Career Years. What every player tries so hard to achieve and also tries so hard to avoid. The 2015 season has been a wild one filled with ups and downs, no-hitters and cycles, wins and losses, rises and falls, and career bests as well as career worsts. While there are an infinite number of topics to discuss about the last six months of baseball, this article will focus specifically on some important players that had the best year of their careers and some players who were not as fortunate and had the worst year of their careers.
Career Best Years
1. Bryce Harper
Since this discussion is about players who are having career years, it seemed wrong to not include the player having not only the best year of his young career but the best year of anyone in baseball in 2015. Despite being voted the most overrated player in all of baseball prior to this season by his baseball peers, Bryce Harper has gone on to prove all the doubters wrong and has perhaps had one of the best offensive seasons since the prime years of Barry Bonds in the early 2000s. Harper is well on his way to his first Most Valuable Player award and has certainly solidified himself as one of the best if not the best young players all of baseball.
2. Jake Arrieta
Prior to the start of the 2015 MLB season, and despite a strong showing in 2014 for the Cubs, some people didn’t even know who Jake Arrieta was, let alone that he would go on to have one of the best seasons in the whole league and be at the forefront of the Cy Young conversation right behind both Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke. Given his competition, it seems relatively unlikely that Arrieta comes away with the award but nonetheless Arrieta has still come out of nowhere to have the best year of his young career. Arrieta put up a 5.0 WAR season for the Cubs in 2014 but he has exceeded expectations by outdoing that performance with a 6.2 WAR season so far in 2015. Beyond that, Arrieta has dropped his ERA by nearly half a point from 2014 to 2015. No doubt Arrieta has established himself as one of the top pitchers in all of baseball and hopefully will be for years to come.
3. A.J. Pollock
A.J. Pollock is another young player who had a strong 2014 but has still exceeded expectations with an even better year in 2015. Pollock had a bit of a breakout season at the plate in 2014 with a 135 wRC+ which allowed him to finish the season with a WAR of 3.3 in just under half of a season. In 2015, Pollock has been healthy for almost the whole season and has followed that strong performance in an injury shortened 2014 season with a 5.7 WAR season. Pollock has often gone overlooked because of the Diamondbacks position as a perennial loser and also because he plays on the same team as Paul Goldschmidt, who has been one of the best hitters in all of baseball over the last few years.
Career Worst Years
1. Matt Kemp
More so than any other offseason trade acquisition in the National League, Matt Kemp has been a massive disappointment for both Padres fans and Padres management alike. Kemp was acquired to be both the face of the Padres franchise as well as the middle of the order bat that the Padres needed in the middle of the lineup. Despite a strong second half that has brought some promise for his future prospects as a Padre, Kemp has had the worst offensive year of his career and may be on pace to have his worst defensive season as well. Kemp currently sits at 0.7 WAR which would be the worst full season performance of his career since 2010 when he finished the season with exactly 0 WAR. Despite having his ups and downs with the Dodgers, this year would have to considered the worst for Kemp given the high expectations that came with him in the trade to San Diego.
2. Yasiel Puig
As compared to Matt Kemp, Yasiel Puig has had the worst year of his career due more to being plagued by injuries than just poor performance by itself. Puig has played in just about half the Dodgers games this year due to nagging hamstring injuries and has produced less than half the WAR of his previous two seasons with the Dodgers. Even when healthy and on the field, Puig has seemingly been a shadow of his former self and has seemingly been effected by the many off the field distractions that have accompanied him in his time with the Dodgers. More so than any other player having a down year, Puig is due for a rebound and more success going forward, whether that be as a Dodger or with another team entirely.
