Posted October 13, 2009

A Look back at the best, worst, most surprising and most disappointing from every major league baseball team during the 2009 regular season.

Back in March, Ed Attanasio and I made our annual predictions for who would reign at the end of the 2009 regular season, and we both came to the conclusion that the New York Mets would be there attempting to hoist the World Series trophy. That shows us what little we sometimes know about prognosticating, if not the fragility of a ballclub (see the Mets’ disabled list).

By and large, however, we did get it mostly right. In fact, we were nearly spot on with the American League postseason entrants; I picked all three divisional winners and the wild card correctly, while Ed missed, by a 163rd game, of doing the same (he imagined an AL Central crown for Detroit). The National League provided us with a little more embarrassment, beyond the Mets’ fiasco; I thought now was the time for the Arizona Diamondbacks, but a poor start and crippling injuries to key players (Brandon Webb, Conor Jackson) killed their aspirations almost out of the starting block. On the other hand, I did go out on a limb and called for St. Louis as NL Central champions, instead of the default choice of everyone else (including Ed), the Chicago Cubs.

So now that I’m alternately back-slapping myself and picking myself off the dirt after a season of mixed results, I’m here to give the far safer routine of reviewing the year on a team-by-team basis, declaring the players who were completely in sync, those whose stock fell, those who came out of nowhere and those who…well, where did they go? Enjoy.

AL East
AL Central
AL West
NL East
NL Central
NL West

AL East

Sailing Along: If a .283 average, 110 runs, 56 doubles, 16 homers and 30 steals is the way Brian Roberts plays without steroids, why was he taking them to begin with?

Sinking: Jeremy Guthrie lost 17 games, four more than any other AL pitcher. For a guy considered to be the Orioles’ ace, that’s not a healthy sign.

Where Did He Come From? A leg injury cut Brad Bergesen’s fine rookie season short; his 7-5 record and 3.43 ERA sticks out as an oasis amid a desert of wasteland stats within the Oriole pitching staff.

Whatever Happened to: Chris Ray? Just two years ago, Ray was developing into a good, dependable closer for the Orioles. Injuries have reduced him to just another hurler struggling to stick at the major league level.

Sailing Along: Jonathan Papelbon has clearly established himself as one of baseball’s dominant closers. The 28-year old was par for his own course this season, blowing just three save opportunities (yes, not including the playoffs) with a 1.85 ERA.

Sinking: David Ortiz. Big Papi became Big Floppi after a horrible start, all while steroid revelations dented his highly likeable reputation. Ortiz had a decent second half, but his .238 season average is well below where it was, once upon a recent time.

Where Did He Come From? Alex Gonzalez came from Cincinnati, where he was having a terrible year with the Reds, but shined in Boston at shortstop, a position the Red Sox desperately needed some good results from.

Whatever Happened to: Daisuke Matsuzaka (4-6, 5.76 ERA)? He pitched well to end the season, but for a large part of the campaign struggled with control and was often lucky just to get past the fifth inning.

New York Yankees
Sailing Along: Derek Jeter became the all-time Yankee hit leader, collected 200 hits for the seventh time, scored 100 runs for the 12th time and hit .334 to raise his career mark slightly upward to .317. Anyone who embraces the recent poll naming Jeter as the game’s most overrated player is simply in denial.

Sinking: Joba Chamberlain’s expectations. The great Joba experiment in New York is close to imploding, with a 4.75 ERA and an average of barely five innings per start.

Where Did He Come From? After a terrible year with the White Sox, Nick Swisher was brought to New York to come off the bench; but a hot start cemented an everyday role and, despite a not-so-sparkling .249 average, hit 29 homers and led the team with 97 walks.

Whatever Happened to: Chien-Ming Wang? The Taiwan native who entered the season with a lifetime 54-19 record had one of the worst starts of any major leaguer, ever. He was lucky to bring his ERA below 10.00 before earning a second—and final—trip to the disabled list.

Tampa Bay
Sailing Along: Evan Longoria proved with his sophomore numbers (.281 average, 33 home runs, 113 RBIs) that his freshman effort was no fluke.

