When you go into a new season, so many people focus on players that are primed for a breakout. And sure enough, we will be too this week. But today, we’re going down the negative route. Which players that had great years in 2013 seem all set for a step backwards in 2014?
A.J. Burnett, Phillies. Burnett’s 2013 season with the Pirates ended with a whimper. He got shelled in Game 1 of the NLDS by the Cardinals, was skipped for a Game 5 start in favor of rookie Gerrit Cole, played the retirement hokey pokey for nearly all of the offseason, and eventually signed a one-year deal with the Phillies, who have had an absolutely brutal spring and looked primed for another sub-.500 finish. Needless to say, I’m not exactly a believer about Burnett repeating his 3.30 ERA from a year ago, especially considering that he’s now 37 and playing for a team that doesn’t employ shifts (which helped Burnett so much in Pittsburgh) nearly as much as the Pirates. I’m also wondering if Burnett is going to lose his mind after his eighth loss where he receives next to no run support from his offense.
Michael Cuddyer, Rockies. Cuddyer’s 2013 season was stunning – it’s not too often that you see a player win the batting title and have a career year at age 34, but hey, Coors Field. Another funny thing – Cuddyer’s 2012 was very similar to his 2013, but he got a lot luckier with balls in play last season. Like, *a lot* luckier, to the tune of the third highest mark in baseball, and the highest in Cuddyer’s career by nearly 70 points. It’s not going to happen again, folks.
Chris Davis, Orioles. The story of Crush Davis in 2013 was awesome, but I’d bet the under on Davis’ 2014 home run total. Despite smashing 53 homers in 2013, Davis still struck out at a slightly less than 30% clip. In the second half of the year, Davis cooled off, hitting “only” 16 homers in 65 second half games and seeing his OPS drop to just .854. Will he end up being one of the top first basemen in the American League? Yeah, probably. Will he end up being a high-end MVP candidate again? Doubtfully.
Yan Gomes, Indians. Gomes came out of nowhere to provide Cleveland with a solid backstop option, allowing the team to give Carlos Santana some days off behind the plate. He suddenly went from a below replacement level player in 41 games with the Blue Jays in 2012 to a second-tier catcher in 2013 – what’s up with that? The same situation will take place in 2014 , but Gomes will be getting the bulk of the playing time behind the plate while Santana serves mainly as the DH. But everything about Gomes, from his plate discipline, to his batted ball data, to his platoon splits, indicates to me that he’s in for a reality check this season.
Hisashi Iwakuma, Mariners. Iwakuma became a full-time starter in 2013 with the Mariners after splitting 2012 between the rotation and the bullpen. He thrived in Seattle last year, pitching to a 2.66 ERA in 219 2/3 innings. However, I’d be shocked if his 2014 ERA was within a run of that mark. Iwakuma has missed a solid chunk of the spring due to a finger injury, and he’ll likely start the year on the DL. He also had a pair of drastically different seasons in 2013 – in the first half, he was a high strikeout, low walk, high homer pitcher, while in the second half, his walk rate rose while his homer rate sharply decreased, leading to a pair of roughly equal performances. Iwakuma is also going to be 33 in April, and is coming off of a career-high innings pitched total. Danger, Will Robinson.
Chris Johnson, Braves. Remember when I mentioned Michael Cuddyer’s BABIP in 2013, which was the third-highest in baseball last year? Well, Johnson topped the charts, posting an insanely high .394 mark in his debut season in Atlanta. While Johnson at least smashes a lot of line drives, he’s not a high power or high walk guy, and that average has to sink at least a little bit. Johnson is almost being set up to fail by Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez, who seems determined to hit Johnson fourth in Atlanta’s lineup instead of either Justin Upton, Freddie Freeman, or Evan Gattis.
Joe Kelly, Cardinals. Kelly is going to be the Cardinals fifth starter this year. Congratulations, Joe: you’re going to be compared to Carlos Martinez every time you have a bad start! Kelly wasn’t too great for the Cardinals last year, and working as a starter, he only struck out 46 and walked 34 in 87 innings. Sure he had a solid 2.28 ERA in the rotation, but those awful peripherals will eventually catch up with you when you’re throwing every fifth day.
James Loney, Rays. Loney was inked to a three-year extension by the Rays this offseason, and the move was met with near-universal shock as opposed to the praise that Loney’s one-year deal last winter got. For one, while Loney started off hot in 2013, his final four months of the year were solidly mediocre. While I don’t think Loney is going to be some sort of horrific bust, I do think he’ll have a statline that more closely resembles his second half than his first half – and that’s never good news for a team like the Rays with limited resources.
Tanner Scheppers, Rangers. Scheppers had a 1.88 ERA in 76 2/3 innings as a reliever last year, despite striking out just 59 and walking 24. But the rotation issues that Texas is facing this spring is forcing Scheppers, who has started a total of eight games in his pro career, into the starting rotation. This has all the makings of a complete disaster – Scheppers’ career-high in innings pitched is 80, he’s 27, and he has a history of shoulder and back problems – is there any way that this doesn’t work out terribly for Scheppers and the Rangers?
Travis Wood, Cubs. How dare I rip on one of the Cubs few good pitchers! Wood wasn’t nearly as good as you’d expect from his 3.11 ERA, and his profile of a fly ball pitcher tells me that things can get hairy in a hurry for Wood. I’m always wary of guys who tend to put a lot of balls in the air, and when you have one like Wood who adds in a fair share of walks, I get very pessimistic about their future success.