While looking forward to the 2014 MLB postseason, the beginning of the playoffs also presents an opportunity to look back at the regular season that was. This one really seemed to whiz by quickly, as bigger storylines dominated the headlines and national narrative, rolling over the smaller developments that we often take time to examine and appreciate.
That period of reflection includes highlighting those players that had disappointing seasons, failing to meet expectations set forth during the winter and spring. As the regular season came to a close, baseball largely focused on the teams that experienced September collapses, such as the A's, Braves and Brewers. But there were plenty of individual collapses as well, some of which pulled their respective teams down with them. Yet others may have struggled while their clubs excelled.
Attempting to be fair by taking injuries into consideration (in addition to whether or not much was expected from these players before the season), here is the 2014 All-Disappointment Team, position-by-position.
The 2014 All-Disappointment team
Catcher: A.J. Pierzynski, Boston Red Sox
Putting Pierzynski on this list may indicate that it was a mistake to expect much from a 37-year-old catcher. But the veteran was supposed to supply some of the left-handed power that left when Jacoby Ellsbury and Jarrod Saltalamacchia signed elsewhere. That offense would make up for Pierzynski’s defensive shortcomings behind the plate.
Instead, he slugged .348 with four home runs, a significant drop-off from his 2013 performance with the Rangers. With the team in last place, Boston decided to give catching prospect Christian Vazquez a look, and Pierzynski was designated for assignment in early July.
(Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty Images)
First Base: Chris Davis, Baltimore Orioles
Amazingly, the O’s were still able to win the AL East handily and field a potent lineup despite their top slugger suffering a major decline. Davis dropped from 53 homers in 2013 to 26 this season, and from 42 doubles to 16, while his OPS plummeted 300 points from 1.004 to .704. Oh, and he hit .196.
And if Davis’ diminished performance wasn’t bad enough, he was also suspended 25 games after testing positive for amphetamine use. That cost him the final 17 games of the regular season, as well as eight playoff games, should the Orioles advance that far into the postseason.
(Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
Second Base: Jedd Gyorko, San Diego Padres
On a team desperate for run-producing bats, the Padres looked like they had an impact hitter for the present and future in Gyorko. After leading the team with 23 homers and 61 RBI last season, San Diego signed him to a five-year, $35 million contract extension.
Gyorko was hampered by foot and hamstring injuries, but his production was far less than what the Padres expected when making a long-term investment in him. He finished with a .210 average, .612 OPS, 1o home runs and 51 RBI, hardly what a team seeks from a potential cornerstone player.
(Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)
Shortstop: Jed Lowrie, Oakland Athletics
Coming off a 2013 season during which Lowrie hit .290 with a .791 OPS, 45 doubles, 15 homers and 75 RBI, shortstop was not expected to be a problem for the A’s this year. Instead, Oakland’s middle infield was a weakness throughout the season, an issue the team never addressed, choosing instead to double-down on starting pitching.
Lowrie was hardly the AL’s worst shortstop, but his production took a noticeable dive from 2013 — especially in May and June, during which he batted .187. Lowrie was one of the A’s better batters in September, but that probably speaks more to the lack of production from Oakland’s lineup during their tailspin.
(Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Third Base: Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay Rays
Tampa Bay was viewed by many as a preseason favorite for the AL pennant. That was surely contingent upon their best hitter putting up MVP-caliber numbers. Instead, Longoria had arguably the worst season of his career for a Rays club that performed far below expectations.
Though he played 162 games for the first time in seven seasons, resulting in 700 plate appearances, Longoria posted his lowest totals in the triple-slash categories, compiling a .253/.320/.404 average. He also struggled in the field, notching a negative Defensive Runs Saved total and below-average Ultimate Zone Rating for the first time in his career.
(Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
Left Field: Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals
Prior to the season, it might have been difficult to believe that the Nationals would finish with the best record in the NL without a MVP-level performance from Harper. But that’s exactly what happened, as a deep Nats lineup overcame the struggles of its young star.
To be fair, a thumb injury (one which required surgery) kept Harper sidelined for 59 games and manager Matt Williams seemed to want to make an example of him early on. But Harper compiled an .821 OPS with 11 home runs in the second half of the season, helping the Nats pull away from the competition in the NL.
(Photo by Brian Garfinkel/Getty Images)
Center Field: Jackie Bradley, Jr., Boston Red Sox
Taking over the starting center field job from Jacoby Ellsbury on the defending World Series champions was asking a lot from Bradley. Ultimately, the rookie showed he wasn’t up to the challenge, hitting .198 with a .531 OPS and 121 strikeouts in 423 plate appearances.
Bradley was outstanding defensively in center field, credited with 14 Defensive Runs Saved, but that wasn’t enough to compensate for his poor hitting. Amid rumblings of being stubborn to work with coaches, the 24-year-old was demoted to the minor leagues. With the emergence of Mookie Betts and the signing of Cuban outfielder Rusney Castillo, Bradley’s future in Boston looks extremely uncertain.
(Photo by Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
Right Field: Jay Bruce, Cincinnati Reds
Cincinnati finished with the third-fewest runs in the NL this season, squandering an excellent performance from its pitching staff. There is plenty of blame to go around the Reds’ lineup, but Bruce stands out as a primary culprit.
While plagued by a knee injury that required surgery, his .217 average and .654 OPS were the worst of his career by far. Bruce also hit fewer than 20 home runs for the first time in his seven MLB seasons, totaling 18. That knee also surely affected Bruce in the field, where he was credited with -7 Defensive Runs Saved, far below his typical level of play.
(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Starting Pitcher: Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers
“What is wrong with Justin Verlander?” was a question hanging over the Tigers throughout the season, as fans, observers and analysts waited for the right-hander to return to his dominant form. Yet offseason core muscle surgery likely held Verlander back more than anyone realized, resulting in diminished velocity, his lowest strikeout rate in eight years and eventual shoulder inflammation.
Had Verlander been in vintage form, the Tigers surely wouldn’t have traded for David Price and perhaps devoted those resources to improving other aspects of the roster. However, he showed improvement in his final three regular season starts, which could bode well for Detroit as it begins the postseason.
(Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
Relief Pitcher: Joe Nathan, Detroit Tigers
Following what was arguably one of the best seasons of his career, Detroit had every reason to expect that its ninth-inning problems had been solved by signing Nathan. Instead, the 14-year-veteran continued the Tigers’ aggravation with unreliable closers, compiling the second-worst ERA of his career (4.81) while allowing more hits and walks per nine innings than he ever had.
Additionally, Nathan’s strikeout rate decreased by two fewer batters per nine frames. Oh, and he feuded with Tigers fans. Detroit signed insurance policies in Joel Hanrahan (who never contributed) and Joakim Soria, but manager Brad Ausmus stayed committed to Nathan as closer. Will that faith pay off in the postseason?