Sinking: Pat Burrell looked to be a sure fit in a potent Ray offense, but he limped badly out of the gate and never got on track, finishing the year with an awful .221 average and a career-low 14 homers; he couldn’t even muster up the 100 walks he’s been accustomed to.

Where Did He Come From? Jeff Niemann was a surprise savior of sorts on an underachieving Tampa Bay rotation, leading the team with 13 wins and a 3.94 ERA in his first full season.

Whatever Happened to: Troy Percival? The veteran closer managed to convert all six of his save opportunities despite a 6.35 ERA, but his old friend, the injury bug, did him in with a shoulder injury that resulted in a late-May shutdown.

Sailing Along: Roy Halladay (17-10, 2.79 ERA), bittersweet news for Jay loyalists considering that his days in Toronto are numbered—if they’re not all behind him, given the possibility that he could be the subject of a mid-winter trade.

Sinking: Vernon Wells. He may be great at making money and leading mutinies, but he’s struggled to be the same player that earned him all those wages.

Where Did He Come From? Adam Lind (.305 average, 35 home runs, 114 RBIs) and Aaron Hill (.286, 36, 108). Without these two emerging sluggers coming out of nowhere, the Jays might have lost 100 games.

Whatever Happened to: Alex Rios? He ended up in Chicago, where he apparently went AWOL on the White Sox, too.

AL Central

Chicago White Sox
Sailing Along: Mark Buehrle, who wasn’t consistently dominant but provided more than his share of good moments (including a no-hitter) to retain his standing as the team ace.

Sinking: Jermaine Dye has been notoriously up-and-down throughout his career, but this past year’s downturn may cause special concern as time is not on his side like it used to be (he’ll be 36 next year).

Where Did He Come From? Scott Podsednik. Tom Wolfe had it wrong; you can go home again. The once-and-current White Sock, whose career appeared headed for the exit door a year ago, proved it by regaining his leadoff star in Chicago with a .304 average and 30 steals.

Whatever Happened to: Carlos Quentin? After his MVP quest was rudely disrupted with a self-inflicted broken hand last year, Quentin struggled through another fragile campaign, batting just .236 in 99 games.

Sailing Along: Shin Soo-Choo got the full-time gig in the Cleveland outfield and justified the promotion by hitting .300 with 20 homers, 86 RBIs, 21 steals and 78 walks.

Sinking: Kelly Shoppach, who a year earlier made the most of filling in for oft-injured Victor Martinez; even after Martinez’s trade to Boston in mid-summer, Shoppach couldn’t step up, hitting just .214.

Where Did He Come From? Tony Sipp was one of the few pitchers in Cleveland who could actually get the job done, even if it was as a set-up man. The rookie southpaw authored a 2.94 ERA in 46 games, and hitters managed only a .194 average against him.

Whatever Happened to: Fausto Carmona? The Indians’ version of the Picture of Dorian Gray. The rapid deterioration continued for the kid who just two years earlier won 19 games, with a lowly 5-12 record and 6.32 ERA in 2009.

Sailing Along: Miguel Cabrera (.324 average, 34 homers, 103 RBIs). That was, until his lost weekend in the season’s final weekend possibly cost the Tigers a playoff spot.

Sinking: Shoulder problems cost Carlos Guillen roughly half his season, and even when he was active was hardly up to par, batting a career-low .245.

Where Did He Come From? Rick Porcello, at age 20 still too young to drink legally (at least that’s one sober Tiger during the regular season’s final weekend), excelled in his rookie campaign with a 14-9 record and an admirable, pressure-laden start in the AL tiebreaker against Minnesota.

Whatever Happened to: First place? Funny, the Tigers pretty much had a good hold of it throughout the entire year—but lost it on the very last play of the regular season.

Kansas City
Sailing Along: David DeJesus has been the rock—albeit a small one—of the Royal offense, consistently producing in moderate fashion while others on the team have risen and fallen with alarming regularity.