3. Jimmy Rollins
The final player who had a career worst year in the National League is Jimmy Rollins. As most know, Rollins was traded to the Dodgers in the offseason after spending the first 15 seasons of his career in Philadelphia. In Los Angeles, Rollins has so far had the first negative WAR season of his entire career (minus his rookie season in which he only played in 14 games). Rollins has hit for the lowest average of his career, the lowest wRC+ of his career and has also had the worst defensive season of his career after being a perennial Gold Glove candidate in Philadelphia. With the rise of Corey Seager to the pros, Rollins time in Los Angeles, and his time in the MLB, may be coming to its unceremonious end.
Career Best Years
1. Xander Bogaerts
More so than any other player in Major League Baseball, Xander Bogaerts really came out of nowhere to have the best season of his young career. Bogaerts was called up in 2013 and high expectations accompanied him on his trip to Boston. He struggled in both 2013 and 2014 and combined for only 0.4 WAR in only 18 games in 2013 and 144 games in 2014. Bogaerts has followed up a poor 0.3 WAR season in 2014 with a 4.1 WAR season in 2015 with much better defense as well as a much improved approach at the plate. Bogaerts still has a lot of work to do going forward but a 4.0 WAR season at only 22 years of age is definitely a great start for his future.
2. Lorenzo Cain
Lorenzo Cain had a great 2014 campaign that was generally overlooked by most baseball viewers until the Royals improbable run to the postseason and eventual appearance in the World Series. Fast forwarding to 2015, Cain has had an even better season than last year and has put himself in the conversation as one of the best young players in all of baseball. Cain has continued to excel defensively this year but has also taken huge strides in his offensive game which have made him a more complete player. He’s nearly doubled his offensive value from 2014 to 2015 all while maintaining his top notch center field defense.
3. Manny Machado
Following a breakout year in 2013, Machado had an injury plagued 2014 in which he only played in half of the Orioles total games for the season. He has followed up what was probably the worst year of his career with the best year of his career. While Machado’s performance in 2013 was almost entirely defensively based (he only had a wRC+ of 102), his performance in 2015 has been more balanced and has quickly made him one of the best third baseman in all of baseball. Machado has had a career year for average, slugging, on base percentage, wRC+ and WAR all while being only 23 years old. In the American League, the common theme for 2015 was young players with some great years ahead of them.
Career Worst Years
1. Pablo Sandoval
The way I see it both of the Red Sox big free agent acquisitions could be on a list of players who had career worst years. I am obviously talking about Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval but for my purposes I will focus on the abysmal season of Pablo Sandoval. Hanley Ramirez may be having a worse overall season than Sandoval but has only played in just over half of the Red Sox games while Sandoval has played in a majority. Following the signing of a big free agent contract that brought Sandoval to Boston from San Francisco, Sandoval’s performance both at the plate and in the field has absolutely cratered. He has been both a disaster defensively at third base and has also hit 25% lower than the league average according to wRC+. This is certainly a year to forget for Sandoval.
2. Victor Martinez
Victor Martinez has clearly had the worst offensive and defensive year in his entire career. Really the only two players that have had worse seasons in the American League than Victor Martinez are the two guys mentioned above for the Red Sox. Not only has Martinez provided no defensive value at all in his small amount of time on the field but he has also provided nearly no offensive production for the Tigers either. At 36 years old, it is pretty clear that Martinez’s career is reaching its end but you have to think he doesn’t want to go out like this.
3. Adam LaRoche
Another signing that just hasn’t panned out the way the White Sox have hoped. Following a decent season with the Nationals in 2014, in which he hit 27% better than the league average with a wRC+ of 127, LaRoche has been a complete disaster for the White Sox and has hit almost 50% worse than he did in 2014. Beyond that, his defense has continued to be atrocious for the Sox which has all contributed to one of the lowest WAR values in all of baseball in 2015.
Projecting success and failure on a baseball field is always a challenging endeavor. There will always be players that come out of nowhere to have fantastic seasons and there will always be players who are expected to succeed but fall flat on their face. The above are just a few players who will look to build on strong seasons going into 2016 or who will look to rebound following the worst of their careers.