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Patience or Panic 05/18: Jose Berrios, Matt Olson, Whit Merrifield

A breakdown of three struggling stars in baseball

Welcome back! The season continues to roll on and as the temperature goes up we’re starting to see a bit more offense around the league as well. And just like always another week means we’ve learned more about the teams around the league and have a clearer idea of what to expect this season. Except baseball teaches us to always expect the unexpected, just like some of the names on this week’s list are unexpected! So let’s get into it.

José Berríos, SP, Toronto Blue Jays

The Blue Jays were everyone’s favorite team over the winter. They had just come off an electrifying season, had one of the faces of baseball in Vladimir Guerrero Jr., and then acquired Matt Chapman to really put a flourish on their offseason.

In the middle of that, the Jays also signed José Berríos to a seven-year extension after acquiring him at the trade deadline of the 2021 season. Berríos had been excellent since being traded to Toronto and at 27-years-old it made sense for Toronto to lock up a high-end starter for the long run.

But Berríos has not picked up where he left off in 2021. He started opening day for the Blue Jays against the Texas Rangers and couldn’t even get out of the first inning, allowing four earned runs and recording just a single out. After a just ok start against the Yankees following his Opening Day blowup, Berríos seemed to figure something out, allowing just four earned runs over his next three starts.

And then promptly blew up again against the Guardians and Yankees, allowing six and five runs in those respective starts.

And then figured it out again against the Mariners, going seven shutout innings.

So which one is the true Berríos? Is it as simple as he can only be one or the other? Or is this just how it’s going to be and it’s going to be a rollercoaster all year?

Well, maybe. Berríos’ pitch usage hasn’t been consistent at all this year, there have been major fluctuations almost every start. One thing that stands out though is that Berríos uses his fastball and sinker basically interchangeably, some starts he favors one, and some starts he favors the other.

He might want to start leaning on the sinker more so than the fastball. Opposing batters are hitting .390 and slugging .627 against the fastball, while Berríos’ sinker is generating a still not great but better .260 batting average and much better .370 slugging percentage.

His starts up to this point have been so weird, but even the inconsistency is reason enough to be worried. It’s hard to take a stance on either side so instead, we’ll use a number value from 1 to 10.

Panic Meter: 6.5

Matt Olson, 1B, Atlanta Braves

After winning the World Series in 2021, the Atlanta Braves made the tough decision to say goodbye to the face of the franchise and 2020 MVP, Freddie Freeman. But they were able to soften that blow by acquiring (and then signing to an eight-year extension) star first baseman Matt Olson from the Oakland Athletics.

It looked like a perfect marriage and one that would keep Atlanta as contenders for this year’s World Series to seriously defend their title. And Olson arrived with a flourish, slashing .293/.398/.476 in the first month of the season. Everything was great!

Until it wasn’t.

Since the calendar has flipped to May, Olson has taken a tumble, hitting just .182. However he’s still getting on base with a .318 OBP and when his hits have fallen they’ve mostly been for extra bases, as he has a .382 slugging percentage thanks to two homers and five doubles so far this month.

Furthermore, Olson’s strikeout percentage has actually gone down so far this month, sitting at a great 18.2% (and a 4% drop from the first month). What’s killing him is his batting average on balls in play, which sits at a truly ugly .195 (league average .283) and is bound to find its level again.

Although the hits aren’t falling with regularity 7 of Olson’s 10 hits this month being for extra bases is a good sign that things will once again come around and he’ll eventually be an even bigger threat.

Verdict: Patience

Whit Merrifield, 2B/OF, Kansas City Royals

For years now, Merrifield has been one of the unsung stars of baseball, a high-contact hitter who can hit 40 doubles and steal 40 bases in a single season while also playing multiple positions in the field while hardly ever missing time.

This of course has made him a common name to pop up every trade deadline, as what team doesn’t need a career .287 hitter with gap power and good speed? Oh and don’t forget the fact that Merrifield is controlled through next season with a mutual option for 2024. But despite all that, Merrifield has remained as one of the few bright spots on a Kansas City Royals team that has toiled in mediocrity/a full rebuild.

But this year Merrifield wasn’t that bright spot and was just another guy on a pretty brutal Royals team. In the first month of the season, he slashed .141/.191/.180 with just three doubles and no home runs. Not exactly fresh trade bait (not that anyone is calling this early in the season anyway but you get the point).

But luckily for Royals fans and interested teams and general baseball fans alike, things are starting to take a turn for Merrifield. Since the calendar flipped to May he’s slashed .281/.300/.406 and in the last week, he’s been absolutely nuclear, slashing .412/.432/.647 with two homers and two doubles. Merrifield also continues to not strike out very much at all (13.6%) and with this corner turn this month, things look to be back on track.

Verdict: Patience

 

Graphic by Michael Packard (@designsbypack on Twitter & IG)

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