WTNYJanuary 07, 2005
Wanting More
By Bryan Smith

I didn't present formal awards at WTNY this year, a practice I may get into next year. I can tell you that this year, Baseball America got the Player of the Year right in Jeff Francis. Jason Kubel would get my award for breakout of the year, and Huston Street for "Rookie" of the Year. But rather than spend time analyzing more and more successes, I want to talk about two of the unfortunate award winners: the Disappointments of the Year.

This award has two separate categories, one for hitters and another for pitchers. One's chance to win this award correlates perfectly with the amount of hype they receive, so a B.J. Upton flameout would have drawn a lot more consideration than Alberto Callaspo would have received. I did not penalize players that were injured, eliminating the likes of J.J. Hardy and Greg Miller. So when looking at my 2004 rankings, I have come away with my two winners of this award: Jeff Mathis of the Anaheim Angels and Adam Wainwright of the St. Louis Cardinals.

Before the season, Mathis and Wainwright ranked on my list twelfth and 28th respectively. The former came after a season in which Mathis had an .884 OPS in 98 California League games, followed by an OPS over .800 in the Texas League to finish out the year. This led me to say that Mathis had "much more raw power than Mauer," which after considering Joe's debut, was blatantly false. This mis-read on my part is a combination of disbelief that Mauer would develop the power that scouts promised, and a real inablity to use the effects of the ballpark in my statistic evaluations.

This year, Mathis fell apart in his long haul in the Texas League. While Mauer was destroying the Majors prior to his injury, Mathis (as seen on Baseball America), fell apart after May. Prospect evaluators keep saying to believe in Mathis, though he has fallen fast in catcher rankings, behind Barton, McCann, Navarro, and to some, even Chris Snyder. His catching skills behind the plate will never be more than average, and I'm not sure anymore if he'll be able to overcome "gap power". By now, at least some of those doubles should be going over the fence.

As for Wainwright, the writing for his downfall was in the clouds. Kudos to the Braves front office, a favorite in my book, for correctly reading the futures of both Wainwright and Bubba Nelson within the last year. Sure, this organization might make its mistakes (Odalis Perez, Merkin Valdez, Jason Schmidt), but more often than not, John Scheurholz is getting the better end of a deal. I csn tell you this for sure: I would be a lot more afraid to trade with him than Billy Beane, as some have hypothesized GMs are. But with Wainwright, it didn't take a genius, as his K/9 took a stark drop in the 2003 season.

Not only that, but Wainwright was far and away the worst picher when joining Team USA after last season, showing a bit of wear on his power arm. It was that arm, or the pitches it could produce, that kept Wainwright in my top 30. My negligence for forecasting his bad season is actually pretty embarassing a year later. But his curveball, and mid-90s fastball came highly touted, though I was probably reading a lot more 2002 reports than not. My prediction of him being in the Majors by the All-Star Game...oops.

Looking forward to next season, both of these players will be sent back to their 2004 destinations. Jeff Mathis should start the season getting put in the DH spot a little more than he did last season, to avoid the late season drop-off. With any success, I would move him to the even more hitter-friendly Salt Lake destination, which should give him a little boost of confidence. I think he still has more offensive potential than Ben Molina, though I'm not sure it's enough to justify benching the defensive specialist. Or, since he's already come up once this week, he could just be another Sal Fasano.


Methinks you're being a bit too harsh on Mathis. Sal Fasano?!?!?!? Benji Molina?!?!?!?!

I think Sal Fasano is the low-end of what Mathis could do, and what I was saying that was I'm not sure Mathis' offensive win over Molina would be enough to bench Benji. You have to remember, this is probably the best AL defensive catcher, so let's no underrate that.

Years ago I read a quote from a GM that said when the Braves look to trade you a stud pitching prospect watch out.

Wasn't Wainwright hurt this year?

Agreed Bryan, but is the difference between the best defensive C and the worst really that significant?