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Men to Boys: A look at players who had a big year in 2000, but flopped in 2001
By Ken Mandel
Every plateau of success carries with it the potential for a downward spiral. Here are 10 players who followed up their success in 2000 with a few steps backward in 2001.
1. Mike Hampton, Rockies
-- Maybe the thin air of Coors Field got to him, because Hampton was miserable after April. He and Mike Mussina got big-money contracts at the 2000 Winter Meetings, but while Mussina compiled the AL's second-best ERA, Hampton wilted in Colorado. His 5.41 ERA and 236 hits allowed in 203 innings ate away at the tightly wound lefty, who from 1995-2000 went a combined 82-49 with a 3.35 ERA. Hampton seemed to boil over during a four-run first inning in his Shea Stadium return. Former Houston teammate Darryl Kile warned Hampton, 29, but he didn't listen. Seven more years to go before he's parolled, unless a trade gets him off for good behavior. His mental toughness will be put to task in the meantime.
"He's going through some tougher times this season than he's used to," rookie pitcher Shawn Chacon told MLB.com in August. "But his attitude is phenomenal. He's all business, always focused on one thing."
2. Darin Erstad, Angels
-- Quickly becoming an enigma, the Angels are starting to wonder which Erstad they drafted No. 1 overall in 1995. The 27-year-old outfielder hit .258 in 2001 after challenging George Sisler's AL hits record the season before. It capped a yo-yo, three-year stretch in which Erstad's batting average fluctuated violently -- .253, .355 and .258. The NASDAQ Stock Market has less volatility. It's reasonable to assume that the real Erstad, the one who comes to the park more than three hours before a game, is somewhere in the .290-.300 range. Statistics suggest Erstad performs in even years, so there's hope, but Anaheim would probably rather have a yearly .300 than these wild fluctuations.
3. Johnny Damon, formerly of the A's
-- Super agent Scott Boras points to his client's .409 postseason batting average as an indicator of his talent, but those five games against the Yankees don't erase his .256 regular-season mark. Damon's poorest season in the Majors followed his best and it couldn't have come at a worse time -- the final year of his contract. It certainly raised some doubts as to whether the 28-year-old has reached his peak. Damon still can be one of the game's best leadoff hitters -- with power, speed and patience -- and the Red Sox are about to find out which Damon they have for the next four years.
4. Tony Batista, Orioles
-- Did pitchers finally figure out his highly unorthodox swing, or did the player with 41 clouts in 2000 forget how to hit? He had two anemic months (.186 in April and .160 in June), prompting the Blue Jays to put him on waivers where the Orioles scooped him up. He hit .266 in Baltimore, aided by a .303 September. All told, Batista hit .238 with 25 home runs and 87 RBIs, severe downgrades off 2000. If a hitter with a career .308 on-base percentage stops making regular contact, be afraid. With Cal Ripken in retirement land, Batista may play every day at third in 2002, and could be exposed all over again.
5. Albie Lopez, Braves
-- Lopez completely unraveled after finally establishing himself as a starter with the 2000 Devil Rays. The right-hander spiraled so far down that he lost 21 games in 2001, counting two in the postseason. On the bright side, he went from last-place Tampa Bay to the World Series Champion Diamondbacks July 25. Lopez signed a one-year deal with the Braves and could learn a few pointers from Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and pitching coach Leo Mezzone.
6. Jason Kendall, Pirates
-- An early April thumb injury affected his swing all season, and his production dipped across the board, despite reaching career highs in games played and at-bats. Normally one of the game's premier offensive catchers, Kendall posted his lowest batting average (.266) and had only 13 stolen bases during the first year of a six-year contract. Attribute the dropoff in stolen bases to his gruesome 1999 ankle injury, and the batting average to the thumb. Either way, Pittsburgh's star backstop needs to resume his forward progress.
"I've had a terrible year," Kendall told MLB.com in August. " ... I've had a lot of sleepless nights this year. I've had a miserable year. Mentally, it's beating the hell out of me and physically it's beating the hell out of me."
7. Edgardo Alfonzo, Mets
-- His back wasn't right, but he played through the pain, batting a career low .243. He appeared in 124 games, his fewest since 1996, but said he's ready to go again. Thanks to the Roberto Alomar trade, Alfonzo will switch from second to third base, his original position. If healthy, he's one of the game's best two-strike hitters and all-around players.
8. John Rocker, Rangers
-- Avoiding the cheap shot, it's safe to say Rocker is seemingly no longer able to put his money where his mouth is. Rocker was a good National League closer, converting 24 of 27 save chances in 2000 and 19 of 23 in 2001 before being shipped to Cleveland, where he imploded (5.45 ERA in 38 games). He has since become General Manager John Hart's personal project, following him to the Rangers. Hart is either very right, or very wrong on this one. Rocker will setup Jeff Zimmerman, and likely won't be happy about it. If nothing else, the Rocker/Carl Everett clubhouse will be a daily event.
9. Richard Hidalgo, Astros
-- A drop from 44 homers in 2000 to 19 in 2001 had the Astros quietly wondering whether Hidalgo's breakthrough season was a fluke. His batting average also slipped from .314 to .275. The 26-year-old outfielder stayed relatively healthy for the second straight season. Team officials hope Hidalgo slims down in the offseason and reports indicate that he has. His defense will keep him in the lineup, but his offense must improve to make up for the loss of Moises Alou, who bolted to the Cubs.
10. Livan Hernandez, Giants
-- The Giants workhorse threw almost 227 innings in 2001, but they were of much less quality than those tossed in 2000. The ERA ballooned from 3.75 to a career worst 5.24. Hernandez's 7.83 April ERA proved too deep a hole from which to climb. Dusty Baker will be counting on his ace in 2002. Hernandez will log the innings, so quality control will again be the issue.
Others of note:
Brady Anderson, Orioles
-- A 4-for-12 final series against the Blue Jays saved him from a full season below .200.
Deivi Cruz, Tigers
-- After a four-year rise to .302, he plummeted to .256.
Scott Elarton, Rockies
-- His ERA was 6.65 in his new Coors Field address, as opposed to 7.14 at Enron Field in 2001, and he allowed 36 home runs in 132 2/3 innings.
Warren Morris, Pirates
-- The former College World Series hero may have regressed his way out of Pittsburgh's plans.
Bobby Jones, Padres
-- Mets fans were sorry to see him go. They don't miss his 19 losses.
Tim Salmon, Angels
-- Injuries ravaged him, but .227 with 17 homers and 49 RBIs is quite a fall from 2000's .290, 34, 97.
Dave Burba, Rangers
-- The right-hander battled injuries and inconsistancy this season in Cleveland, and may now be bringing those problems to Texas.
LaTroy Hawkins, Twins
-- Forget the 28 saves, "Hawk" had a 5.96 ERA and allowed 98 baserunners in 51 1/3 innings.
Chuck Knoblauch, Royals
-- He's not making bad throws from second base anymore, but he didn't hit much either.
Doug Glanville, Phillies
-- Peaked in 1999, has since seen a two-year slide.
Carl Everett, Red Sox
-- He broke up Mike Mussina's perfect game bid at the last possible moment, but he may want to forget the rest of his final season in Beantown.
Ken Mandel is an editor for MLB.com. The opinions expressed here are those of the author and are not subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.