Everybody has a down year from time to time. (Heck, I think “Earth” had one in 2020.) Sometimes it happens. Baseball is an incredibly difficult game. Results don’t always carry over from one year to the next, though. J.D. Martinez hit .213 with seven homers last season; he’s back to being himself again this year. Shoot, George Brett hit .294 in 1978; he was at .390 two years later. (He still made the All-Star team both years. He was George Brett.)
With that in mind, we look at a player on every team who has had a year that’s below what you, and they, would have expected in 2021 -- but whom you shouldn’t give up on.
American League East
Blue Jays: Hyun Jin Ryu, LHP
Ryu is probably going to set a career high for starts this season, but his ERA is over 4.00 for the first time since he emerged as a fragile but frighteningly effective starter in 2017. He’s still got two more years on his deal with the Blue Jays: Here’s betting they’re both better than this one.
Orioles: Keegan Akin, LHP
Akin was quietly a promising little starter for the O's in 2020, but this year has been a mess -- as he owns an ERA around 7.00. But the former prospect has shown improvement as the season has progressed. Don’t be surprised -- or disappointed -- if he’s back in the rotation next year and looks a lot better.
Rays: Nick Anderson, RHP
Anderson looked like the best reliever in the world for parts of the last two seasons, but injuries limited him to only a recent 2021 debut -- one in which he wasn’t throwing nearly as hard as he once did. Another full offseason could get him back to full health and effectiveness.
Red Sox: Eduardo Rodriguez, LHP
After what he went through in 2020 while recovering from COVID-19, Rodriguez should be commended for getting back on the hill at all. His (understandably) rough first half will skew how his numbers look on a baseball card, but his improvement in the second half points to more positive results ahead.
Yankees: DJ LeMahieu
It’s fair to say that LeMahieu is not getting any MVP votes this year. His hard-hit rate is way down, but he’s been stroking the ball better in September. If the Yankees make it to October, it wouldn’t be the least bit surprising to see him at the center of any success they have.
Cleveland: Oscar Mercado, OF
It’s fair if you’ve already given up on Mercado after two rough years in a row, but there was something about his talent that clicked once -- at least for a little while -- plus he’s hardly over the hill.
Royals: Carlos Santana, 1B/DH
The addition of Santana looked like a savvy move for the Royals, but he has had the worst year of his career. He still has that batting eye (walk rate over 10 percent), though, and we’ve seen plenty of power hitters still be able to hang onto that power well into their 30s.
Tigers: Matt Manning, RHP
With an ERA hovering close to 6.00, this heralded prospect has had a rough first year in the Majors. It hasn’t gotten much better when Manning has been in the Minors, but you can be certain the Tigers are far from giving up on him.
Twins: Andrelton Simmons, SS
Who hasn’t had a down year in Minnesota in 2021? We knew Simmons’ offensive production was not his strength, but he can’t possibly be this poor of a hitter already at only 32 years old, can he?
White Sox: César Hernández, 2B
Hernández hasn’t provided the Trade Deadline boost the White Sox were hoping for, but he’s a better all-around player than he has been for the South Siders so far.
Angels: Anthony Rendon, 3B
Rendon's injury woes have gotten lost amid the Ohtani wonder and the Trout injury disappointment. Before the veteran third baseman was put on the IL, he was somehow only hitting .240 and slugging .382. A healthy Trout in 2022 will be a boon, but so will a healthy Rendon.
A’s: Matt Chapman, 3B
There was a time when it looked like Chapman was going to win an MVP Award. Now, he’s a defensive specialist with occasional pop who’s hitting just above .200. He’s still only 28: He’ll be fine.
Astros: Zack Greinke, RHP
Sure, his overall numbers look solid, but the last month or so has been one of the worst stretches of his career -- and it has the Astros wondering if he’s even in their postseason rotation. But I will believe Greinke can no longer pitch probably about 15 years after he retires.
