This article is part of our Regan's Rumblings series.
It's happened before. Plenty of guys have had career years followed by pretty awful years, followed finally by rebound seasons. We're seeing it with Matt Kemp this year, and to some extent Albert Pujols, so let's look at some players who this year failed to live up to expectations and see what we can expect in 2015.
Brian McCann (NYY) - Batting a paltry .238/.288/.395, McCann has failed to provide a solution for the Yankees behind the plate. He does have 17 home runs, so the power is still there to some extent, but the ability to make hard, consistent contact just hasn't been there the last several years. McCann is a .273 career hitter, but his batting averages the last three years fall well short of that mark: .270, .230, .256. This year, McCann has added a walk rate that has fallen off the map - 5.8 percent versus last year's 9.7. Because he's not exactly Billy Hamilton getting down the line, McCann's BABIP sits at just .248, and we can't exactly forecast that to go up much, if any this year or even next. Maybe he's just not seeing the ball well, as McCann is swinging at more pitches both inside and outside the strike zone this year than he has in the past few years. McCann is still just 30, but we may not see his bat respond until the Yankees move him out from behind the plate, a la Victor Martinez in Detroit. I do think he'll be a bit better next year with the BA, but I'm just not sure what his career arc is going to look like.
Honorable mention - Jason Castro (HOU) - should be better in 2015.
Billy Butler (KC) - Of the 25 first basemen that qualify for the batting title, Butler ranks 24th with a -0.4 WAR. Yes, putting a Triple-A player out there every day would likely yield more benefit than Butler has provided for the Royals this year. He's logged 36 games at first, so he'll be eligible there in all leagues next year, but .268 with nine home runs isn't an attractive fantasy line. So what happened? Well, his 15.9 K% is still very good and compares favorably with his 14.5 percent career mark, but a 6.8 BB% is a drastic drop from last year's 11.8 percent and would be the lowest of his career if it holds. His GB% has crept over 50 percnt in each of the past two seasons, and when he is hitting the ball in the air this year, the balls are going over the fence at a career-low 7.6 percent rate. If you scour Royals scouting reports, it doesn't seem that Butler is dedicated to making himself stronger and fitter, and frankly, it's showing. The Royals have a $12.5 million on option for Butler next year, and at this point, a change of scenery seems best for both sides.
Honorable mention - Allen Craig (BOS) - I'm ready to write him off.
Aaron Hill (ARI) - The Diamondbacks are trying Hill at third base to get both Didi Gregorious and Chris Owings into the lineup, but that seems unlikely to do anything positive for Hill's fantasy value. If you're using or plan on using Hill at third base, your team has issues. Overall, Hill is batting a paltry .225/.271/.343 with just eight home runs and a 4.7 percent BB%. A hand injury limited Hill to just 87 games last year, but when healthy, he was excellent - .291/.356/.462. That's enough for me to not write off the 32-year-old, but these numbers are trending in the wrong direction:
BB% (last 3 yrs) - 7.8, 8.0, 4.7
K% (last 3 yrs) - 12.9, 13.5, 17.6
Hill's ISO is also down sharply from last year, dropping from .171 to .128, so there really is no good news here other than the fact that he's 32 and not 37. Unfortunately we've seen this before from Hill, who followed up a strong 2009 by batting .205 the following season. Just too risky.
Honorable mention - Jason Kipnis (CLE) - Even worse in the second half, but is a prime rebound candidate.
Jean Segura (MIL) - In starting with a positive note, Segura does have an 8:11 K:BB over the last 30 days versus a 54:14 K:BB prior to that timeframe, but all in all, it's been a hugely disappointing season. Segura last year batted .294 with 12 home runs and 44 stolen bases, rewarding fantasy owners who bought into his strong finish in 2012. This year? - .235/.279/.313 with four homers and just 16 stolen bases. Sadly, Segura's young son passed away in July this year, so we can certainly forgive some drop-off, but Segura hasn't been good all year really. As a 24-year-old former top prospect, it's clearly far too early to write him off, and given his speed, his .264 BABIP should only go up, but we also need to continue to see his 5.0 BB% climb. I think he can do it, but I'm just not sure the breakout season comes in 2015. May be more like 2017.
Honorable mention - Xander Bogaerts (BOS) - .357 in seven games since returning from a concussion. I'm bullish for 2015.
Evan Longoria (TB) - There were a lot of candidates at this position (Pedro Alvarez, David Wright, etc.), but we'll go with the face of the Rays franchise. Longoria has a lower WAR than Trevor Plouffe, and though he's homered 19 times to Wright's eight, a .254/.322/.401 slash line is a far cry from the .290/.370/.520 range we used to expect. There has been analysis (no room to cover in detail here) to suggest that Longoria has struggled with inside pitches this year more than ever, but his walk rate is also down for the third consecutive season to 8.3 percent. Longoria is also hitting fewer fly balls this year, and those flyballs are travelling on average, 12 feet less than in 2013. He's swinging at more pitches (by far) than ever, and at age 28, we're left to wonder whether he has a .300-35-110 season in him or if we can just expect a bunch of .260-20-95 type seasons in his prime. The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle, but if someone wants to take Longoria in the fourth round next year, it won't be me.
Honorable mention - David Wright (NYM) - Shoulder may need to be worked on for his power to return.
