Not everything goes according to plan in all sports, not just baseball. Sometimes, players that are coming off a great season have a disastrous season the next year. Sometimes, players that seemed prime for a breakout year fall flat on their face. And sometimes, the most solid players in the league just struggle and can't live up to expectations. The 2012 MLB season was no different, and there were plenty of players across the league who were disappointing to their teams and their fans. Keep in mind that just because someone is paid a lot doesn't necessary mean they're a disappointment. Angels fans probably aren't too disappointed by Vernon Wells because they didn't expect anything from him. I don't think Phillies fans are overly disappointed with Ryan Howard, considering he's been on a downward trend since winning the NL MVP in 2008 and suffered a serious injury at the end of last season. You get the idea. Here are ten players that I feel had the most disappointing seasons in relation to what was expected from them.
1. Adrian Gonzalez, Red Sox/Dodgers You could probably make a list of just the ten most disappointing Red Sox players. In fact, I'm pretty sure I could. But any rate, I'm putting Gonzalez at the top of the list. Gonzalez was fourth in the 2010 NL MVP voting, and the Red Sox acquired him that offseason for four prospects (two of which were top five prospects in Boston's farm system) before signing him to a seven year, $154 million extension. Gonzalez finished seventh in the 2011 AL MVP voting, and it looked like he'd be Boston's first baseman for the rest of the decade. Then this season, he was a different player. Gonzalez's 6.2% walk rate with the Red Sox was his lowest since a 43 game sample he was a 23-year old with the Rangers. His 15 homers were low, considering that his lowest in a full season in the majors was 24 (and he was playing his home games in Petco Park for god's sake). Then, the blockbuster: Gonzalez was sent to the Dodgers in a mammoth deal to clear payroll along with Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett, and Nick Punto. And here we are, going into 2013 with the Red Sox first baseman for the next decade back in southern California because he had season that didn't live up to any of the expectations set for him after a fantastic 2011 season.
2. Carlos Pena, Rays You know, deep down, everyone knew Pena was probably close to being done, and wouldn't resemble the player he was from 2007 to 2009 in Tampa Bay. But I don't think anyone could have imagined that Pena would essentially torpedo the Rays season, hitting only 18 homers, striking out 30% of the time, and posting a sub-.700 OPS. It's not fair to point fingers at specific people when a team fails to make the playoffs, but Pena is probably the biggest reason why the Rays failed in 2012.
3. Ricky Romero, Blue Jays Romero was supposed to be the rock in Toronto's rotation, the guy who could give you 200+ innings without breaking a sweat while keeping his ERA above league average. Romero's 2012 was pretty much an umitigated disaster. His already high walk rate absolutely jumped through the roof, topping five batters per nine innings while Romero threw just three more innings than his previous career low (which came in three fewer starts than in 2012). Romero's strikeout rate also fell by a batter per inning this season, and as a result of all that, his ERA spiked all the way to 5.77, the highest of any qualified starter in all of baseball this season. You can't get much more disappointing than that.
4. Eric Hosmer, Royals This was a guy that was one of the top prospects in baseball prior to the 2011 season, and had a great rookie season as a 20-year old. With everyone expecting him to become a top tier first baseman this season, he went the other direction. While his walk and strikeout rates remained steady enough, Hosmer's power fell of a cliff and he hit five fewer doubles and five fewer homers in roughly the same amount of playing time. A 60 point drop in BABIP crippled triple slash as the cherry on top of his awful season. It's not the end of the world for Hosmer, who will just be turning 22 in three weeks. Scouts have apparently identified a hitch in Hosmer's swing that can be fixed, which would hopefully turn him into the player that everyone imagined he could be.