Sinking: Gil Meche proved in his first two years as a Royal that he wasn’t overpaid to come to Kansas City; his 2009 output (6-10, 5.09 ERA) put some backbone back into the naysayers’ arguments.

Where Did He Come From? It’s not that Zack Greinke was an unknown coming into the season, but his Cy Young-caliber performance, augmented by a phenomenal start (0.84 ERA after ten starts), came out of nowhere.

Whatever Happened to: Alex Gordon? Two years ago, the Royals thrust the rookie into the everyday spot with heralded hopes that he’d save the franchise. Now he’s on a quest to save his own career after an Opening Day hip injury put him into a yearlong funk.

Sailing Along: Joe Nathan, who saved 47 more games and, for the second straight year, allowed less than one baserunner per inning. He’s arguably the best closer in the game—during the regular season, that is.

Sinking: Francisco Liriano. It’s been a long run back from elbow surgery for the guy who exploded on the scene alongside Johan Santana in 2006—and after a disappointing 2009, it’s looking more and more like the light at the end of the tunnel is still quite faint.

Where Did He Come From? Joe Mauer. Or, in other words: Where did that all that power come from? The likely AL MVP doubled his previous home run total with 28—and the rest of his hitting game didn’t suffer a lick either, as he won his second AL batting crown.

Whatever Happened to: Carlos Gomez? The once-hot prospect, traded to the Twins as part of the package that sent Santana to New York, spent more time on the bench while more deserving outfielders took the field for the Twins; Gomez batted just .227.

AL West

Los Angeles of Anaheim
Sailing Along: Despite a midseason injury that cost him over a month of action, Torii Hunter (.299, 22 homers, 90 RBIs) remained the centerpiece of what turned into a remarkably solid lineup from top to bottom.

Sinking: Gary Matthews, Jr., the odd man out on a team crowded with talented and more deserving outfielders. Few major leaguers have ever stolen $50 million in plain daylight like Matthews has.

Where Did He Come From? Until this year, Kendry Morales appeared to be another overhyped Cuban defector with all-world potential, but he provided the majors with one of this year’s most startling breakout performances, hitting .306 with 34 home runs and 108 RBIs—the latter two figures good enough to lead the Angels.

Whatever Happened to: Scott Shields? A lifelong Angel and once one of the game’s top middle relievers, Shields blew a tire this year and ended up going under the knife for knee surgery in June after a terrible (1-3, 6.62 ERA) start.

Sailing Along:
Kurt Suzuki, Maui’s other major leaguer (Shane Victorino is the one most everyone knows about) has quietly developed as a reliable, if not overpowering, sparkplug in the Oakland offense, as underscored by his .274 average, 15 homers and 88 RBIs.

Sinking: It just isn’t happening for Bobby Crosby, the 2004 AL Rookie of the Year who has since fought injuries and a nagging inability to hit anywhere near .250. He still must be cheap enough for the low-budget A’s; otherwise, there’s almost no reason to hold onto him.

Where Did He Come From? How the Giants would love to have Rajai Davis back. The speedster bolted onto the starting lineup after the All-Star break and sparkled; for the year, Davis hit .305 with 41 steals.

Whatever Happened to: Eric Chavez? Oakland fans have been asking that question for so long, they’ve probably given up waiting for answer and have just moved on. A herniated disc is the latest in series of long-standing injury issues for Chavez, and his return to baseball has been placed in doubt.

Sailing Along:
Ichiro Suzuki. The Seattle Hit Machine just keeps going, and going, and going…

Sinking: Slowly and, it appears, surely, catcher Kenji Johjima has slipped into irrelevance. Injuries hampered the 33-year old again, but when healthy was increasingly ineffective. It would be a small surprise if he started behind the plate in 2010 for the Mariners.

Where Did He Come From? After bouncing around from team to team with little success, David Aardsma—alphabetically first in the baseball encyclopedia—took over the closer role in Seattle when no one else could effectively handle the position and surprised with 38 saves in 42 opportunities.

Whatever Happened to: Brandon Morrow? The heir apparent to J.J. Putz at the closer spot had several spectacular meltdowns to begin the season and was later transformed into a starter, with marginal results.

