Things change in life and that's especially true in baseball. Players don't remain great forever (unless you're David Ortiz, of course). All throughout baseball history, we've seen players completely fall off the face of the earth. Sometimes injuries are the reason. Age is often a big factor as well. Then there are guys we just have no explanation for.
Tuesday on the Fantasy Baseball Today podcast, Chris Towers, Scott White and I made a team of disappearing acts, players who had multiple seasons of being a plus Fantasy contributor… and then they weren't. The point of this exercise was to find out why some of these players fell off the way they did and to learn from it. In Fantasy, we often hear the expression "I'd rather hop off one year early than one year late". Nobody wants to be stuck with the next Grady Sizemore when it all goes downhill.
Here were the names we (mostly) agreed on when filling out the lineup:
C – Jonathan Lucroy
Things often snowball quickly when it comes to catchers at the age of 30, and 2016 was the last time we saw the productive version of Lucroy, who'd been consistently regarded as elite at the position. That season Lucroy hit a career-high 24 home runs while batting .292 with an .855 OPS. He finished as the best catcher in Fantasy that season. Lucroy would never again hit more than eight home runs in a season or post an OPS higher than .716. Keep that in mind when drafting catchers in keeper or dynasty leagues.
1B – Chris Davis
First base was one of the tougher positions for us to decide on because so many of the greats over the past two decades fell off because of injury. Justin Morneau dealt with concussions, Ryan Howard tore his Achilles and Prince Fielder retired at just 32 years old because of spinal fusion surgery. What's Chris Davis' excuse? In 2015, Davis led baseball with 47 home runs while batting .262 with a .923 OPS. As a result, he earned a seven-year, $161 million deal from the Baltimore Orioles. Since then, he's batting .198 with a .679 OPS.
2B – Marcus Giles
Admittedly, this is a Scott White special and one that goes beyond my Fantasy Baseball years. Brian Dozier and Dan Uggla represented strong candidates at the second base position but the suddenness of Giles' demise before the age of 30 earned him this honor. Giles put together a monster all-star season in 2003, hitting 21 home runs and swiping 14 bags to go along with a .917 OPS. He would put together two more solid seasons but by the age of 28, he was batting just .262 with an 87 OPS+. The next season would be his last in the majors.
3B – Pablo Sandoval
Cover your eyes, San Francisco Giants fans! The Kung Fu Panda definitely had valuable Fantasy seasons, but he's an example of a player who got over-hyped because of what he did in reality. Sandoval helped the Giants win three World Series in a five-year span and he was likable. In Fantasy, however, he really just had 2009 and 2011. He's most known for batting .330 with 25 home runs for Fantasy owners in that 2009 season. From 2012-2014, he never posted an OPS higher than .789. I haven't even mentioned Boston yet. Sandoval signed a five-year, $95 million deal in 2015 and hit all of 14 home runs with them. Yikes.
SS – Nomar Garciaparra
About a month ago, Chris Towers and I did something dangerous in saying 21-year old Juan Soto will make the Hall of Fame. I think if you asked anybody if Nomar Garciaparra would make the Hall following his 2000 season, it would have also been a no-brainer. Over his first four seasons, Garciaparra's average season was .337-110-28-105-13. He was every bit worthy of rivaling Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez at the shortstop position. And then injuries struck. Garciaparra complained of a split tendon in his wrist dating as far back as 1999. He managed another monster season in 2003 but after that, was never the same. It's one of the more tragic "what could have been" stories.
OF – Grady Sizemore
I'm not sure anybody wants to be the face of the All-Disappearing Act Team, but Grady Sizemore might be just that. Sizemore had a four-year run from 2005-2008 where he was a Roto stud. Over those four seasons, Sizemore's average Fantasy line was .281-116-26-81-28. After 2008, Sizemore would never play more than 112 games in a season again. Sizemore sits at the top of an absolutely loaded position.
OF – Josh Hamilton
One thing we noticed while doing the podcast was that a lot of players fell off with a change of scenery. Hamilton signed with the Angels in 2013 and was never the same player. He made the All-Star team each season from 2008-2012 and nothing was more impressive than his MVP year in 2010. Hamilton won the batting title with a .359 batting average while hitting 32 home runs in just 133 games. After he signed with the Angels, Hamilton would never post an OPS higher than .745 again.
