanning batters as much and has had problems locating his pitch. He was recently put on the DL with a sore elbow -- which is concerning for a pitcher in his mid-30s'. 2016 was a great year for Happ, but it's tough to see him fulfilling high expectations in 2017. Age and injuries may be catching up to him.
11 Ben Zobrist
2016 was a big year for Ben Zobrist. The career utility man batted .272 for the Chicago Cubs, along with 18 home runs, 76 RBI, 96 walks, an .832 OPS and a 3.8 WAR. He was a hero for Chicago in the World Series against the Cleveland Indians, batting over .300 in every single game of the Fall Classic. He took home MVP honors after his clutch performance in Game 7.
But it appears as though age has finally caught up to the 35-year-old. Zobrist is batting just .197 and has only 12 hits on the season. Zobrist's OPS is .647, and it's been higher than .800 in each of the past four years. He's played in the outfield and at first and second base this season -- but he's struggled defensively everywhere.
Zobrist has never been a star, but rather a serviceable piece. He's been a huge liability for the Cubs, and the World Series MVP may no longer be much of an impact player at this point.
10 Bartolo Colon
Bartolo Colon is one of my favourite MLB players ever. I remember playing with him in the Nintendo 64 game, Major League Baseball Featuring Ken Griffey Jr., as a young kid. It's amazing that the 43-year-old is still playing, but 2017 could finally be the end of a remarkable journey for the ageless Colon.
Colon posted double-digit wins every year from 2012 to 2016. That includes a 15-8 season last year that saw Colon post a 3.43 ERA while racking up 128 strikeouts. But Colon has struggled early during his time with the Atlanta Braves. He's just 1-2 with a 4.50 ERA, and ESPN.com projects him to finish with an 8-16 record.
It's been nice to see Colon dominate batters for two decades, but it appears as though the former Cy Young winner is finally experiencing father time.
9 Edwin Encarnacion
Edwin Encarnacion -- the long-time slugger for the Toronto Blue Jays -- was supposed to get over $100 million in this past winter's free agent market. At least, Encarnacion and his agent thought so. He wound up settling for a three-year deal worth $60 million with the Cleveland Indians. Let's just say Encarnacion probably wishes he took the Jays' four-year offer worth $80 million.
Encarnacion has hit over 30 home runs in the past five seasons -- including 42 home runs and a career-best 127 RBI last season. Expected to add more power to the defending A.L. champions, Encarnacion is batting just .213 with four home runs and nine RBI on the season. His .387 slugging percentage is well below his career .497 total, too.
Playing at Progressive Field, which is far less hitter friendly than Rogers Centre, can explain some of Encarnacion's contributions. Considering how his strike out rate was way up in 2016, it's easy to believe that a 34-year-old Encarnacion's regression has already begun. Expect his first year in Cleveland to be a big disappointment.
8 Justin Verlander
Justin Verlander, the 2011 AL Cy Young and MVP winner, hasn't quite been the extremely dominant pitcher we witnessed some years ago. His ERA was below 3.00 in 2011 and 2012, but it was 3.46 in 2013 and 4.54 in 2014. Coming off of three-straight inconsistent years, Verlander went 16-9 in 2016 with a 3.04 ERA -- nearly losing out to Rick Porcello in A.L. Cy Young voting.
But expecting Verlander (now 34 years old with plenty of mileage on is arm), to remain an elite pitcher was probably asking for too much. He's once again showing his age thus far in 2017 -- going 1-2 with a 4.60 ERA with 30 strikeouts against 13 walks. Those are very mere numbers for Verlander's standards.
He's going to remain a decent pitcher, but Verlander's 2017 season will likely wind up a disappointment. The track record suggests he's closer to declining than to winning another Cy Young.
7 Carlos Gonzalez
CarGo has been the face of the Colorado Rockies potent lineup since 2010, but the 31-year-old has been struggling with unexplained inconsistency over the last few seasons. Take a look at his stats over the last four seasons:
2013: .302 BA, 26 HR, 70 RBI, 5.0 WAR
2014: .238 BA, 11 HR, 38 RBI, -0.7 WAR (limited to 70 games)
2015: .271 BA, 40 HR, 97 RBI, 3.0 WAR
2016: .298 BA, 25 HR, 100 RBI, 2.2 WAR
Figuratively, Carlos Gonzalez has struggled early on in 2017. He's batting .211 with two home runs, five RBI and a terrible -0.6 WAR. Right now, he's on pace to finish with 14 home runs and 35 RBI -- which would be his worst numbers since 2009 (when he only played 89 games).
Given his all-around inconsistency, expect the Rockies' big-named slugger to end 2017 in disappointing fashion.