Sailing Along:
Michael Young hit .322—nine points shy of a personal best—but was deprived of his sixth 200-hit campaign thanks to a late-season injury.

Sinking: Hank Blalock was looking for career salvation in his walk year, but after hitting .234—which rose to just .277 as an on-base percentage—the free agent offers won’t be impressive.

Where Did He Come From? Scott Feldman came into the year with seven career victories over his first four years—and with help from a sterling road performance (12-4, 3.56 ERA), finished in a tie for fourth in the AL with 17 wins.

Whatever Happened to: Josh Hamilton? Last year’s MVP candidate became all but yesterday’s news in 2009, except for the embarrassing revelation that he fell off the wagon one night in spring training. Injuries contributed heavily to a lost season in which he hit .268 with just ten homers.

NL East

Sailing Along: Brian McCann continued to show that he’s one of the best young hitting catchers in the game, batting .281 with 21 homers and 94 RBIs.

Sinking: Kelly Johnson was a star on the rise just a few short years ago, but his stock took a big dip with a .224 average that left him watching much of the season’s second half from the bench, in favor of…

Where Did He Come From? Martin Prado, who took over at second base for Johnson and made the most of his first-ever opportunity to play everyday, hitting .307 with 11 jacks.

Whatever Happened to: Jordan Schafer? The highly touted rookie homered in two of the Braves’ first three games, then spent the next two months swinging and missing before being sent back to the minors. A wrist injury ended any chance for him to reprove himself in September as a call-up.

Sailing Along: Not too many major leaguers can say they have a reservation for Cooperstown at age 25.  Hanley Ramirez (.342 average, 24 homers, 106 RBIs, 27 steals) can.

Sinking: The Marlins let Kevin Gregg go so they can make room at the closer spot for Matt Lindstrom. They didn’t count on Lindstrom being the worse alternative. He only blew two save opps in 17 chances, but an unacceptable ERA (he finished at 5.89) led to a demotion.

Where Did He Come From? Chris Coughlan arose from a common first half to lead the NL with 113 hits and a .372 average after the All-Star break. He’s the front-runner for the NL Rookie of the Year award.

Whatever Happened to: Cameron Maybin? After a sparkling late-season audition a year ago, Maybin was handed the center field position for Opening Day. But he stunk it up for a month-plus and was sent back to the minors. (He did show improvement after being called up for September—again.)

New York Mets
Sailing Along: David Wright, who’s the only candidate for this category. Despite a loss of power (ten home runs after averaging 30 over the past four years), he still hit a solid .307.

Sinking: A hip injury ended Carlos Delgado’s season—and very likely his career as a Met—in mid-May; he needs 27 homers to reach 500, but will a team give him the chance as he turns 38 next year?

Where Did He Come From? Where did who come from?

Whatever Happened to: Just about everybody who made the Mets’ Opening Day roster? We lost count, but at least 13 players, including almost every major expected contributor, made the disabled list at one point or another during this thoroughly forgettable and painful season in New York.

Sailing Along: Ryan Howard and Chase Utley. The Phillies’ two marquee stars experienced no letdown from the monster numbers they’ve been putting up in recent years.

Sinking: Closer Brad Lidge went Bizarro after his perfect campaign of 2008, blowing 11 save opportunities, losing eight games and posting a rotten 7.21 ERA.

Where Did He Come From? The Phillies desperately needed someone to fill in the vacuum of a dysfunctional starting rotation and found him in young J.A. Happ, who co-led the team with 12 wins and led outright in starters’ ERA at 2.93.

Whatever Happened to: Brett Myers? Sometimes starter, sometimes reliever over the past three years, Myers played both roles during the season, neither of them convincingly.

Sailing Along: So Adam Dunn didn’t get his 40 homers for the first time in six years, but 38 was close enough. Better than that, he produced a career-best batting average—at .267.

Sinking: Scott Olsen was traded to the Nationals to give a badly inexperienced rotation some upside and innings. But he won just two of his first 11 starts with a 6.03 ERA before being shut down with shoulder surgery.