Shin-Soo Choo (TEX) - I'm going to have to say "no" to the question whether signing 32-year-olds at any position to seven-year deals is a good idea. After a .285/.423/462 season with the Reds in 2013, Choo joined the Rangers this winter and has posted an OPS 171 points lower. The walks are down, strikeouts way up and Choo has tallied just three steals after swiping 20-plus each of the last two years. It's pretty much a lost year for the outfielder, but perhaps a year of adjustment to AL pitching will lead to a more productive 2014. With that home park, Choo could very well get back to 20-plus homers in 2015, but don't expect much more than a .260 BA, and with his age, he'll be lucky to swipe 10 bags in 2015.
Jay Bruce (CIN) - With a -1.0 WAR, due both to his paltry .214/.287/.372 slash and his poor defense, Bruce has been sub-replacement level in 2014, a year after his third straight 30-plus homer season. A 10-point spike in Bruce's GB% to 46.8 explains a good portion of the ISO decline (from .216 to .158), but in addition, both Bruce's BB% and K% have regressed for the third consecutive season. I thought he would be a 40-plus HR hitter by now given he's in his age 27 season, but this is major regression. He's had months this year in which he's hit .146 and .139, so don't expect much the rest of the way. He'll need some serious coaching and dedication to make it back in 2015.
Domonic Brown (PHI) - After last year's breakout (.818 OPS), Brown has regressed significantly this year - .233/.285/.351, and honestly probably needs a change of scenery. Brown was supposed to infuse youth and talent into an aging lineup, but all he's really done is disappoint. Brown's walk and strikeout rates have remain relatively steady, but his batted ball data shows that he's hitting more ground balls and has seen a proportional decrease in his line-drive rate. He's also not driving the ball with any sort of authority with a .118 ISO (.222 last year), so there are zero positive trends. Brown is 27, so he has plenty of time to resurrect his career, but look for that to happen in the AL next year given his brutal defense. I wouldn't roster him on any fantasy teams barring a change of scenery.
B.J. Upton (ATL) - Doesn't appear to be much hope here.
Curtis Granderson (NYM) - BABIP way down, but so are the K's. Encouraging.
Michael Bourn (CLE) - 31 and the steals are way down? Shocker.
Justin Masterson (CLE/STL) - Allowing 14 runs in 12.1 innings over three starts has Masterson shipped to the bullpen. With a good season, Masterson may have been in line for Homer Bailey money, a deal approaching $100 million, but he is probably now looking at Kyle Kendrick money, if he's lucky. Masterson looked to be a rebound candidate after the deal that shipped him to the NL, but with a 7.62 ERA as a Cardinal, that turned out to be not so true. Masterson's K/9 is still pretty strong at 8.3, but his control has regressed significantly (4.8 BB/9), and he's allowing a few more home runs. On the plus side, Masterson's xFIP is actually pretty solid at 4.01 compared to a 5.98 ERA, so depending on where he ends up in 2015, he's a potential rebound candidate.
Ricky Nolasco (MIN) - Nolasco is headed toward his sixth consecutive year in which he's underperformed his xFIP, but it's never been this stark. His 4.15 xFIP isn'lt bad, but his 5.87 ERA is. Nolasco's 6.4 K/9 and 2.3 BB/9 are pretty much in line with his career averages, and a third consecutive annual increase in his FB% has led to more home runs. Honestly, I'm not buying into Nolasco's ERA dropping closer to his xFIP any time soon, but if he winds up back in the NL, he's at least somewhat interesting.
Ubaldo Jimenez (BAL) - Jimenez's 90.4 mph average fastball represents the fourth consecutive year in which that number has declined. In 2013, Jimenez showed improved control, but this year, Jimenez's BB/9 has regressed to 5.5 from last year's 3.9. Hitters are swinging at fewer of his pitches due to the diminished control, and when they do swing, Jimenez's 6.8 percent swinging strike rate is a career low. All in all, he's been a shell of the pitcher he was last year, but given he's just 30, another rebound in 2015 isn't out of the question. I'd let someone else roll those dice, however.
C.J. Wilson (LAA) - 3.93 and 4.03 - those are Wilson's xFIPs the last two years. He'll be OK.
Mike Minor (ATL) - Pretty much the same guy he was last year (3.21 ERA) with some bad luck mixed in.
Travis Wood (CHC) - xFIPs the last three years: 4.62, 4.50, 4.60. Last year's 3.11 was a fluke, but he's not this bad.
Grant Balfour (TB) - A 6.6 BB/9 pretty much sums it up, and even worse, he's been lucky given a 3.8 HR/FB rate. Balfour's velocity has dropped this year and his swinging strike rate has plummeted from 10.7 to 7.3 percent. Relievers are a fickle bunch, but it's pretty clear that Balfour won't be closing games for anyone this year or any year.
Joe Nathan (DET) - Nathan's velocity has dropped again this year, so while his 8.7 K/9 is still fairly solid, his control has all but disappeared. Nathan's BB/9 rates the last three years 1.8, 3.1, and this year, 4.4. He's been a bit better lately with a 3.10 ERA in his last 20.1 innings, but even then, Nathan's WHIP in that span is 1.48. He's still managed 29 saves, but look for the Tigers to spend some more money on the bullpen this winter.
Honorable mention - Ernesto Frieri (LAA/PIT/Free agent) - Three numbers give us some hope: 94 mph fastball, 10.4 K/9, 3.0 BB/9. He won't open 2015 as a closer, but there's still hope here.