Identifying Five Players with the Most Pressure
Every MLB season, there are a group of players that have a special amount of pressure on them. For the upcoming 60-game season, it is no different. In fact, one could argue that it might be increased for every player across baseball.
This might come from having to push their team into the playoffs or simply stem from having to prove their worth the contract they signed for. In many ways, players have found ways to deal with pressure successfully. Sometimes, there is the unique situation where a player might not necessarily handle it well, but those types of situations are usually few and far between.
However, some players have more pressure than others. These five players fall into that category.
1. Mookie Betts
After being acquired by the Los Angeles Dodgers from the Boston Red Sox in February, outfielder Mookie Betts has a lot riding on his shoulders. For starters, this is Betts walk year before he hits free agency. In the past, he said he wants to be paid a healthy amount of money, in the $300-$400 million range.
Given the how the recent labor negotiations played out, it is anyone’s guess if that will happen. However, that doesn’t make the pressure any easier or reduce it by any amount for him. Betts still has to go out there everyday and continue the track record that he built up in Boston.
Furthermore, the Dodgers are expecting him to be an integral part of their lineup. Los Angeles has a talented team, but Betts takes that talent to the next level. As such, Betts will need to perform at the same level offensively, if not higher, with Los Angeles. Luckily though, the Dodgers have another superstar in Cody Bellinger who can create help to create a powerful duo in the middle of the Dodgers batting order. Only time will tell how Betts handles the change of scenery, but one thing that won’t be changing anytime soon is the amount of pressure surrounding him this MLB season.
2. Gerrit Cole
After receiving a record-breaking nine-year, $324 million dollar contract from the New York Yankees last December, Gerrit Cole has some significant expectations to live up to. While he is certainly talented in every way, it’s unclear how the the right-handed pitcher will perform in New York. After all, it’s a bigger market than Houston, and he is going to be pitching under the bright lights practically every game.
Additionally, the Yankees are looking to Cole to anchor their starting rotation and provide them with some much needed innings. They have a fairly deep starting rotation, but some of the numbers are mediocre. For instance, J.A. Happ ended last season with a 4.91 ERA over 30 games. Furthermore, Masahiro Tanaka has injury concerns and concluded last season with the highest WHIP (1.242) of his six-year big league career. With numbers and concerns like that, the sole reason behind signing Cole was to give the starting rotation some much needed assurance. Now, it is up to Cole to live up to those high expectations and deliver every time he takes the mound.
3. Stephen Strasburg
Back in December, Washington Nationals right-handed pitcher Stephen Strasburg inked a seven-year, $245 million dollar contract with the team. It wasn’t an extension because Strasburg was a free agent, but it keeps Strasburg with the same organization that he’s been with for the entire tenure of his big league career. There is a fair amount of pressure here for Strasburg to continue to deliver. A seven-year contract for a starting pitcher who turns 32 in July is a significant risk. Therefore, Strasburg will need to prove to the Nationals and their fanbase that he is worth it.
After finishing last season with a 3.32 ERA over 33 starts and fifth in National League Cy Young Award voting, the odds look in Strasburg’s favor. However, Strasburg still has to be that workhorse that he was last year especially in the postseason. He has to deliver in those big spots and make the potent top-three punch with Max Scherzer and Patrick Corbin that other teams fear. If Strasburg is able to repeat what he did last year, then it will be a step in the right direction in proving that the contract was a good one.
4. Zack Wheeler
When he was with the New York Mets, Zack Wheeler was never really the guy at the top of the rotation. After all, he had Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard ahead of him. With the Philadelphia Phillies that narrative changes in many ways this MLB season. Philadelphia has right-hander Aaron Nola anchoring down the top of their starting rotation. After that, comes Wheeler followed by Jake Arrieta. During his tenure with the Mets, there was only one time where Wheeler was second in line and that was in 2018. That season, Wheeler did well overall pitching to the tune of a 3.31 ERA over 182 1/3 innings of work with a 8.8 K/9 rate.
The problem here though is that if an injury happens to Nola, then Wheeler has to be the guy in the Phillies starting rotation. Arrieta just turned 34 in March and is coming off a season in which he dealt with a bone spur in his right elbow. The injury ended up shutting down Arrieta’s season last August. If in the worst case scenario for the Phillies, both Nola and Arrieta are injured at the same time, then Wheeler is the guy with the entire spotlight on him. That coupled with proving that he is worth a five-year, $118 million dollar contract provides plenty of pressure on the right-handed pitcher.
5. Manny Machado
Prior to the start of the 2019 season, shortstop/third baseman Manny Machado signed a ten-year, $300 million dollar contract with the San Diego Padres. During year one of that deal, things did not go well for Machado. He ended the regular season batting .256/.334/.462 over 661 plate appearances. In that span, Machado hit 32 home runs with 85 RBI, but also ground into a career high 24 double plays. Furthermore, he ended the season with a Defensive Runs Saved value of -4 at the shortstop position and a value of 2 at third base. Chalk it up to a new team/environment or whatever, it was a disappointing first year of that contract for Machado.
Going into the MLB season, the Padres have the makings of a potential contender. However, for that to happen San Diego needs Machado to be the guy that they thought they were getting when he signed with the team. Machado has to be able to form a core in the middle of the Padres order with first baseman Eric Hosmer, shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr., and outfielder Tommy Pham. Therefore, he has a lot of pressure riding on him to perform well during his sophomore season in San Diego.
In the end, every year there are players around baseball with pressure on them. This MLB season though might be one where the pressure goes up league wide. For the five aforementioned players, that pressure is significant. The key is going to be overcoming that pressure and finding a way to prove that they can live up to the high expectations laid out in front of them.
Main Photo: Embed from Getty Images