OF – Jason Bay
Speaking of changes of scenery ruining careers, Jason Bay is right up there with Hamilton. Bay had a six-year stretch from 2004-2009 where he posted an .895 OPS or higher in five. In that 2009 season, he posted career-highs in home runs (36) and RBI (119). He would sign with the New York Mets in 2010 and never hit more than 12 home runs or post an OPS higher than .749 again. I would be remiss not to honorably mention Carl Crawford, Andruw Jones and Carlos Gomez, who were also worthy outfield candidates.
U – Travis Hafner
Before there was Gronk, we had Pronk. Who can forget Hafner's 2006 where he posted a .308-100-42-117 Fantasy line to go along with a 1.097 OPS? Hafner's career would be derailed by injuries, however, after 2007. While he had short spurts of productivity, Hafner never played more than 118 games or hit more than 16 home runs after that 2007 season.
SP – Tim Lincecum
From 2008-2011, "The Freak" was one of the faces of baseball. During that stretch, Lincecum led baseball with 973 strikeouts and it wasn't particularly close -- Justin Verlander was second with 901. He was on top of the baseball world… until he wasn't. One season after posting a 2.74 ERA, Lincecum nearly doubled that with a 5.18 mark in 2012. He would never post an ERA lower than 4.13 again.
SP – Dontrelle Willis
Man, D-Train was fun to watch. Maybe it was the nicknames. Maybe it was the uncanny deliveries. Whatever it was, Willis suffered a similar fate as Lincecum. In fact, it was much worse for Willis. If it weren't for winning NL Rookie of the Year in 2003, we might have been talking about Willis last week as a one-hit wonder. His 2005 season was utterly ridiculous, posting a 2.63 ERA and 1.13 WHIP across 236.1 innings pitched. The next season, he had a respectable 3.87 ERA and then poof, it was gone. He would post a 5.65 ERA over 75 starts the rest of his career.
SP – Matt Cain
If only young Frank was privy to the stats we have today. I drafted Matt Cain in his 2013 season when he posted a 4.00 ERA and, at the time, I couldn't figure it out for the life of me. Well, he didn't miss many bats and, while his ERA was just 2.79 the season before, his xFIP was 3.82. It was rough to watch Cain go through a similar fall from grace as Lincecum just a few seasons later, although he wasn't quite as elite.
SP – Brandon Webb
Brandon Webb was the original Dallas Keuchel. Known for a sinker that he threw about 70% of the time at about 88 MPH, Webb made a career off getting ground balls. Across 1,319.2 career innings, Webb managed a 3.27 ERA on the back of a 64.3% ground ball rate. He finished top two in National League Cy Young voting three seasons in a row and even won the award in 2006. Unfortunately, his career was cut short very abruptly due to a shoulder injury. One year after winning 22 games, Webb made just one start in 2009 and his career was over.
SP – Mark Mulder
Famously known for being part of the Oakland A's "Big Three," Mark Mulder put together a successful career. From 2001-2005, Mulder posted a 3.64 ERA or less in each season but one. Like many before (and after), Mulder's career was cut short due to a rotator cuff injury that he suffered in 2006. He wound up with a 7.14 ERA that season and would pitch just 12.2 innings after that.
RP- Eric Gagne
If there was a Mount Rushmore of disappearing acts, Eric Gagne likely makes the cut. From 2002-2004, Gagne was hands down the most dominant reliever in baseball. During that stretch, he led all relievers in saves (152) and strikeouts (365). He won the NL Cy Young in 2003 as a reliever! Who does that? He would only make 14 appearances in 2005 and was never the same player after that.
RP – Trevor Rosenthal
I can write five articles on relievers alone who disappeared in their careers, but we'll limit the position to just two players. This was a Chris Towers special, but I would argue Rosenthal isn't done yet! Rosenthal was an elite closer for Fantasy in 2014 and 2015 with 93 saves during this time. Eventually, his lack of control became too much for him to overcome as a closer, which forced him out of the role. He's bounced around a few different teams and now finds himself reunited with Mike Matheny in Kansas City.