When I wrote this piece a week ago, we were four days into the season, and the idea of panicking over a player who had a bad first series was quite simply unnecessary. Yes, we all want to look like geniuses right off the bat, feeling proud and confident that we drafted players who look ready to win an MVP award this year. Unfortunately however, only one person per league can draft J.D. Martinez and be able to say “c’mon, of course he would bounce back from last season, he’s too good not to,” or something along those lines.
The fact of the matter is that likely everyone playing fantasy baseball this year ended up with a few players on their team who have done a whole lot of nothing thus far. And while it’s still very early, it might not be too early to start worrying about some of these players. This brings us to the season’s first “real” edition of Patience or Panic, where we examine some of these underperforming players to determine if their struggles appear likely to end soon or if their ugly start could be a sign of things to come. Let’s dive in!
Jorge Soler (OF, Kansas City Royals)
.148 AVG, 3 R, 1 HR, 4 RBI, 0 SB
While a 2020 season that saw him hit .228 with eight homers left something to be desired, Jorge Soler has proven himself to be one of baseball’s elite power threats when he’s on his A-game. The 29-year-old mashed 48 homers in 2019 while putting up a strong .265/.354/.569 line. The slugger has been unable to do much of anything at the plate in the early going of 2021, however, as he has just collected just two singles since Opening Day. Soler has struck out an almost impressively bad 16 times in his last 23 at bats, while posting a 40.8% whiff rate. This includes an ugly 70.4% whiff rate on breaking balls, something he struggled with last year as well (55.3% whiff rate).
Lack of contact aside, things haven’t been all bad for Soler. When he does manage to connect, he is absolutely murdering the baseball. Soler has an average exit velocity of 96.7 mph thus far, which is 4.1 mph higher than his 48-homer breakout season in 2019. For perspective, while almost certainly unsustainable, this would be the highest single-season exit velocity of any qualifying batter if he were somehow able to keep this up all year. He also has an absurd 70% hard-hit rate through these first eight games, with a healthy 10% barrel rate.
Overall, the inability to make consistent contact could become a concern down the road, but it’s still early enough that he could very well just be getting back into the swing of things. What matters most is that the slugger is still tearing the cover off the ball when he hits it, leading me to believe the home runs are right around the corner. It’s only a matter of time before Soler Power gets hot and starts launching the ball out of the park.
Madison Bumgarner (SP, Arizona Diamondbacks)
0-2, 11.20 ERA, 2.20 WHIP, 15 K, 13.2 IP
After being one of the best pitchers in baseball for a decade, Madison Bumgarner has followed a rough 2020 shortened season with an even worse start to his 2021 campaign. Bumgarner has allowed 6, 5, and 6 runs through each of his three starts, respectively, giving up 10 baserunners in each of them. The southpaw was credited with the loss in two of the three poor performances, but his team wound up losing all three of them. After posting a 6.48 ERA through nine starts last season, this was not what fans were hoping for to kick off the new year.
While MadBum’s 20.4% strikeout rate is up from last year and fairly close to his career average, he is being crushed by the batters he fails to retire on strikes. Opposing hitters have put up a 53.1% hard-hit rate against the veteran, by far the worst of his career. The same can be said about their 93.4 mph average exit velocity against him, as well as a .474 wOBA. Over the previous couple of seasons, these numbers had been trending in the wrong direction, but this year has been a complete free-fall with no reason to believe it won’t continue. Despite an increase in velocity across all of his pitches from a year ago, including a 1.6 mph jump on his fastball, opponents are still batting .366 against him, with a .375 batting average against his four-seam.
As much as it pains me to say it, we may have seen the last of a dominant, or even a good, Madison Bumgarner on the mound. Perhaps one day he will make the switch to becoming a full-time hitter, having had plenty of success at the plate over the years. Until then, Bumgarner should be nowhere near fantasy rosters anymore.
Marcell Ozuna (OF, Atlanta Braves)
.139 AVG, 1 R, 0 HR, 1 RBI, 0 SB
After being one of the best hitters in baseball during the 2o20 MLB season, Marcell Ozuna has left a lot to be desired through the first week and a half of 2021. Ozuna punished the ball to the tune of .338/.431/.636 with 18 bombs and 56 RBI across 60 games, but right now he’s on pace for barely a fraction of that. Ozuna has just five singles on the year with no extra base hits, while putting up six multi-strikeout games in the same span. His 36.1% strikeout rate is by far the worst of his career to this point, as are his 36.8% whiff rate and 63.8% zone contact rate.
When he is hitting the ball, he’s not doing very much with it, as shown by a career-worst 36.8% hard-hit rate. For reference, the slugger has posted a 42.9% hard-hit rate or better in each of the past six seasons. A lot of these struggles seem to possibly be a result of a 28.4 degree launch angle. In each of the previous five seasons, his launch angle has sat between 10.1 and 16.4 degrees, only for a drastic change to take place here in the early part of 2021. This has directly correlated to a ridiculous 63.2% flyball rate, while his groundball and line drive rates sit at career lows.
With this said, I see no problem in benching Ozuna until he shows signs of life and starts to get his swing back. However, the 30-year-old is way too talented to even consider dropping at this point, and I wouldn’t recommend trading him while his value is at rock bottom. Though it would’ve been difficult for him to have a worse start to the season, it is still far too early to completely give up on someone who was arguably the best hitter in the sport a season ago.
Featured image by Michael Packard (@designsbypack on Twitter and Instagram)