MLB’s prime stars submit large numbers, not wins

By Martin Rogers
FOX Sports Columnist

Hunter Greene — ferocious flamethrower extraordinaire — already has something in common with several of the other members of Major League Baseball‘s “most talked about” upper echelon.

His team isn’t particularly good.

In one of the more bizarre trends in MLB over the past couple of seasons, countless pros among the sport’s elite have been performing at a tremendously high level … but essentially in vain.

When the playoffs took place last year the action was frenetic, entertaining and competitive, but it was also lacking a striking number of names who had lit up the regular season.

The Los Angeles Angels loved seeing American League MVP Shohei Ohtani’s incredible two-way campaign, but it didn’t get them a sniff of the playoffs. In the National League, Bryce Harper’s exploits couldn’t give the Philadelphia Phillies any meaningful October action, either.

Now we have Greene doing illogical things in the opening burst of the new baseball year, like throwing 39 pitches at 100 mph or faster in a loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers, while being on a squad that was 2-10 heading into Wednesday and looking set to continue down that wretched path.

“Baseball is very unique in that you can’t just have one player dominating and automatically you have a great team,” FOX Sports MLB Analyst Ben Verlander told me. “In basketball, there are only five guys on the court and if one of them is a legend, you’re going to be good. In football, if your best player is a quarterback, you will be good. But if you’re the Angels, Ohtani can’t pitch every day and he and Mike Trout can only bat once every nine times.”

Ohtani did it all in 2021, delivering at an extraordinary level. It turned him into must-see viewing, but it could only help the Angels to eight games below .500 and the fourth spot in the AL West.

For the Washington Nationals, Juan Soto was magnificent, his effortless power and smarts at the plate bringing in 29 home runs and an average of .313, while recording a league-leading 145 walks for an on-base percentage of .465 (best in baseball for the second straight year).

And yet, only two NL teams were worse than the 65-97 Nationals, who managed to finish 23.5 games out of first in the NL East, baseball’s worst division.

The Toronto Blue Jays had multiple elite-level players last season, but it didn’t help them anywhere near as much as it should have. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. looked like he was playing a different, easier version of baseball than everyone else at times. Marcus Semien was brilliant and shortstop Bo Bichette wasn’t far behind, while Robbie Ray lit it up with his lefty pitching magic. Even then, Toronto ended fourth in the AL East, left watching on television at playoff time.

In Philadelphia, Zack Wheeler was just as good on the mound as Harper was at the plate. In San Diego, Fernando Tatis Jr. continued his explosive rise on a Padres team that promised much and delivered little.

Cedric Mullins and Bryan Reynolds were flowers surrounded by mud, shining on the woeful Baltimore Orioles and Pittsburgh Pirates, respectively.

“The requirement for success is different in baseball, and it makes it interesting,” Verlander added. “You might go watch the Nationals come to town to go see Soto bat, even though the team is not very good. It is the beautiful thing about baseball, you need a full team to win. If you have a well-distributed lineup then yes, those stars can give you an extra edge. But they can’t make up for a weak roster.”

Harper and Ohtani received MVP honors last season, representing the first time since 1987 — and only the ninth in history — that both MVPs played on teams that did not make the playoffs. In fact, none of the MVP finalists even made it there, which might show a willingness on the part of the voting panel to overlook a team’s dire output when analyzing a player’s individual effort.

FOX Bet lists Guerrero at +350 to win the AL MVP this year, with Soto the +300 favorite in the NL. The Dodgers are considered likeliest to win the World Series, at +500.

Sometimes players can’t do much to influence their teams’ fortunes. Sometimes they willingly choose such a situation. Kris Bryant opted for Colorado when he hit free agency and is beginning his first campaign in Denver, where the Rockies are not expected to mount much of a challenge in the NL West and have made the postseason only five times in three decades.

“I’m all for a good story, and I’m all for rewriting history,” Bryant told The Athletic.

Colorado is off to a strong start, so who knows, he may just achieve that goal. If he doesn’t and ends up being another star player on a struggling team? Well, he’s not the only one.

Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports and the author of the FOX Sports Insider Newsletter. You can subscribe to the newsletter here.


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