Is it possible for one player to be the scapegoat on a Major League Baseball team? Many factors contribute to a team making or missing the playoffs, but a glaring lack of performance in one or two players is hard to ignore. As players have shown over the years, timely hits and lockdown starts can change the course of a team’s season, possibly pushing them into the playoffs. Continued underachieving can have the opposite effect. When players are unable to limit runs or bad at-bats, it can directly impact the team’s record. Hence the rise in prominence of the Win Against Replacement (WAR) statistic.
In 2014, there have been so many dropoffs in offensive performance they are hard to document in full, but several MLB pitchers have been just as responsible for their team’s poor performance. When it is all said and done, here are six players who may have been the ones who cost their team the playoffs in 2014. Teams who are four games or fewer out in the Wild Card were considered, while stats are current before the start of play on July 18.
1. Allen Craig, Cardinals
It would too much to ask for Allen Craig to repeat his extraordinary performance with runners in scoring position (.454 average, 1.138 OPS) in 2013. However, the Cardinals’ No. 3 hitter has hit the skids in 2014, with his batting average down to .244 (.648 OPS) and his RISP clip down to .258 (.686 OPS). Craig’s slump is at least part of the reason the Cardinals are fourteenth of fifteen NL teams in runs scored this season.
Shelby Miller is another player to fault in the Cardinals’ 2014 struggles, but the Redbirds sit only one game out of first place and Wild Card standings. Craig could easily be that difference maker that pushes the Cards into the playoffs once again in 2014.
2. Ubaldo Jimenez, Orioles
The Orioles have been without a No. 1 starter for several years now, which one could argue has been the reason they haven’t been able to go deep into the playoffs. Management hoped they were getting a frontline option in Ubaldo Jimenez when they signed him to a four-year deal before the 2014 season, but it hasn’t worked out. Before landing on the disabled list with a sprained ankle, had a forgettable first half with a 3-8 record that is fair, considering his 4.52 ERA.
Jimenez, who is eligible to come off the DL July 23, has the chance to help the O’s repel advances from the rest of the AL East and push the team into the playoffs. Providing more quality starts will also allow Buck Showalter to go lighter on his bullpen in hopes of a deep playoff run.
3. Mike Minor, Braves
Braves fans and management could hope for better performances out of B.J. Upton or another struggling hitter, but there shouldn’t much hope for improved offensive production from this team unless a trade happens. Pitching is another story.
Mike Minor put up a stellar 2013 campaign but has fallen on hard times in 2014. With his 4.86 ERA and 1.49 WHIP through 14 starts, the Braves are hoping Minor’s struggles are rock bottom for the young lefty. Minor’s numbers would put him in the bottom six in the National League in ERA if he had qualified after a few more starts. His WHIP would tie him for second-worst.
Turning a season around that has been this bad is a tall order, but the Braves need Minor to provide more quality innings and more depth in games. He’s currently lasting fewer than 6.0 innings per start. Like so many other teams, the Braves are asking for a lot out of their bullpen, which will come back to haunt them late in the season.
4. Carlos Beltran, Yankees
Though he has been plagued by injury (including a concussion) in 2014, Carlos Beltran has been a shell of his former self when he has been on the field for the Yankees. Through 61 games, Beltran is far below his averages in batting average, OBP, and slugging. If his season does not improve, it will be the worst performance in his sixteen-year MLB career.
The problem for the Yankees is, after the release of Alfonso Soriano, thay have made their bed with Beltran as their sole power outfielder. Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Ichiro provide great defense and plenty of hits, but Beltran was acquired to drive the ball into the seats and plate baserunners. With 28 RBI in 61 games, Beltran isn’t getting it done. Yankees officials are in such dire need of pitching help (four starters are on the DL) that it is unlikely they can trade for a bat.
Beltran will have to deliver if they hope to make the playoffs. Notwithstanding the stunning amount of injuries and underachieving batters, the Yankees are five games out of first place and 3.5 games out of the Wild Card at press time.
5. Francisco Liriano, Pirates
The biggest difference between the Pirates last year and this year is Francisco Liriano. After going 16-8 with a 3.02 ERA in 2013, Liriano has crashed back to earth with a 1-7 record and 4.72 ERA in 2014 for the Bucs. Still, the Pirates are only three games out of first place in the NL Central and the same margin back in the Wild Card race.
Pittsburgh’s offense (fifth in runs, fourth in OPS) has not been the problem in 2014, so the team may just need a string of quality outings from Liriano to make a move in the division. Pirates fans and management can only hope the lefty finds the magic again before it is too late.
6. Eric Hosmer, Royals
The Royals were firing on all cylinders when they muscled into first place ahead of the Tigers in mid-June. Unfortunately for the organization, the 9-14 performance since that surge has left the Royals 6.5 games back in the AL Central (if only a pair of games out in the Wild Card).
Looking around at players who would help K.C. return to form, one could point to Billy Butler (.355 SLG, 3 HR) or Jeremy Guthrie (5-8, 4.56 ERA), but Eric Hosmer has been experiencing a power outage at first base. With 6 HR and .268 batting average through 94 games, the Royals are not getting much out of their DH or first baseman, which is taking a huge toll on the team’s offensive output. Hosmer’s WAR is the worst in baseball among everyday first basemen.