With three weeks left in the season, it's a fine time to recognize our underachievers and overachievers in 2009. We won't ask the Cubs to emerge from their dugout en masse for the underachievers roll call, though they are well represented here. There are no Yankees listed – they're too well-heeled to be recognized as overachievers, and so far their big-ticket players lived up to the hype, though CC Sabathia(notes) and Alex Rodriguez(notes) are on notice for October.
Without further ado, here's how Full Count saw 'em:
2008 Rookie of the Year single-handedly revived myth of sophomore slump. Got to the point where manager Lou Piniella preferred playing Koyie Hill(notes) over Soto, who has more strikeouts (63) than hits (60) and over 50 fewer RBIs than last season.
Venezuelan-born catcher was hitting .219 on June 16, and .340 in 68 games since, with a chance to finish the season with over .300. His 14 home runs, after just five last season, suggest he could develop 20-homer power.
Giambi is enjoying a late-summer renaissance as a pinch-hitter for the Rockies, but his return to where it all began, Oakland, was a bust. Eleven home runs and a .199 average for $4 million made for a sour homecoming.
Two things worth counting in Kansas City: Zack Greinke's(notes) strikeouts and Billy Butler's doubles. Butler, 23, came into the weekend with 45 doubles. The last players his age (or younger) to hit that many: Hanley Ramirez(notes) (twice), Grady Sizemore(notes), Miguel Cabrera(notes), Ryan Zimmerman(notes), Albert Pujols(notes) (twice), Scott Rolen(notes), Alex Rodriguez, and Cal Ripken Jr. Looks like long-suffering Royals rooters have a keeper.
Underachiever: Kaz Matsui, Houston Astros
The Astros still have a year left on the three-year, $16.5 million contract they gave Matsui, who has been on the DL four times in two years, doesn't steal bases anymore, and has a .640 OPS, the lowest of anyone at his position with at least 400 plate appearances. Texans think his name means "dead wood" in Japanese.
No one doubted that Hill was a terrific player, but there were a lot of questions about how he would come back after missing most of last season with a concussion from colliding with teammate David Eckstein(notes) while chasing a pop-up. Hill has responded with 30-plus home runs, a near-.300 batting average, and has played every day. Now, if he could only learn to take a walk …
They won't miss Beltre in the Pacific Northwest, not when he forgot how to hit home runs after signing a five-year, $64 million deal with Seattle the winter after hitting 48 homers for the Dodgers. But the soon-to-be free agent left Mariners fans with an unforgettable lesson, one he failed to learn until he was sidelined with a bleeding testicle: Don't play the hot corner without wearing a protective cup.
Kung Fu Panda gave us baseball's best new nickname and most improbable cult hero, but don't be fooled by the roly-poly: He came into the weekend with the highest batting average of all third basemen in the majors.
An All-Star in 2007, Hardy was sent to the minors in August to make way for prospect Alcides Escobar(notes). Back now that rosters have expanded, Hardy has hit just 11 home runs after a combined 50 in the last two seasons, and his .226 batting average on a $4.65 million salary virtually guarantees a change of address next season.
Rays manager Joe Maddon told people Bartlett was his MVP last year, but Bartlett took his game to a rarefied level this season. Only two shortstops boast an OPS over .900 &ndash Hanley Ramirez and Bartlett, whose .913 OPS is roughly 170 points higher than his career number.
Sori was sorry for the Cubs. Maybe it was the knee, which Soriano says will require surgery that he'd prefer to have now rather than in the offseason, but by every measure this was his worst season in the big leagues, as he was forced out of his leadoff spot and dropped to sixth in the order. It gets worse: The Cubs still owe the 33-year-old Soriano $90 million over the next five seasons.
Here's the deal, kid. We're going to play you in the outfield, and you're going to bat leadoff. You haven't played outfield since you were 12, and have never led off in pro ball? Good luck. So what does Coghlan do? Hits .385 in August, and set a team record for hits in a month with 47. In a pitcher-heavy field, he could win Rookie of the Year.
When the season began, these guys played side by side. J.P. Ricciardi gave away Rios to the White Sox just to get out from under his $66 million contract; Rios has hit .157 in 23 games for Chicago, which fell out of the race. Wells, meanwhile, is openly scorned in Toronto, but for the nearly $100 million left on his contract, which jumps to over $20 million per annum in 2011, Wells can afford a thick skin.
Freed from the purgatory that is Pittsburgh, Morgan hit .351 in 49 games with the Nats until breaking his hand at the end of August, which will sideline him the rest of the season. The 29-year-old center-fielder, a spare part his first two seasons in Pittsburgh, is second in the league with 42 stolen bases.
Lots of competition here – Milton Bradley's(notes) nightmarish season with the Cubs, Magglio Ordonez's(notes) loss of power with the Tigers – but Giles clinches the spot with his .191 batting average, which ranks last among the 296 big leaguers with at least 250 plate appearances. For this, the Padres exercised his $9 million option last November? That's not all: The two-time All-Star also was sued for millions this spring by a former girlfriend who alleged physical abuse.
A career minor leaguer who made a brief cameo with the Twins two years ago, Jones hit seven home runs in his first 12 games with the Pirates, and the first baseman hasn't stopped bashing, his 19 home runs leading all rookies. His career arc suggests this can't last, but to paraphrase Bogie, he'll always have Pittsburgh.
Burrell won a World Series ring with the Phillies and was thought to be the power bat that would send the Rays back to the Series this year, this time to win. Hasn't worked out that way. Burrell hit three home runs in the first three months, and had just two singles during the eight-game losing streak that knocked the Rays out of the race in September. His .388 slugging percentage is tied with Ken Griffey Jr.(notes) for lowest among all DHs.
Kubel has posted career-best numbers across the board (.305 BA, 22 HRs, 81 RBIs). For that, he'll be rewarded with the chance to hit outdoors in Minnesota for the first time next spring, as the Twins move into their new open-air ballpark. Let's see how he hits with frost on his bat.
Do you detect a pattern here? The Cubs are well represented on this squad, and Z ranks as the biggest cash-for-a-clunker on the club. In the second year of his five-year, $91.5 million extension, Zambrano so far has produced just eight wins while enhancing his reputation as emotionally unstable and professionally unreliable. The Cubs can't afford to wait for him to grow up, but they're stuck with him.
The two leading contenders for the National League Cy Young Award, Chris Carpenter(notes) of the Cardinals and Tim Lincecum(notes), have made 17 and 18 starts, respectively, in which they have given up two or fewer earned runs. Wolf, a journeyman left-hander, has made 19 such starts, and the Dodgers are 19-11 when Joe Torre has given him the ball. At $5 million, he was a steal for GM Ned Colletti.
Perfect last season, perdition this year. Lidge's 10 blown saves and a 7-plus ERA finally cost him his job as Phillies' closer, at least temporarily, this month. An incomprehensible fall from Eden.
First-year GM Jack Zrudiencik made some savvy moves for the Mariners this season. One was having faith in bopper Russell Branyan(notes); another was to give Aardsma a shot to close, which he parlayed into 34 saves, a 2.15 ERA, and 10.5 strikeouts per nine innings. Should make for a nice payday ahead for a guy who'd been stuck in middle relief since starring at Rice.