Where Did He Come From? For a change, the Nationals actually got the better of a deal when it received outfielder Nyler Morgan from Pittsburgh; he hit .351 and stole 24 bases in 49 games at Washington.

Whatever Happened to: Joel Hanrahan? If he was good enough to close for the American WBC team, he should have been good enough to close for the Nationals, right? Wrong. He was terrible for both, and was shipped off to the Pirates in the trade that sent Morgan to D.C.

NL Central

Chicago Cubs
Sailing Along: Derrek Lee’s hot second half helped reconfirm his standing as the sultan of swat at Wrigley.

Sinking: Milton Bradley, whose temper has possibly done him in for the last time.

Where Did He Come From? Randy Wells, a worthy dark horse in the NL Rookie of the Year vote who led Chicago starting pitchers with 12 wins and a 3.05 ERA.

Whatever Happened to: Jeff Samardzjia? Check the NFL, where he’s rumored to be considering a switch towards. After a promising debut in 2008, Samardzija was lit up frequently, as reflected with a 7.53 ERA.

Sailing Along: Although Brandon Phillips never fancied the idea of batting cleanup, he took the job and continued to put up good stats.

Sinking: Jay Bruce finished the year strong, but on a whole the 2009 campaign was a disappointment for the highly thought-of 22-year old, batting just .223.

Where Did He Come From? Actually, we saw rookie Chris Dickerson coming, but nobody else made anything close to a surprising impression on this team.

Whatever Happened to: Edinson Volquez? The 17-game winner from a year ago blew out his right elbow nine starts into the year and ended up under the knife for Tommy John surgery. He likely won’t be seen on the mound until mid-2010.

Sailing Along: Carlos Lee hit over .300 for the fourth straight year and has now hit anywhere between 26- 37 home runs over each of the last eight seasons.

Sinking: A lousy April handicapped Lance Berkman’s chances to match his outstanding 2008 numbers; he hit a career-low .274.

Where Did He Come From? Just shy of 30, Jeff Fulcino finally stuck around for a full year in the majors and emerged as a reliable feature in a solid Houston bullpen.

Whatever Happened to: Brandon Backe? Answer: He went from bad (6.05 ERA in 2008) to worse (10.38 ERA in his first five appearances) to the minors to out of the game.

Sailing Along: Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun. One of the game’s best 1-2 punches continued to cause havoc on many a pitcher.

Sinking: In 2007, J.J. Hardy was an All-Star at shortstop; two years later, he was fighting the slump of his life and ended up in Triple-A.

Where Did He Come From? With expected improvement, rookie Casey McGehee (.301 average, 16 homers and 66 RBIs in 116 games) could make it an intense 1-2-3 punch with Braun and Fielder—so long as either of the other two players remains in Milwaukee next year.

Whatever Happened to: Bill Hall? A steep decline that makes Hardy’s travails almost non-existent by comparison. Three years after hitting .270 with 35 homers, Hall bottomed out at .201 and six homers in 76 games before being given away to Seattle—where he fared even worse, racking up 48 strikeouts in 120 at-bats.

Sailing Along: The Bucs’ streak of losing seasons, now at a record 17.

Sinking: Closer Matt Capps entered the year with a career 3.06 ERA—and shot it all to hell with a 5.80 mark in 2009. Somehow, he managed to blow just five save opportunities.

Where Did He Come From? Garrett Jones. At least there’s hope for the Pirates’ future with this guy, so long as the team doesn’t trade him, too. Jones hit 21 home runs—all after July 1.

Whatever Happened to: Nate McLouth, and Adam LaRoche, and Freddy Sanchez, and Jack Wilson, and Ian Snell, and Nyler Morgan, and Tom Gorzelanny, and John Grabow…Answer: The Bucs’ Opening Day lineup ended up everywhere but in Pittsburgh.

St. Louis
Sailing Along: Albert Pujols. Said it before, saying it again: Best hitter on the planet, period.

Sinking: Rick Ankiel’s feel-good tale of transforming himself from wild pitcher to titanic slugger seems a thousand years ago now. He hit .231 with 11 homers in 122 games.