6 David Price
The Boston Red Sox really needed an ace, so they went out to sign former A.L. Cy Young winner David Price to a seven-year deal worth $217 million. Though his 17-9 record seems fancy on paper, it was the worst season Price had since 2009 -- his first full year in the majors.
Price posted a 3.99 ERA and 1.20 WHIP while allowing 30 home runs and 102 runs (all far-and-away career worsts). Price has yet to play in 2017 due to soreness in his throwing elbow. That's incredibly alarming for a soon-to-be 32-year-old pitcher that relies so much on his velocity. Many have noted the declining velocity from Price's fastball in 2016, too.
His first year in Boston was fairly disappointing. Price is also on the wrong side of 30, is dealing with elbow problems and is losing some speed on his pitches. That's not the recipe in a former star turning it around -- but declining even more.
5 Matt Moore
The San Francisco Giants traded for Matt Moore at last year's trade deadline, and he proved to be a great pickup. Moore went 6-5 in 12 stars with 69 strikeouts and a 4.08 ERA. He pitched well in his lone postseason game -- allowing just two hits and one earned run in eight innings -- though the Giants' bullpen cost Moore the win.
Hoping the promising young pitcher could pick up where he left off last season, Moore (along with most of the Giants' rotation), has struggled significantly and hasn't been able to put it together. He's gone 1-3 with a woeful 4.80 ERA and 1.37 WHIP, with 25 strikeouts against nine walks. Given how the Giants are struggling, and the fact it's an odd year, don't expect Moore to rebound in 2017. Maybe 2018, though.
4 Rick Porcello
Rick Porcello took home the A.L. Cy Young in 2016 following a breakout year that saw him go 22-4 with a 3.15 ERA, 1.01 WHIP and a whopping 189 strikeouts. His efforts propelled the Boston Red Sox to the American League East title. Throw in the addition of Chris Sale in the offseason, and Porcello was supposed to help front arguably baseball's best rotation. He hasn't done that by any means.
Porcello is 1-3 on the season with a terrible 4.75 ERA, 1.48 WHIP and nine walks allowed (after allowing just 32 in 223 innings pitched last year). But it didn't take long to figure Porcello would regress, given how he was previously a career mid-rotation pitcher.
Believe it or not, one-year wonders do happen in baseball. Porcello may just be one of the many we've seen in this era.
3 Jose Bautista
Heading into the 2016 season, reports indicated that JoeyBats wanted a six-year deal worth $150 million when his contract expired. Jose Bautista did absolutely nothing to show he was even worth HALF of that in 2016 -- hitting just .234 (his career batting average is .254), with 22 home runs, 69 RBI and a whopping 103 strikeouts.
Bautista had hit no fewer than 27 home runs in his previous six seasons (that includes three 40-home run seasons), and rarely struck out. But Bautista struck out a ton in 2016 and wasn't able to find his old power.
2017 has been even worse for Bautista. He's batting just .163 with one home run and 29 strikeouts in 80 at bats. His defensive WAR in right field is just -0.3 -- and believe us --the guy used to be a stud in the outfield.
Age caught up to Bautista in 2016. He had the chance to turn it around in 2017, but it looks like age caught up to him even faster than he had hoped.
2 Felix Hernandez
For the better part of the past decade, no American League pitcher was more dominant nor consistent than Seattle Mariners ace Felix Hernandez. This man owns a 156-111 career record with a 3.18 ERA, 2,286 strikeouts and won the 2010 American League Cy Young. Hernandez logged over 200 innings pitched every year from 2008 to 2015 and has four seasons of 200-plus strikeouts under his belt.
But Hernandez showed signs of slowing down gradually in 2016 -- going just 11-8 with a 3.82 ERA, 1.32 WHIP and 65 walks. Hernandez has looked even worse in 2017 thus far, going 2-2 with a 4.73 ERA and 14 earned runs through just 26.2 innings pitched.
Hernandez recently went on the DL with pain in his "dead arm". With all that mileage on the 31-year-old's body, we've definitely seen the best years of King Felix. Now, we'll slowly yet sadly watch the decline continue...
1 Andrew McCutchen
Andrew McCutchen was able to turn the long-time losing Pittsburgh Pirates around and led them to three-straight playoff berths from 2013 to 2015. The five-time All-Star and 2013 National League MVP is 30 years of age, yet has started to play like he's 10 years older. The numbers in 2016 show that 'Cutch' is probably in the midst of what will be a rapid decline.
He batted .256 with a .766 OPS, along with 24 home runs, 79 RBI and a WAR of -0.7. That's right, McCutchen's WAR was negative -- essentially meaning the Pirates would have been better without him last season.
Those numbers were far off McCutchen's career batting average of .291 and .866 OPS. His defence isn't what it used to be, and he's not much of a contact nor a power hitter anymore. McCutchen is batting just .250 with three home runs this season. Expect the Pirates star to lose control of his ship again in 2017.
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