Earlier this week, our Mike Axisa highlighted. Today, we’re offering a companion piece: six players having disappointing years to date.
How did we define “disappointing”? Performing well beneath expectations, be they divined through projection systems or simply established performance levels. Easy enough, right? We don’t think the choices made in this piece will inspire much objection. We’ve thrown in honorable mentions, too.
Now, let’s get to it.
Manoah entered Thursday sporting 5.87 ERA (71 ERA+) and a 1.34 strikeout-to-walk ratio that are well beneath his previous career norms (2.60 ERA, 3.37 SO/BB). This isn’t a case where a pitcher is accumulating bad results without anything going wrong underneath the hood: he’s also shown reduced velocity and swing-and-miss capacity. The Blue Jays demoted him to the minors for a month-long sabbatical earlier this summer. Manoah has pitched better since returning (4.91 ERA, 1.82 SO/BB), albeit not to the desired level.
AL East honorable mention: Yankees right-hander Luis Severino was the other serious candidate for this spot. He’s been abysmal, posting a 53 ERA+ across his first 15 appearances. We opted for Manoah instead because of his third-place finish in Cy Young Award balloting last fall. Orioles rookie right-hander Grayson Rodriguez, meanwhile, has been excellent since returning from his own demotion, obscuring his early season struggles.
Entering the spring, Anderson was the odds-on favorite to be the best shortstop moved at the deadline. So much for that. He’s had an atrocious season, posting a 58 OPS+ after four consecutive years of above-average offensive production. He’s not hitting the ball as hard or elevating it as often as he did in the past, and he’s also striking out more to boot. We’ll note that Anderson has dealt with his fair share of injuries, including to his knee and shoulder. Only he knows how much those ailments have impacted his game.
AL Central honorable mention: Anderson is far from the only White Sox veteran to underachieve this season, but we have to give the honorable mention nod to Tigers shortstop Javier Báez. His first season in Detroit didn’t go as well as desired, yet his 91 OPS+ looks fantastic compared to how he’s performed so far in 2023. To wit, Báez entered Thursday batting .221/.262/.320 (61 OPS+) with 85 more strikeouts than walks in 444 plate appearances.
AL West: José Abreu, 1B, Astros
When the Astros signed Abreu to a three-year pact, other front offices expressed concern about how the deal would age given that he was a right-right first baseman already in his mid-30s. Those evaluators were talking about the second and especially the third seasons, yet Abreu has performed well beneath expectations in Year 1. He’s currently on the injured list, but in his first 110 games he hit .234/.291/.343 (75 OPS+) with 10 home runs. For reference, Abreu’s last three seasons saw him bat .289/.366/.489 (136 OPS+) with an average of 28 home runs per 162 games.
AL West honorable mention: The Angels have a few compelling candidates for this spot in third baseman Anthony Rendon and lefty starter Tyler Anderson. We’ll give the honor to Anderson, who signed a three-year pact worth $39 million over the winter. No one should have expected him to repeat last season, when he made his first career All-Star Game with the Dodgers, but he had a track record of being a solid starter. He’s very much not that right now.
Who else? Turner is in the first season of an 11-year deal worth $300 million. The good news is that it can only get better from here. The bad news is that he’s hit .250/.302/.394 (89 OPS+) through his first 119 games. He’s still likely to eclipse two Wins Above Replacement thanks to his positional and baserunning value, but let’s be honest: the Phillies were hoping for something closer to a four-win season — and justifiably so, given that he had cleared that mark in each of his last four full seasons. Turner, who has been better in August (.310/.355/.517 in 15 games), should have the opportunity during the postseason to atone for a down first year in town.
NL East honorable mention: You could argue for Aaron Nola in this spot, but we felt that it had to be a Met for spiritual purposes. Jeff McNeil inked a four-year pact last winter to keep him in town, and he’s since failed to build upon last season’s Silver Slugger-winning effort. If the season were to end today, McNeil would finish with the exact same 87 OPS+ he posted in 2021. The Mets would certainly prefer he revert to the above-average form he’s displayed in every other season of his big-league career come next year.
Wainwright, who decided to return rather than retire last fall alongside Yadier Molina and Albert Pujols, needed five wins this season to clear the 200 mark for his career. It says a lot that he’s still two short of that round number despite having made 15 starts. For the sake of posterity, we’ll note that he’s toting around an 8.78 ERA (49 ERA+) and a 1.50 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Wainwright’s season will go down as a sad end to an otherwise happy career.
NL Central honorable mentions: There are enough compelling candidates for this slot that we’re going to name three players instead of just one or two. Reds catcher Tyler Stephenson has failed to build on what looked like a breakout effort in 2022; Cubs righty Jameson Taillon hasn’t been the rotation-stabilizing force Chicago sought; and Brewers shortstop Willy Adames will need to rebound next year if he wants a mega free-agent deal.
The Diamondbacks have a lot of talented young outfielders, but it was the relatively underhyped McCarthy who emerged last season and finished fourth in Rookie of the Year Award voting thanks to a .283/.343/.427 slash line and 23 stolen bases. He hasn’t shown that same promise in 2023. Instead, he entered Thursday with an 82 OPS+. Batters like McCarthy, who have poor quality-of-contact metrics and have to rely on placement, often aren’t as easy to embrace as their slugging peers. He’ll have to prove that last year was his true talent level, not this one, if he wants to remain in Arizona’s plans.
NL West honorable mentions: As with the Central above, we’re approaching the West with a wide net. You can make a case that we should’ve highlighted a Padre, be it Yu Darvish, Luis Garcia, or even Jake Cronenworth above. We also think the Giants offered a few notable candidates, including Ross Stripling, who has again proven to be prone to the home-run ball.