The Flat on Their Face Team

by Asher B. Chancey, Baseball Evolution

 

The off-season's steroid developments had everyone talking about Jason Giambi in the spring, and all eyes were on him as the baseball world waited to see if the Jason Giambi of the past was merely a 'roid monkey, or whether Giambi actually was a talented ballplayer who could make it with or without steroids.

 

What this did for the rest of the league has been interesting no one is really making a huge deal out of the number of players who are demonstratively worse this season than they have been in the past. Let's take a look:

 

1B - Todd Helton

 

Colorado has been a bit of a black hole since Clint Barmes went down, with no media information able to escape. I have seen or read very little coverage of the Rockies this year, and that is quite simply because they have nothing to talk about.

 

Todd Helton is currently hitting .286 with a .410 OBP and a .466 SLG. Outside of the slugging, you might be asking your self why these numbers are problematic. These numbers are fine on their own, but should be compared to T-Helt's numbers over the last five years to get the full effect:

 

AVG

OBP

SLG

.336

.432

.685

.329

.429

.577

.358

.458

.630

.347

.469

.620

.286

.410

.466

You see it now, right his numbers, though stats that Corey "Tools" Patterson would kill for, represent significant decline. Further, he has only 10 home runs after hitting 30 or more for the last 6 years, and is on pace to not score 100 runs for the first time since his rookie year.

 

Helton is still a solid performer, but don't forget that he is still playing in Coors Field. Whereas in past years his fantastic numbers looked merely solid because of playing in Coors, we need to decide what we make of his merely solid numbers now.

 

2B - Bret Boone

 

I have a friend from school who was a Braves fan living in Olympia, Washington, when Boonie arrived in Seattle. She recalls his years with the Mariners vividly "He was this shrimpy guy who couldn't hit the ball with the Braves, then he comes to Seattle and he's twice as big and hitting 30 home runs a year. Yeah, right!"

 

Boone had two great years in Seattle (OPS over 900) sandwiched around one solid year (OPS at 801), and last season was decent (OPS at 740). He drove in 100 RBI his first three years and scored over 100 twice. In 2001, he joined the 100-plus club and hit .331. Last year his numbers feel off and he missed some time due to injury, but he still hit 24 homers and 83 RBI.

 

This season, however, he has returned to the Bret Boone of old .231 AVG, OBP under .300, SLG under .400. He only had seven home runs when the Mariners designated him for assignment and then ultimately released him. His drop off could be blamed on his age, but the player he was before he went to Seattle, and the player he became in Seattle certainly indicate the possiblility of steroid use, and if this is the year of 'roid crash, Boonie certainly appears to be part of it.

 

SS Edgar Renteria and Orlando Cabrera

 

The two players who have been Red Sox starting shortstops in the post-Nomar era, are actually in the second year of demise after fantastic '03 campaigns. Renteria's numbers are down pretty much across the board, though he has picked it up of late. He is simply not that good rather than decidedly terrible like the rest of these guys.

 

After posting an 807 OPS two years ago, Cabrera is all the way down to .648 this season. His average is .243 and his OBP is under .300, and he is really not doing anything of note on offense. Still very good defensively though.

 

3B - Mike Lowell

 

Remember Lowell in 2003? In '02 he stroked 44 doubles and 24 home runs, and then in '03 the doubles started becoming homers, and he hit 32 before breaking his arm after 130 games. Lowell was rippin' it up in 2003, but he has always been a solid contributor, hitting 20 or more home runs every year in the league except 2001, and humorously he managed to drive in 100 despite only hitting 18 long balls that year.

 

This year, Lowell has been atrocious. His OBP is where his average should be (.280) and his slugging is where his OBP should be (.350). He has hit only 4 home runs in 300 at-bats, and it hitting only .227 overall. Encouragingly, he already has 25 doubles, which would indicate a pace for almost 50, but overall the 31 year old third baseman has really plummeted, and there would really only seem to be one possible explanation for his demise.

 

OF - Steve Finley

 

Important caveat Finley has been injured this season. However, even before the injury Finley had been showing all the signs of 'roid crash. Keep in mind, this is a guy who hit 36 home runs last year.

 

Through 68 games this season, Finley is OBP .285, SLG .407, and currently hitting .226, all atrocious. He has only 8 home runs this season, which puts him on pace to hit about 15. Like Boone, Finley could point to his age as an explanation for his performance, as he turned 40 this year, but he hit pretty well last year as a 39 year old, so I see no reason to let him off the hook THAT easily.

