Hope Springs Eternal For 2013 Underachievers

Not everyone has the season they want to have. Some guys underperform, some guys get hurt and others simply don’t get the opportunities to shine in ways they had hoped. It’s a new year, though, and many of these same guys will enter spring training with a good dash of the olde hope and faith. Some will be looking at fresh starts; others will be looking at new opportunities. A few others may be staring down their final opportunity.

And that’s where we’ll begin.

Josh Beckett: Once upon a time, Beckett had the world in the palm of his hand. The man chosen second overall in the 1999 draft, and then later a World Series MVP, Beckett arrived in Boston with much fanfare. And when he helped deliver Boston its second World Series title in four seasons, Red Sox fans were ready to give him the world. But the past couple of seasons have been rough on Beckett. He disappointed with diminished velocity in 2012, and then he was knocked out for 2013 with shoulder surgery. Now, he’s in the final year of his contract. Both the Steamer and ZiPS still peg Beckett for an ERA and FIP in the 3.7’s, but neither has him down for a full campaign. And if he wants his next contract — which will start in his age-35 season — to get anywhere near close to the $15.75 million he’s going to earn this season, he’s going to have to prove that his shoulder is still capable of standing up to the punishment of a full major league season. If he can’t, he may be looking at minor league invites. The Dodgers haven’t even guaranteed him a rotation spot yet.

Kevin Gausman: Perceptions can be hard to shake, especially when the player doesn’t have a large body of work. Right now, there is probably a large contingent of Orioles fans who think that Gausman is garbage. After all, he got into 20 games last season, and posted an unsightly 5.99 ERA. The Orioles rotation was paper thin, and he still couldn’t help. But then you remember that Gausman will be in his age-23 season this year, and he throws 96 mph (on average). Gausman had a lot of trouble controlling his fastball last year:

gausman FA heatmap

Ideally, you wouldn’t see some of those hotter points outside of the strike zone. As a result, his fastball pitch value per 100 was -0.48. Which is obviously bad. But let’s keep it in perspective. Of the 352 pitchers who a) tossed at least 40 innings last year and b) tossed four-seam fastballs, Gausman’s -0.48 wFA/C was tied for 238th. Obviously not great, but he was far from the worst. Gausman still has to refine his slider, and he probably needs to sweat the home runs a little more, but he also had some pretty bad luck last year as well. His 77 xFIP- tied for 32nd out of 367 pitchers who tossed at least 40 innings. Clayton Kershaw’s xFIP- was 76. Gausman has a long way to go before he gets to Kershaw’s level, but he certainly isn’t as bad as he looked last year.

Jackie Bradley: The Virginia native hadn’t spent much time in the minors before making Boston’s Opening Day roster last season. In fact, he had logged just 137 games, and never more than 67 games across any one level. It’s not that he didn’t deserve said promotions, especially after his performance during spring training, it’s just that he hadn’t yet experienced extended failure as a professional ballplayer. In 2012, he posted 181 and 127 wRC+’s at High-A and Double-A, respectively. But after a walk against CC Sabathia and a nifty little catch in his major league debut, he experienced quite a bit of failure. Now, the book on him is that he can play good defense, and he will have every opportunity to be Boston’s starting center fielder because of that ability. But many wonder whether the offense will come.

Steamer pegs him for league average offense, and ZiPS something a bit less than average. Certainly, Bradley will have to work to drive the ball on a line more. Of the 453 hitters to tally at least 100 plate appearances last season, only 25 posted a lower line drive percentage than Bradley’s 15.6%. But there is reason to believe that he can. Once he was sent back down to Triple-A, he posted his best ISO as a pro. He pumped it up to .194, and socked more homers in his 374 plate appearances there than he had in his 575 the year before. If he can keep it up, he could easily join the 10-homer and 10-stolen base club, as the projections seem to think he can (41 members last year). The 15-15 club (17 members last year) might be a stretch, and getting to 10-10 doesn’t guarantee that you’re a good offensive player (hi, Drew Stubbs) but there is more potential in Bradley’s bat than he has shown thus far.

Lonnie Chisenhall: Whether or not there is in Chisenhall’s bat is an open question, however. After a decent, but abbreviated debut in 2012, Chisenhall couldn’t find a groove in 2013. At least at the major league level. Like Bradley, he was sent packing to the International League early in the season. The difference was that Chisenhall didn’t stay there. After smashing to the tune of a 212 wRC+ in Triple-A, he was brought back to the majors in mid-June. He stayed relatively hot from then until the All-Star break, as he hit .267/.321/.480 in those 81 plate appearances. Things quickly fell apart when the team returned to action though. From the start of the second half to the end of August, he hit .181/.218/.289, with just five extra-base hits in 88 PA. He would then go on another tear to end the season in very limited playing time — playing time that was limited because he lost his starting job to Mike Aviles.

In order to be a successful major league hitter, you’ve either got to hit for power, or get on-base at a good clip. Chisenhall wasn’t able to sustain either last year, and it cost him his starting spot twice. As we head into this spring, there is talk of Carlos Santana playing third base. And while that probably won’t stick, the fact that the team is entertaining it isn’t exactly a positive for Chisenhall’s future. Chisenhall should be arbitration eligible next winter, so this may be his last chance to avoid becoming a non-tender. He’s shown the power stroke, he just needs to do it over the course of a whole season.

David Murphy & Tyler Colvin: These two gentlemen have flashed power for a whole season before, but unfortunately the most recent season in which they did was 2012. Last year, neither was very good. After 2012 campaigns in which Murphy posted a 129 wRC+ and Colvin a 115 wRC+, they dipped to 73 and six (!!), respectively. Despite the drop in production, both players managed to land major league contracts this offseason. Murphy could be looking at the fat end of a platoon with Ryan Raburn, and Colvin could be looking at a fourth outfielder role. Murphy seemed to be victimized by some really poor luck on balls in play. None of his batted ball rates, nor his swing percentages, were appreciably different from his career norms. His .227 batting average on balls in play however, was easily a career low, and more than 70 points under his career average. It is probably for that reason that the Indians quickly snatched him up. Colvin is a different story. He didn’t have much of a sample in 2013 from which to work, but during his brief stay in the majors he hit a lot more balls on the ground than he had in the past. His strikeout and walk numbers have also gone in the wrong direction for two straight seasons, so Colvin has a little more work to do. The talent is there, but if he can’t turn it around this season, he may be destined for the Quad-A label.

Paul Swydan used to be the managing editor of The Hardball Times, a writer and editor for FanGraphs and a writer for Boston.com and The Boston Globe. Now, he owns The Silver Unicorn Bookstore, an independent bookstore in Acton, Mass. Follow him on Twitter @Swydan. Follow the store @SilUnicornActon.

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Avery Wendell
10 years ago

I am sorry, but to call Jackie Bradley Jr. an underachiever is preposterous. The only thing he underachieved was the ridiculous expectations of Peter Abraham and others like him who expected one excellent Spring Training to overcome the fact that JBJ had never played above Double-A.

This is not, btw, a defense of JBJ generally; I have no idea what kind of player he will be. But if anyone on the Red Sox should make this list, its Will Middlebrooks.