Mariners: Jarred Kelenic, CF
Kelenic is not going to have the Mike Trout explosion after a disappointing first appearance in the Majors. But there is still plenty of reason to believe he will have a productive big league career. His OPS has gone up in each of the past two months.
Rangers: Brock Holt, INF/OF
There isn’t a Rangers player having an obvious (or entirely unexpected) down year, so we’ll go with Holt. The sub-.600 OPS is rough, but he seems like a guy who could still be a valuable bench player for a contender over the next couple of years.
National League East
Braves: Travis d'Arnaud, C
We’re trying to ignore players who have missed time for injuries or other woes here. But d’Arnaud was a Silver Slugger Award winner in 2020. That can’t all be gone, can it?
Marlins: Magneuris Sierra, OF
The speedster at one point looked like he might be the leadoff man of the Marlins’ future. Sierra is still stealing bases, but he can’t get on base enough to make it worthwhile. But there was real flash there in 2019. Will he even get the chance again after this year to show it?
Mets: Jeff McNeil, 2B/OF
The “What’s wrong with Jeff McNeil?” question has been asked so much that, well, people have stopped asking it. But .300 hitters -- even if they don’t walk as much as you’d like -- don’t just fall off out of nowhere, do they?
Nationals: Patrick Corbin, LHP
That 2019 World Series championship flag will fly forever, even if it feels like the Nats will be paying for it for a while. But Corbin has three more years on his deal after this one. It’s a fair bet that none of them will be poorer than this one has been.
Phillies: Aaron Nola, RHP
There are times Nola looks like the legit ace we thought he would be not long ago. Then, there are times -- particularly lately -- where he looks rather far from that. The stuff is still there, though. The Phillies have bigger things to worry about than him.
Brewers: Christian Yelich, LF
Fine, it has been like this for two years now. I still refuse to believe Yelich’s monster 2018-19 form has vanished from the planet.
Cardinals: Miles Mikolas, RHP
Mikolas missed all of last season and returned late this year not looking much like his former self. He’s still signed for a while and ticketed for a spot in the Cardinals rotation. A full two years of barely pitching would have to make some sort of difference, right?
Cubs: Willson Contreras, C
Contreras looked like a perennial All-Star a couple of seasons ago, but his OPS has dropped in consecutive years. He doesn’t turn 30 until next year, so there is still hope for a revival.
Pirates: Ke'Bryan Hayes, 3B
For all the excitement coming into 2021, this year has to be considered a bummer for Hayes -- who spent much of the season on the IL with an ailing left wrist and is slugging below .400 in more than 350 plate appearances. But he’s still overflowing with talent and exactly the type of guy the Pirates need to be building around.
Reds: Eugenio Suárez, 3B/SS
Suárez had 49 (49!) homers two years ago, but he also had a .358 OBP -- more than respectable for a power hitter. The strikeouts have taken over him (roughly 30 percent now), but if he can get them to drop just a tick, the power is clearly still there.
D-backs: Madison Bumgarner, LHP
Other than that seven-inning no-hitter, it’s been a rough couple of campaigns for Bumgarner in Arizona. But we’ve seen far less impressive and accomplished pitchers have big turnarounds in their 30s.
Dodgers: Cody Bellinger, 1B/OF
It’s hard to fathom a sub-.600 OPS from the 2019 NL MVP, especially since Bellinger should be entering his prime. There’s no way this is anything close to who he is. No way.
Giants: Tommy La Stella, 2B/3B
It’s tough to find any disappointing Giants this year, to say the least. But if you go back and re-read all the season-preview magazines, you'll see La Stella projected for far more success than has turned out to be the case this season.
Padres: Yu Darvish, RHP
Of all the unforeseen disappointments for the 2021 Padres, Darvish owning an ERA above 4.00 -- including an ERA around 7.00 after the All-Star break -- has to be the most shocking. He’s had downturns before and recovered. He’ll do it again.
Rockies: Trevor Story, SS
It’s been a down year by Story's standards (OPS hovering around .800), but it has been a dispiriting year in general for him in Denver. Someone is about to reap the benefits of a change in scenery.