Comeback kids: Examining fallen stars chances of future success

If anyone doubts America’s love affair with redemption, they must look no further than Josh Hamilton. Picked first in 1999, he had the look of a sure-fire baseball stud. However, addiction has a funny way of humbling even the brightest of stars. Hamilton’s substance abuse (and injury prone nature) had irritated the Rays to the point of leaving him off their 40 player protected list. The Reds took a chance on the troubled youngster, benefited from a solid season, then traded him to Texas for 2011 opening day starting pitcher Edinson Volquez. In 2010 Hamilton was named the MVP of the American League. All throughout Hamilton seemed to receive a wave of attention, proving once again: a once fallen stars current triumph can captivate an audience. While I don’t ecpect as riveting a story in 2011, there are several former all-stars coming off a rough year in 2011 (even a few coming off rough years). Teams chances of postseason success (or in some cases cashing in on trading them for a boatload of prospects) hang in the balance. Here’s a list of a few players at crossroads in their careers:

Alex Rodriguez: When just looking at the power numbers from 2009 to 2010 one might wonder what the problem is, but after closer inspection everybody’s favorite whipping boy had a relatively difficult year in 2010. His OBP of .341 was the lowest of his career and a whopping 61 points lower than in 2009. His slugging % also dropped 26 points leading to a very ominous 86 point drop in OPS (to .847). To make matters worse, the former short stop (though having never truly flourished at 3B) had his worst year yet at the hot corner. Though age is not on his side (turns 35 this year), there is hope for Rodriguez: Early reports from spring training have him at 10 pounds lighter, with a 2% body fat reduction from last year. He allegedly also diligently worked on flexibility drills all winter.

The Verdict: While I don’t see another MVP award in his future, I’m very bullish on a return to All-Star form. The man knows the all-time home run record is within his reach, but if he continues  to regresshis chance may slip away. I think that, more than anything else, motivated him this offseason and that his OPS will be on the other side of .900 in 2011.

Josh Beckett: In an injury riddled year, Beckett saw his ERA jump 1.92 points, all the way up to 5.78, in 127.2 IP’s in 2010. Troubled by back ailments all year he lost several ticks off his fastball and seemed to fall in love with his less than steller cutter. If further evidence was needed that he wasn’t dominating the competition, he also allowed 20 HR’s, a stunning number for the amount of innings he pitched. Early reports from spring have him allegedly returning to the aggressive mentality that served him well in the past.

The Verdict: Other than his dominant (Cy young runner up) year in 2007, Beckett has mostly struggled since moving to the AL East. I see more success than in 2010, but am relatively pessimistic on a return to greatness. A year with an ERA around 4.6 with a 1.3 WHIP sounds about right.

Mark Reynolds: The protege of Dave Kingman, Reynolds makes no apologies for his all or nothing approach at the plate. Unfortunately it resulted in him dropping below the dreaded mendoza line, posting a ghastly .198 batting average in 2010 on his way out of Arizona. He still belted over 30 Hr’s, and somehow managed a .320 OBP, but I doubt the Orioles will tolerate a repeat performance in 2011.

The Verdict: Reynolds isn’t going to, and quite frankly shouldn’t, change. His livelihood depends on his impressive raw power. After a rough start Reynolds tried to be less pull happy and to cut down his swing leading to disasterous results. I see him returning to what he is: a .240 45 HR hitting player who will survive for a few more years then fade out of baseball in the blink of an eye.

Matt Kemp: Kemp belted 28 HR’s, a career high, in 2010. The good news ended there, as he suffered drops in several key stats: average – 48 points (to .249), OBP – 42 points (.310), slugging – 40 points (.450), along with 31 more strikeouts in just 1 more AB. As former manager Joe Torre is wont to do, Kemp slid around in the order, batting anywhere between 2nd and 7th. Perhaps, in an effort to draw attention away from Dodger ownership turmoil, Kemp also received lots of press surrounding his relationship with singing star Rihanna.

