When you do a lot of work with projections and make a lot of predictions, one of the hardest things to get used to is the amount of times you'll get things completely wrong. Every year, there is a handful of players for whom events don't even out and they end up missing their projections by a mile. There are a lot of reasons for a player to be disappointing, from mechanical flaws to injuries to the most frustrating reason: "dunno."
Looking back at the 2011 ZiPS projections, we thought we'd take a look at who failed to meet their projections by the biggest margins, examine what went wrong and look ahead to the 2012 season.
Projected OPS: .922
Actual OPS: .569
It seemed like a match made in heaven: one of the most consistent sluggers in baseball getting to DH and play in a solid hitters' park. It didn't quite work out that way, with Dunn missing his projection by a greater margin than any player ZiPS has projected in the last decade.
The only consolation is that while there were good reasons to not be confident about Dunn down the road, nobody really saw a top slugger like Dunn slugging .277 when he was 31.
Going forward, it's hard to have any faith in Dunn. A decline of this magnitude is almost entirely unprecedented in baseball history. Without Dunn having lost an arm or something similar before the 2011 season, there's no easy explanation for his downfall. Dunn could come back in 2012, but after last season, both the White Sox and fantasy owners need to be skeptical. Even if Dunn has a major comeback, it's going to be mostly in the form of home runs.
2012 projection: .209/.340/.429, 26 HR, 76 RBIs
Projected OPS: .883
Actual OPS: .708
Compared to Dunn's fall, Heyward's 2012 was a minor bump in the road. While Heyward underperformed in 2011, he didn't have a collapse of historic standards, but simply a disappointing year given his rookie campaign.
Luckily, in Heyward's case, his nagging back injuries provide a reason for the down year. While back problems can sometimes linger -- they ruined Clint Hurdle's career -- Heyward is still a young player likely to turn it around. And Heyward's .260 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is bound to increase considerably in 2012 (his BABIP was .335 in 2010).
2012 projection: .255/.360/.427, 17 HR, 61 RBI
Projected OPS: .851
Actual OPS: .694
One of the elite free agent outfielders last winter (another, Jayson Werth, was also a disappointment), Crawford had a lackluster first year in Boston, putting up his worst season since his first full season with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2003.
The good news for Crawford is that he's still just 30 and doesn't fit the profile of a guy, like George Bell or Mo Vaughn, who would decline at an early age. Crawford's had some nagging injuries, and the days of him hitting 19 triples in a year are gone, but he still has a broad range of skills.
The biggest concern is Crawford's wrist, which may not be healthy at the start of the season.
2012 projection: .282/.325/.448, 14 HR, 70 RBIs, 32 SB
Projected OPS: .761
Actual OPS: .613
Rios is no stranger to crazy-bad seasons -- it was his collapse in 2009 that made him available to the White Sox on waivers despite coming off three solid years. Can he recover from a big dropoff again?
What makes it harder this time around is that Rios is a few years older, and his bad year was even worse than the last one. Luckily for Rios, the White Sox are retooling, and he'll get plenty of opportunities to show he's not done yet.
2012 projection: .259/.301/.404, 16 HR, 63 RBIs
Projected OPS: .814 Actual OPS: .676
Huff, who turned 35 a few weeks ago, was the oldest player on this list to underperform, which is never a good sign. While Huff has had this strange pattern of alternate good years and off years for a while, it's dangerous to expect quirky things like that to continue at his age.
The Giants still retain their fondness for Huff. While he should have a better year, they need to be thinking about who comes after him.
2012 projection: .261/.329/.422, 16 HR, 70 RBIs
Projected ERA: 3.06
Actual ERA: 4.68
On paper, Jimenez's 2011 was a major letdown after finishing third in the NL Cy Young race in 2010, but there are very good reasons to see the season as an outlier. His strikeout and walk rates stayed exactly the same, and while his home run allowed rate went up, it was still in solid territory.
Jimenez's 3.67 FIP last year was right around his career 3.60 FIP, suggesting that he was more effective than his 4.68 ERA would indicate. Cleveland gave up some excellent prospects to get Jimenez, but given his contract situation ($18 million over three years if the club options are picked up), he'll be the Indians' ace for a while.
2012 projection: 15-9, 3.52 ERA, 196 2/3IP, 188 K's
Projected ERA: 3.71
Actual ERA: 4.82
If any player ever needed a change of scenery, it has to be Zambrano. After two years of fighting with the team, a trip to the disqualified list, and a few retirement threats, the Cubs paid the Marlins most of the $18 million Zambrano is set to make in 2012 just to move on from him.
Last year was a disaster, but it's also the first time Zambrano wasn't a contributor on the field, and he's a good risk for the Marlins to take considering the push they're making for at least the NL wild card. Even better news for fantasy owners: If he pitches well, you get his numbers without having to personally deal with him.
2012 projection: 8-8, 4.23 ERA, 142 2/3 IP, 138 K's
Projected ERA: 3.75
Actual ERA: 4.80
Like Jimenez's, Dempster's 2011 was deceptively bad. Now, Dempster isn't anywhere near as solid a hurler as Jimenez, but last year's 3.91 FIP was indistinguishable from his 3.87 and 3.99 the previous two seasons. As long as the Cubs are content with Dempster being pretty durable and somewhere in the vicinity of league-average, they won't be too disappointed with him in 2012.
If he gets his ERA half a run lower as ZiPS says, Dempster does go deep enough into games to get a fair amount of wins for an average starter.
2012 projection: 10-10, 4.24 ERA, 174 IP, 172 Ks
Projected ERA: 3.44
Actual ERA: 4.43
Last season was supposed to be Scherzer's breakout year, giving the Tigers a solid No. 2 behind Justin Verlander. Verlander did his job (and then some), but Scherzer's inconsistency was a contributing factor to Detroit having a shallow rotation that let the Indians make things interesting for a while.
Scherzer won 15 games last year, but that had a lot to do with the Tigers' offense. Scherzer will likely improve on his 2011 performance, but he may win a few fewer games given that the team offense will probably drop off a bit in 2012.
2012 projection: 12-10, 4.07 ERA, 185 2/3 IP, 182 K's