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Monday, January 23, 2012
Most frustrating players in majors

By David Schoenfield

Jackson
As analysts predicted, excessive strikeouts have limited the effectiveness of Detroit's Austin Jackson.
As a Mariners fan in the 1980s, one player absolutely wrecked me above all others: Jim Presley. He was a third baseman with good power, a quick bat and a strong arm. In 1985, his first full season, he hit .275/.324/.484 with 28 home runs and 33 doubles. He looked like he'd be a star.

But while he made the All-Star team in 1986, his strikeouts increased from 100 to 172. The problem was obvious: The dude couldn't lay off the slider low and away. Time after time, he would flail helplessly at the pitch. It got comical; pitchers learned they didn't even have to throw the pitch close to the plate and Presley would chase. With two strikes, you knew it was coming; Presley knew it was coming. Swing and a miss. By 1991, not yet 30 years old, he was out of the majors.

All fans have their most frustrating players. Here are five current major leaguers who pop into my mind. Discuss your frustrations below!

Austin Jackson, Tigers: Just because you're on the list doesn't mean you're a bad player. Jackson is an excellent defensive center fielder -- according to the Defensive Runs Saved metric from Baseball Info Solution, he tied with Brett Gardner and Pablo Sandoval with 22 runs saved in 2011, the best total in the majors. What makes Jackson frustrating, of course, is the high total of strikeouts: 170 as a rookie in 2010 and 181 in 2011. He managed to overcome the strikeouts his rookie season when he hit .293 thanks to a high average on balls in play. Analysts predicted a big decline in 2011 unless he cut down his strikeouts, and they were right: Jackson hit .249 with a .317 on-base percentage, numbers exacerbated by Jim Leyland's stubborn insistence on hitting Jackson leadoff. Despite a great lineup -- the Tigers finished fourth in the majors in runs scored -- Detroit finished just 10th in runs scored by its leadoff hitters.

James Loney, Dodgers: In 2007, Loney hit .331 with 15 home runs in 344 at-bats as a 23-year-old rookie. He looked like a future stud, a first baseman who would hit for a good average and 25 to 30 home runs per season. But he's never matched the power potential, settling in with numbing consistency, hitting between 10 and 13 home runs each season. Since he's not a .300 hitter nor does he draw many walks, Loney's numbers remain subpar for a first baseman. The improvement just hasn't happened, yet Dodgers management continues to stick with him. He's now making $6.375 million; that's a lot to pay for a first baseman who's hit .281/.341/.411 over the past four seasons.

Mark Reynolds, Orioles: Reynolds has big-time power, of course: Since 2008, he's fifth in the majors with 141 home runs, trailing only Albert Pujols, Ryan Howard, Prince Fielder and Mark Teixeira. But all those home runs come at the expense of record-breaking strikeout totals that drag down Reynolds' average. He's led the majors in K's each of those four seasons, and has racked up 834 -- more than 200 (!) per season. He shows no inclination to cut down on his swing. As a result, even though he draws walks, his .210 average and .322 on-base percentage cut into his overall offensive value. And then there's the defense. Reynolds had an .897 fielding percentage at third base in 2011, prompting the Orioles to start playing him at first. For now, they plan to move him back to third in 2012, and Reynolds has said he's lost weight this offseason to help improve his quickness and range at the hot corner. Now if only he would adjust a little at the plate.

A.J. Burnett, Yankees: He has a 5.20 ERA over the past two seasons, and while the Yankees may want to trade him, I see that as unlikely even if they pick up a large chunk of the remaining $33 million on his contract. His average fastball velocity, which peaked as high as 95.6 mph with the Marlins in 2005, was down to 92.7 in 2011. That's still plenty of velocity, but mixed with his lack of command and gopherball-itis, it's not enough to remain consistently effective. But enough to remain consistently frustrating.

Ricky Nolasco, Marlins: Nolasco went 15-8 with a 3.52 ERA and 1.10 WHIP in 2008. He was prone to the home run, but his strikeout-to-walk ratio ranked second in the NL. His future seemed like it could include becoming one of the top pitchers in the league. While he's gone 37-30 over the past three seasons, his ERA has been 4.76 and his WHIP has increased each year. He still has an excellent strikeout-to-walk ratio (although it declined a bit in 2011), so he should be putting up better numbers. But he hasn't, and opposing batters hit .295 off him in 2011. The stuff and control are there. But we're still waiting for him to get his ERA back under 4.00.