 

OF - Sammy Sosa

 

Sammy has simply been appallingly bad this season. Now, Sammy wasn't great last year, but he still managed 35 home runs in 126 games, and his OPS was still 849. But this season, Sosa has 9 home runs through 70 games, an OPS below 700, and is neither scoring nor driving in runs. Sammy's 'roid crash has taken place over the last couple of years, as his numbers were slowly declining, but this season he has truly come in for a crash landing.

 

OF - Carlos Beltran

 

I don't know what to think here. Carlos is a youngster, he is not a particularly big guy, and his game as always indicated to me that he wasn't on 'roids because when a player makes the commitment to steroids, it often means that stolen bases are a thing of the past.

 

But Carlos has been terrible this year, and it would be erroneous to not include him on this list. Last season, Carlos had 38 HR and 42 SB. This season, he currently stands at 10/4 more than halfway through the season. He is currently hitting .271, 12 points below his career average, and his .324 on-base percentage and .436 slugging percentages are the lowest they've been since 2000, when he was injured. Carlos' crash is evident in every aspect of his game even his one triple is a far cry from his average of 9 per year for the last four years.

 

At the still young age of 28, when he should be in his prime, it is difficult to see such a talented player go through a pro-longed struggle without trying to point to something by way of explanation. Given the benefit of the doubt, it is possible that Carlos is just in the wrong slump at the wrong time.

 

Though I am not sure if he has earned the benefit of the doubt.

 

DH - Adrian Beltre

 

Okay, maybe I just feel stupid. I bought into Adrian Beltre last season, and I was really excited about him this season. I kept going around telling people that last year for Beltre would prove to be what 1998 was for Sosa. Well, Sosa's name is on this list, too, so I guess I don't feel so bad about misreading this one.

 

It is hard to compare Beltre just to his numbers last season, because last season was such an anamoly. It is hard not to look at his average which has dropped 70 points, or his slugging which has dropped 224 points, or his OPS which is down 300 points. I mean, a 300 point drop for a healthy 26 year old baseball player is a train wreck.

 

But, fact is, the Adrian Beltre that is playing for the Mariners right now is the Adrian Beltre of 1999-2003. You can't dwell on his 200 hits last year when his previous career high was 151. Or his 48 home rus, when his previous high was 23. Or his 121 RBI when his previous high was 85.

 

Fact is, Beltre is doing what he has always done, so last year could just be the worst case scenario of the "contract year" phenomenon in the history of sports. But with a general trend such as we have, its hard to not at least ponder for a moment the possibility of 'roid crash.

 

C - Ivan Rodriguez

 

I really wish people would make a bigger deal out of this. IVAN RODRIGUEZ HAS SHRUNK!!! We saw him in spring training, and you could have mistaken him for a batboy. He is currently listed at 5-9, 210, and that is baloney. He is a light 180.

 

That having been said, he has two surprising stats this season 24 doubles through 76 games, and he has already tied his career high in triples with 4. Surprising.

 

Other than that, he has been terrible. His on-base percentage is at .308, which would be merely bad if IRod was hitting .250, but given IRod's .296 average, it is terrible.

 

Let me draw that out a little more Ivan Rodriguez's on-base percentage is 12 points higher than his average. Kids, this is what we call empty average doing nothing other hitting the ball. For Christ's sake, Alex Sanchez invented empty average, and his OBP is currently 27 points higher than his average.

 

IRod's OPS is the lowest its been since 1995, and on pace to be under 850 for the first time since 1997. His seven home runs are also on pace to be worst since 1995. He is striking out at a quicker pace than he ever has in his career, and his average, even at .296, is the lowest it has been 1993.

 

Ivan Rodriguez is suffering

 

Reserve - Aubrey Huff

 

Important caveat Huff has often been a second half performer, so we will have to see what the second half brings, but Scott's hero has been pretty terrible so far. Huff has scored 90 runs and driven in 100 RBI for each of the last two seasons right now he has 35 and 46 through 87 games. He has averaged about 29 home runs for the last three seasons this year he has 9 past the half way point. His average is down 42 points, hit slugging is under .400, and his OPS is down 148 points from last year, and 217 from two years ago. Huff is currently 28, and has no reason to be in decline.

 

Reserves - Scott Rolen and Jim Thome

 

They have both been hurt for significant portions of the year. That having been said, Rolen's OPS is down 300 points, and Thome's is down 265 points. It is hard to accuse two guys who have not gotten on track because of injuries, but when you have a year like this, and these two guys who have been fantastic in the past fit the mold, it is also hard to look the other way.