The Verdict: With both Torre and Rihanna in his rear view mirror Kemp comes to camp already knowing he will be batting cleanup (new manager Don Mattingly wasted no time). I don’t envision any issues in him returning to top form in 2011.

Nate McLouth: McLouth resided on the wrong side of Mr. mendoza, posting a dreadful .190 batting average in 242 punchless AB’s in the bigs in 2010. Even a demotion to AAA for half the season failed to break him out of his season long slump. Perhaps worst of all, there are no off-field, injury or circumstantial reasons for his sharp decline.

The Verdict: Though he had a decent 2009, that breakthrough 2008 is starting to look very fluky to me. Never being regarded as a top prospect, I believe his best days are behind him and Jordan Schafer will be manning CF regularly for the Braves before the All-Star break.

Lance Berkman: The former Astro mainstay; Berkman was off to a subpar start in Houston hitting 13 HR’s 49 RBi’s with a .245 average before being dealt to the Yankees. Lance kinda fell off the map once entering the Bronx, posting only 1 HR, 9 RBI’s with a .255 average in 123 AB’s in the Junior Circuit.

The Verdict: Now a Cardinal, Berkman will be in more fimiliar settings in the the NL Central. However, after being relegated to DH in NY, he will be asked to play the OF full time. I see a return to 2009 form (25 HR, 80 RBI, .274 BA) at the dish. The defense, well…let’s just say I’m a little more skeptical about that.

Carlos Beltran: Once one of the most feared players in the game, Beltran has endured a pair of injury plagued years. His 2010 year started on July 15th, after January knee surgery derailed the first half of his year. He never really looked comfortable and finished with 7 HR’s 27 RBI and a .255 average, swiping only 3 bags in 255 AB’s.

The Verdict: The Mets have already announced Angel Pagan will be patrolling CF in Queens, pushing Beltran to RF, a stark admission that they view his mobility as irrevocably diminished. Beltran will turn 34 this year and I don’t see him ever recovering his star status. Can he be a starter for a few more years and post a few 20 HR seasons? Sure, but I think he’s played in his last all-star game.

Carlos Pena: Pena’s batting averages/OBP from 2007-2010: .282/.411, .247/.377, .227/.356, .196/.325. If that isn’t a downward trend from someone in their age 29-32 seasons, I don’t know what one is. Pena did, however, average 36 HR in that span. Perhaps more than any other player on this list he must prove that he still belongs in the major leagues, as 28 HR’s (2010 total) is woefully inadequate when accompanied with a .196 average.

The Verdict: Pena has posted a batting average above .253 ONCE in his 7 full seasons in the majors. I never really saw him as a major asset to an offensive lineup (save for that one year in 2007). With that admission of bias aside, players like him and Reynolds tend to fade quickly. The Cubs are gambling that he hasn’t already – I think they guessed wrong and predict he doesn’t even finish the year in the bigs.

Grady Sizemore: From 2005-2008 Sizemore enjoyed a four year stretch where he averaged 27 HR’s 81 RBI’s and 29 SB’s, while playing stellar defense rewarded with 2 gold gloves. With the Indians out of contention in 2009 he elected to end his subpar year by undergoing surgery on his throwing elbow. After a horrid start, Grady would make it only 33 games before succumbing to microfracture knee surgery in 2010.

The Verdict: This one is tough. Sizemore showed so much promise early in his career and I think it would be unwise to write him off. I wouldn’t be surprised if the effects of the knee surgery severely diminish his speed game, and move him from CF sooner than later, but I see his power returning. I would predict something like: 25 HR’s 80 RBI’s, 90 runs, 10 SB’s with a .280 average. Maybe I’m being too kind, but hey, it’s baseball, anything can happen. If anyone tells you any differently, remind them: Jose Bautista and Brady Anderson each have more 50 HR seasons than Hank Aaron, Lou Gehrig or Albert Pujols!

Read my previous post on the All 5 Tool Team!


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