Tuesday, October 17, 2006


Mr. Disappointment

When setting out to find the most disappointing Giants player from 2006, our first impulse would likely be to simply start ticking names off of the laundry list. After all, finding the most disappointing Giant is a task tantamount to naming the most overpaid and overrated player on the New York Knicks. However, upon closer inspection, I think it's fair to question whether or not most of these Giants players really disappointed, or if we really should have been hoping for a whole lot from them in the first place. After all, did anybody truly expect Mark Sweeney to hit like Don Mattingly (or even J.T. Snow, for that matter)? If you did, you crashed through the guardrail of optimism long ago and plummeted straight down into the chasm of delusion.

Of course, there's disappointing, and then there's just plain sucky with the perception of disappointment. I think this kind of thing happens quite a bit. Take the Giants' 2006 season as a whole, for example. Yes, we expected them to be a lot better, but when we look at the opening day roster, the farm system, and the midseason acquisitions, I think it's fair to say that this team just wasn't going to be very good. Sometimes players and teams aren't good in the first place but we lead ourselves to believe otherwise, and thus are saddened when they let us down. Lets now go down the list and check off which players truly underperformed our expectations, and who exactly should rank as Mr. Disappointment.

Pedro Feliz. He was terrible, but I think everybody pretty much expected him to be this bad, even if it was a kind of subconscious thing. Any predictions that he'd be adequate were purely from the wishful thinking boat. Since there are still those who would entertain the idea of bringing Feliz back, and since I relish being the conductor of the Feliz Hate Train, let's look at some numbers that again demonstrate just how ungodly awful Feliz really was.

In 2006, Baseball Prospectus rated Feliz as the second-worst third baseman in the major leagues (minimum 300 plate appearances) according to his -8.2 VORP (Value Over Replacement Player). What does that mean exactly? Well, it means that Feliz is about eight batting runs (or nearly one whole loss) worse than some random AAA third baseman begging for a shot in the major leagues. Yes, if Moonlight Graham were a modern day Quadruple-A third baseman, he'd be one pissed off cat right now. Maybe Feliz's terrific defense makes up for a few of those negative points, but I just don't see why anyone would even consider bringing him back as a regular.

Barry Bonds. I guess Bonds was disappointing in the sense that he wasn't BARRY BONDS, wielder of the mighty 1400 OPS and deliverer of small, spherical white objects unto McCovey Cove. However, considering the knee problems and the long layoff, I think the 130 games played and the 1.000 OPS were above and beyond what we had any right to expect.

Matt Cain. He was well on his way to being Mr. Disappointment around All-Star Break time, but he turned it around and ended up being one of the bright spots, or perhaps the bright spot, of 2006.

Matt Morris. The disappointment came when the Giants doled out $28 million for his services. When everybody expects you to be a disappointment, you can no longer be described as one.

Some other candidates fail to qualify for the simple reason that if they had played well it would have been a phenomenon akin to an aurora borealis opening up in Principal Skinner's kitchen. Lance Neikro, Jamey Wright, or Steve Finley? Don't make me laugh. Guys like Ray Durham, Omar Vizquel, and Moises Alou all had awesome years, so they obviously aren't part of the conversation. This leaves us with three remaining candidates.

Armando Benitez. Again, the contract is more disappointing than the actual player performance. I never expected Benitez to be any good, even if I was certainly hoping.

Noah Lowry. He makes a great case coming off that solid 2005. Really, though, one miserable start in Coors Field inflated his ERA, and perhaps his strikeout rate in 2005 was a little flukey. He's a solid candidate for the "disappointing" title, but I don't think he can hold a candle to our winner...

That's right, the title of Stankeye's 2006 Mr. Disappointment goes to Mr. Randy Winn. How much of a letdown was Winn's crappy season? Let's see, for one, I nominated Randy as the Official Stankeye Player of the Year prior to Opening Day, and I even went so far as to sponsor his Baseball Reference Page. Yes, folks, that's a solid twenty bucks that I could have made better use of by just lighting it on fire. Luckily, my sponsorship expires in less than a month, so I can move on to bigger and better things, like Mark Bellhorn.

I think it's fair to say that no one expected the Mickey Mantle impersonator from the latter half of 2005, but come on, was it really too much to ask for a .340 OBP or something? Randy's final 2006 line: .262/.324/.396. That's sub-Benardian, ladies and gentleman. True, we were certainly spared the outfield theatrics and unsightly little mustache that came along with the Benard package, but those numbers just ain't going to cut it, especially not for the money Winn's about to make.

Oh, did I not mention that part? Yes, Winn is about to get quite expensive, earning salaries of $4 million next season, $8 mil in 2008, and $8.25 mil in 2009, when he'll be 35. For comparison's sake, take Ray Durham. Durham was a guy who, in 2003, signed a somewhat similar deal, four years for money similar to what Winn will recieve, while in about the same age range. In contrast to Winn, though, Durham provided above average, at times phenomenal, offensive production at a more difficult defensive position. That's the kind of situation where a $7-8 million deal makes sense.Winn got similar money despite being a middle-of-the-road center fielder.

So while Brian Sabean, in signing Winn's contract extension, probably fancied himself locking up a center fielder for the next four seasons, he may have instead netted himself a major league albatross. Winn's performance last year, to be sure, was much worse than should have been expected given his career line of .284/.343/.421. So yes, he may have just been having a bad year. Then again, he's 33 and playing in a pitcher's park, so it's possible, and what a horrifying possibility this is, that his 2006 numbers could be par for the course from here on out.

Even setting aside the stats, Winn just didn't look good this season. In the second half of 2005, he was hitting everything with authority, pulling fastballs down the line and over the fence. This year it seemed like he had transformed into a punch-and-judy hitter, taking little flick-of-the-wrist slaps at good fastballs and whiffing at curveballs down in the zone, the kind that he used to rake. Even the majority of his base hits seemed to come on little dunkers, especially in the second half. Often times he just looked completely overmatched, especially against power pitchers.

I don't know what to make of it. The contrast between Randy v.2005 and Mr. Disappointment is too large and too strange to make any sense out of. Seriously, it's like Eddie Murray came to the ballpark one day and started hitting like Jose Macias. I understand the whole half-season sample size issue, but again Winn just looked like a completely different person in the batter's box.

What I do know is that I feel betrayed. When you nominate a guy the official representative of your crummy blog, you expect results. Perhaps I jinxed him here and on Baseball Reference by associating his name with the term "Stankeye", but Winn's Mr. Disappoinment title was well-earned. There's some talk of the Giants picking up a center fielder via trade (Vernon Wells? Yay! Gary Matthews? Ack!) and then moving Winn to a corner outfield spot, but if that happens and Winn continues to hit at a .720 OPS clip it'd be an unmitigated disaster. Right now, the best we can do is hope that Winn's 2006 was an outlier, perhaps some hardcore karmic retribution doled out by the baseball cosmos for his scorching 2005 second half. If he can get back in my good graces again with a solid season, maybe I'll dub him Mr. Comeback or something equally uninspired. Next time, though, I'm keeping my twenty bucks.

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