Where Did He Come From? Colby Rasmus found more playing time than he ever dreamed, and the 23-year old rookie didn’t fare badly with a .251 average, 16 homers and 72 runs scored in 474 at-bats.

Whatever Happened to: Khalil Greene? One of several major leaguers to take a break from the game this past year with anxiety issues, Greene never found a groove and finished right at the Mendoza Line (.200).

NL West

Sailing Along: Dan Haren, who in his five years as a full-time starter has always been good for 14-16 wins and an ERA in the 3.00’s.

Sinking: Chris Young has never hit well for average, but ending up at .212 was wretched even by his standards—and the power was slipping away to boot, with just 15 homers after hitting 32 in his 2007 rookie campaign.

Where Did He Come From? Gerardo Parra. The 22-year old rookie may have Young’s job in the outfield next season if both players’ momentums continue to move in opposite directions.

Whatever Happened to: Brandon Webb? Last year’s 22-game winner lasted a total of four forgettable innings in 2009 before being sidelined by shoulder surgery. It’s quite possible he’ll be in another uniform for 2010.

Sailing Along: Todd Helton wields half the power of his former younger self, but he remains a dangerous presence with a .300+ average and .400+ on-base percentage.

Sinking: The Rockies had hoped that Garrett Atkins would fill in the void created by the departed Matt Holliday, but it didn’t happen with a highly disappointing .226-9-48 effort.

Where Did He Come From? Seth Smith emerged as a tough SOB on opponents, hitting .293 with 15 homers in 335 at-bats; he was 17-for-36 as a pinch hitter.

Whatever Happened to: Manny Corpas? The Rockies’ on-again, off-again closer was way off this year, getting hammered early before being done in by elbow issues.

Los Angeles
Sailing Along: The Dodgers’ homegrown duo of Matt Kemp (.297-26-101) and Andre Ethier (.272-31-106) continued their steady ascension towards stardom.

Sinking: Being caught with the steroid purse apparently shook up Manny Ramirez; after terrorizing opponents with a superhuman .400 performance in the final two months last year, Ramirez hit just .265 in the same time frame this season.

Where Did He Come From? Rookie Ronald Belisario (2.04 ERA in 69 games) was a welcomed sight for a bullpen that needed all the talent to pick up a patched-up starting rotation.

Whatever Happened to: Jason Schmidt? The Dodgers, too, would like to know after inking him for three years and $49 million. For the record, Schmidt earned $16.667 million per win during the length of that pact.

San Diego
Sailing Along: Where would the Padres be without Adrian Gonzalez? The team’s lone slugging threat hit 40 homers, the majority of them away from voluminous Petco Park.

Sinking: Not a good year for anyone named Chris Young (see Arizona). The Padres’ Young, once labeled a future ace, continues to decline with each passing season.

Where Did He Come From? After Trevor Hoffman’s rude exile, there seemed to be little to offer from the Padres’ bullpen until Heath Bell took the ball and, doing his best impersonation of Rod Beck, saved a NL-high 42 games.

Whatever Happened to: Brian Giles? A knee injury put an early end to an utterly lousy year (on the field and off it) in which he hit .191 with just two homers in 61 games. A minor league contract awaits Giles, who turns 39 in 2010.

San Francisco
Sailing Along: Tim Lincecum. Last year’s Cy Young Award winner pitched well enough to win another, though the honor is likely to go to other pitchers with better run support.

Sinking: Edgar Renteria was the latest over-the-hill veteran to underperform for the Giants; he established personal lows in almost every offensive category.

Where Did He Come From? Many Giant fans saw Pablo Sandoval coming, given his ability to hit well over .300 at every level, including with the Giants in late 2008; this year, the rest of the nation took note.

Whatever Happened to: Randy Johnson? It was a good start for the Big Unit, soaking in an early-season spotlight highlighted by his 300th win; but he soon after tweaked his shoulder swinging a bat and missed most of the second half. At 46, Johnson may be content to hang it up.

© 2009 This Great Game