Top 5 MLB Disappointments So Far

Investing in a player means making an emotional commitment. A month into the season, some players aren’t performing up to snuff, and competitors are no doubt wondering who among April’s disappointments deserves the roster axe. Here’s five of the least-valuable, most universally-owned players who are currently killing their owners — and some insight into what’s ahead for each of them:

Ryan Dempster:

It’s easy to forget, but at one point in Dempster’s career, he was a mediocre closer for the Chicago Cubs. In 2006, Dempster registered 24 saves, but a 4.80 ERA. In 2007, Dempster notched 28 saves, but a 4.73 ERA. When Dempster was switched to starter the following year, expectations were little, and yet for three consecutive seasons, Dempster was one of the best, most consistent starters in the National League, posting a healthy number of wins, strong strikeout totals, and an excellent ERA. Entering the season, Dempster seemed to fly underneath the radar as 200+K pitcher with several strong seasons underneath his belt, and yet, Dempster may be headed for the dumpster in many fantasy leagues with an ERA currently standing at 9.58. He could be a good bet to turn things around. The strikeouts are still coming for Dempster, and while his walk rate has climbed somewhat, what’s really troubling him is a phenomenal amount of fly balls going for HRs – nearly a quarter when the MLB average is typically 10 percent. That will regress.

Francisco Liriano:

Liriano has battled injuries and inconsistency throughout his career, but also has flashed tantalizing potential that makes him the definition of a “toxic asset,” somebody who is hard to cut loose. No doubt many are tempted with a 9.13 ERA, and there’s hardly anything in Liriano’s peripherals at the moment that point to a rebound. His strikeout rate has dropped from a career average of 9.19 Ks/9 IP down to 6.85 and his walk rate has climbed all the way up to 6.85. Yes, he has walked just as many batters as he has struck out. Although it wouldn’t be surprising to see Liriano turn things around, the question will be how much rope he’ll get to do just that. Kevin Slowey is due back soon, and the Twins also have one of the most major league ready pitching prospects in the minors in Kyle Gibson. Sell low? Not the worst idea.

Carlos Pena:

Pena didn’t have a great season last season as he hit less than 30 HRs for the first time since 2006 and had an average below the Mendoza Line. Some optimism followed him this off-season nonetheless because regression was expected plus he was moving to the hitter-friendly Wrigley Field. But Pena didn’t hit a single HR in April and his average has dropped even further from last year’s low standard. These days, Pena simply can’t hit left-handers, striking out 8 times in 13 at-bats against them. He’s quickly becoming a player who will be platooned. Our sense is that if he is dropped in fantasy leagues, even in very deep ones, he won’t be claimed.

Vernon Wells:

When Wells was traded this off-season, many pundits ridiculed the Angels for acquiring the big contract. Nevertheless, Wells was drafted in the 11th round in fantasy leagues and is still owned in nearly all leagues despite the woeful start that’s making even the most dire assessments of the Angels centerfielder seem kind.  One month is still too little a sample set to draw firm conclusions, but Wells is hitting a mere .157 at home compared to a more respectable .267 on the road. His strikeout rate is up; his walk rate is down; Wells is getting unlucky, but not enough to say with any confidence he’ll avoid being a bust in 2011. Surely, Wells has demonstrated enough contact skills throughout his career to put together a nice hot streak, so he shouldn’t be summarily cut from squads without further thought. But given the depth at the outfield position, his upside isn’t strong enough to justify excruciating patience either.

Derek Jeter

Is this the end of the line for the future Hall of Famer? Coming off a bad season, Jeter was still given the benefit of the doubt thanks to high scarcity at the shortstop position. In April, however, Jeter failed to record a single HR or SB, making him less valuable than, well, just about everybody. Still, there’s some reasons for optimism: He’s not striking out much these days, and is suffering a miserable batting average on balls in play. He’s sporting an atrociously high ground ball rate (73%) this year so far, so there’s no huge cause of optimism for the return of his power, and yet given Jeter’s strong batting eye, hard work, and good team environment, he still represents a lot of upside, especially now that his stock has fallen so low.

–Eriq Gardner

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