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April's worst free agent signees

Some players just don't know how to make a good first impression...

Hannah Foslien

One month of baseball is not predictive of all that much. Even the best players in the game can struggle for extended periods. However, with free agent contracts that often total thousands of times the average fan's salary, newly-signed players who under-perform can draw a lot of heat. Several of the biggest names of the off-season have given us early cause for concern and while the laws of regression suggest these players will rebound, it will take an equal amount of truly excellent performance to bring the numbers back in line with expectations. In some cases, bringing the fans back to their side could take even longer.

These players got big contracts over the off-season and promptly got the season started on the wrong foot:

Josh Hamilton, Los Angeles Angels: 5 years/$125M; April WAR: -0.6

Hamilton’s tendency to match painful-to-watch slumps with otherworldly hot streaks should be well known throughout the AL West. However, after leaving the Rangers for their division rival in Anaheim this off-season, Hamilton could not have picked a worse time to fall flat. Not only was Hamilton bad last month, but the team around him slumped in April as, going 9-17 for the month, making their new right fielder's struggles that much harder to take. When things go wrong for the 32-year-old slugger, they are usually the result of too much free swinging and that was the case last month. Hamilton swung more than ever before in April and he swung at more out-of-the-zone pitches as well. His .260 batting average on balls in play could be a sign that bad luck was a big culprit in his .208/.255/.296 batting line, but with an elevated strikeout rate (26.9%) and very little power (.093 ISO), it is more likely that he was just not making the kind of contact he needs to.

Dan Haren, Washington Nationals: 1 year/$13M; April WAR -0.1

Dan Haren may be the Nationals number four or five starter, but with 2012 Cy Young contender Gio Gonzalez, phenom Stephen Strasburg and the equally-impressive Jordan Zimmermann ahead of him, that is less of an evaluation of his talent than it might otherwise be. Haren has given people some reasons to doubt his abilities over the past year- hence the one-year deal- but almost no one could have seen his 6.29 ERA April ERA coming. Even as he struggled last month, he remained one of the top pitchers in strikeout-to-walk ratio in the game. Home runs were huge issue for him, however, and the .386 batting average on balls in play against him certainly didn’t help matters.

B.J. Upton, Atlanta Braves: 5 years/75.25M; April WAR: -0.1

Between his brother’s monster month and the Braves hot start, B.J. Upton’s struggles have managed to stay off the radar, or at least as off-the-radar as a .143/.225/.275 batting line can stay. Upton is still giving his team good value with his glove and that kept him from rating too far below replacement level for the month. Still, when you hit 66% worse than the rest of the league, it is hard to make up for it in the field. Strikeouts were the major problem for the former-Ray; his 31.1% K-rate for the month was the 12th highest among qualified hitters and over 5% higher than his career rate.

Melky Cabrera, Toronto Blue Jays: 2 years/$16M; April WAR-0.4

Given what happened in San Francisco last season, no one needed a hot start more than Melky Cabrera. Sadly, only a few players started the season off worse. Cabrera showed almost no power in April and he is struck out more than ever as well. His .241/.291/.287 line for the month may have a few people wondering if his success in 2011 and 2012 was all the result of those enhancing chemicals. It is far too early for such a drastic conclusion, but a player coming off of a PED suspension that happened while he was on his way to a batting title can’t hope to escape such musings when he starts off the next season this way. Like Hamilton, Cabrera’s struggles came during a brutal month for the club as a whole; the Blue Jays went 10-17 in April and quickly went from being considered contenders to looking like high-priced disaster.

Joe Blanton, Los Angeles Angels: 2 years/$15M; April WAR: -0.4

I don’t mean to pick on the Angels, but few pitchers were worse than Joe Blanton in April, so it is kind of tough to leave him off this list. Blanton did nothing right on the mound last month. He struck out 4.4 batters per nine at a time where the league was punching out 7.7. He didn’t make up for that with great control either; his 3.0 BB/9 was almost league average. He got rocked by the long ball and hitters batted .381 on balls in play against him. The result was a 0-4 record, a 7.09 ERA and a 6.47 FIP. It really doesn’t get much worse than that.

Honorable Mentions: Adam LaRoche, Washington Nationals; Brett Meyers, Cleveland Indians; Joe Saunders, Seattle Mariners


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