5. Mike Napoli, Rangers Napoli likely cost himself a lot of money in this offseason's free agent market after his 2012. After setting the world on fire in 2011 with a 30 homer, 1.045 OPS season, Napoli came back to Earth with a resounding thud this year. The homers fell from 30 to 24. His doubles total fell from 25 to nine (seriously, just nine doubles). His strikeout rate jumped 10% to a hair under 30% for the season. This season actually lines up pretty well in comparison to Napoli's 2009 and 2010 seasons with the Angels, which tells me that maybe last season was the aberration as opposed to a sign that Napoli was blossoming into a superstar.
6. Roy Halladay, Phillies I think that even the biggest homer of any Phillies fan would even agree with me that Halladay was the biggest disappointment on this team in 2012. Over his first two years in the National League, Halladay won a NL Cy Young and was runner-up once. It completely fell apart in 2012. Halladay, ever the workhorse, threw under 220 innings for the first time since 2005. It's not like he just missed getting there either, as Halladay finished with only 156 1/3 innings pitched for the season. His walk rate was his highest since that same 2004 season, the first time in eight years it's been above two batters per nine innings. His 4.49 ERA was the second worst mark of his career, behind just 2000, when a 23-year old Halladay walked nearly as many batters as he struck out in 67 2/3 innings. By any statistic you can imagine, it was Halladay's worst full season in years, and with him turning 36 next May, it's not exactly a guarantee he'll be the same ace in 2013.
7. Jair Jurrjens, Braves Nearly all Braves fans knew that Jurrjens' 2.96 ERA in 2011 was a dream scenario, and that it would be difficult to repeat in 2012. But I don't think anyone expected just how much Jurrjens would struggle this season. In 48 1/4 innings, Jurrjens struck out only 19 hitters and walked 18 while he allowed eight homers. Futhermore, his velocity continued to drop, and was down close to three mph since 2010. After a pair of demotions to AAA, Jurrjens was placed on the minor league disabled list, and appears to be on the frontlines for nontendering this offseason. All this after being an All-Star in 2011 and a guy who was talked about as the NL's best pitcher of the first half.
8. John Axford, Brewers I normally don't like to put relievers on lists like this, but Axford's season was startling. His strikeout rate was just as awesome in the past two seasons, but his walk rate took a huge jump, and he allowed twice as many homers as he did in his entire career this season. Also, Axford blew nine saves, nearly double his total of five from the last two years. Put it all together and you get an ERA that's up nearly three runs from 2011, a neutral fWAR, and season that was a huge part in Milwaukee's lack of playoffs this year.
9. Justin Upton, Diamondbacks Upton was a sexy MVP pick from writers from every walk of life this spring, and with good reason: he was coming off of a 31 homer, 21 steal season after being 23 for nearly all of the year, and had an OPS just shy of .900. This year, Upton has neither hit 20 homers nor stolen 20 bases. He's not going to hit 30 doubles like he did in two of his last three seasons, and his OPS isn't going to get within spitting distance of .800, where it's been in all but one of his full seasons. And after all that, his status as Arizona's franchise player is in question, and GM Kevin Towers is apparently looking to deal him this offseason. It really doesn't get much more disappointing than that, does it? Upton went from the face of the Diamondbacks to potentially not even a Diamondbacks player in the span of just one season.
10. Tim Lincecum, Giants And here we are, saving the best for last. Lincecum won back to back Cy Young awards before even hitting his arbitration years. Just three seasons after that second Cy Young, there are rumblings that Lincecum's career as a starter are done after his 2012 season, the worst of his career. Lincecum's 5.18 ERA this season was nearly two runs worse than his career mark, his strikeout rate was the second worst mark of his career, his walk rated jumped by nearly a batter per inning over his career mark, and his homer rate was above 1.00 per nine innings for the first time ever. Lincecum's velocity was also way down this season, with his fastball sitting at 90mph after sitting at 94 during his first Cy Young season in 2008. With Lincecum scheduled to make $22.25 million next year, the question remains: is the 2012 Lincecum the pitcher he'll be going forward, or was this just a blip on the radar? Because the 2012 Lincecum would be vastly overpaid at any eight figure salary, let alone a salary over $20 million.