One of the best things about sports is that no matter how hard you try, you can never fully predict the outcome. So far, this 2021 MLB season is no different. While it wouldn’t have taken a genius to predict the Dodgers having the best record in baseball to this point in the season, I imagine you’d be pretty hard-pressed to find someone who believed the Red Sox, Royals, or Mariners would lead their respective divisions to this point, let alone all three. On top of that, the Yankees currently having the worst record in the American League was quite possibly the last thing I would have predicted through these first two and a half weeks of baseball.
This level of unpredictability is no different with players. And unfortunately, it’s much easier to believe the Yankees will eventually turn it around than to have complete confidence in the struggling players on your fantasy team to do the same. Every slow start by each player creates a lot of stress and anxiety for us fantasy baseball players, as we sit there and debate how much longer we can watch them underperform before we’re forced to make a change. This leads us right into another weekly edition of Patience or Panic, where we take a closer look at some of these slumping individuals to try and figure out if their struggles might become more of a long-term problem, or if they are bound to turn things around in the near future. So let’s dive right into things and examine three players who have been underwhelming, to say the least, here in the early part of the season.
Keston Hiura (1B/ 2B, Milwaukee Brewers)
.128 AVG, 5 R, 1 HR, 5 RBI, 1 SB
When Keston Hiura made his Major League debut in 2019, he slashed an impressive .303/.368/.570 with 19 homers and 9 steals in just 84 games. Then in the shortened 2020 season, he regressed considerably, as his batting average dropped nearly 100 points to a lowly .212. However, he still managed to launch 13 balls out of the park, and the small sample size of only 59 games played was a perfectly fine excuse to explain the overall drop-off in his hitting. Now through two and half weeks of the 2021 season, the batting average has dropped nearly another 100 points all the way to a miserable .128, while the power he flashed in his first two seasons has been effectively non-existent.
Through 14 games, Hiura has collected just 6 hits, while striking out 20 times and at least once in every game. This has given him a 34.6% strikeout rate, which is sadly no worse than the identical mark he posted a season ago. With a 65.3% zone contact rate, it’s safe to say that he’ll likely never be the greatest contact hitter or a guy who consistently bats .300. And that was fine when he was jacking the ball out of the park on a semi-regular basis. But he hasn’t been doing much of that lately, either. Hiura’s hard-hit rate currently sits at an underwhelming 36%, a major disappointment when you compare it to his rookie year in 2019 when he made hard contact 50% of the time. The 24-year-old is also hitting the ball to the opposite field a career-high 44% of the time, while only pulling the ball on 24% of his balls in play.
As someone who is pretty reliant on his home run power for most of his fantasy value, the overall lack of hard contact on balls that are primarily being hit to right field is somewhat concerning. I’m sure he’ll have the occasional hot streak throughout the season, but I don’t expect anything close to consistent production from a guy who strikes out on more than a third of his at-bats. Second base is thin enough that he might be worth holding onto out of sheer desperation, but I am not confident in his ability to produce anything close to the lofty projections he had before the season began.
Patrick Corbin (SP, Washington Nationals)
0-2, 21.32 ERA, 3.00 WHIP, 6 K, 6.1 IP
After a disappointing 2020 season, one of the major questions entering 2021 was whether or not Patrick Corbin would have a huge bounce-back season. So far, the early returns have not been good. His first start on its own could almost sort of be excused. He was making his season debut after returning from the Covid-IL, facing a Dodgers offense that, even without Mookie Betts and Cody Bellinger in the lineup, is still better than most. His most recent start however, a home game against Arizona, was inexcusable. After giving up 10 runs, 9 of which were earned, Corbin’s ERA has now ballooned to a hideous 21.32. He has allowed 15 earned runs in just 6.1 total innings, and he has now walked more batters than he has pitched innings.
Corbin’s 17.5% walk rate is by far the worst of his career, more than double his lifetime 7.4% mark. His 15% strikeout rate is also a career-worst, a number that has been in a decline in each year since 2018, when his impressive 30.8% rate was more than double his performance through these first two starts of 2021. He’s consistently getting behind in the count with a career-low 52.5% first-pitch strike rate, and he’s generating just a 22% chase rate, also the worst mark of his career.
Possibly most concerning is that his velocity, which dropped off nearly two full ticks between his strong 2019 season and his lousy 2020 campaign, is still exactly where it was last year. Corbin has not been able to get the job done with his fastball sitting at 90.2 mph, and the rest of his pitches down as well. As a result, opposing batters are making hard contact 52% of the time against him, with an absurd 20% barrel rate and an average exit velocity of 95.3 mph.
With a start tonight against the Cardinals, it’ll be interesting to see if he is somehow able to figure things out in his third start of the season, but I certainly wouldn’t bet on it. And even if he doesn’t blow up again, and he actually pitches pretty well, upcoming starts at Toronto and home against the Braves do very little to instill confidence. Until I see him string together multiple strong starts in a row, and I honestly don’t think he will do this any time soon, I am staying far away from Patrick Corbin.
Francisco Lindor (SS, New York Mets)
.189 AVG, 6 R, 0 HR, 2 RBI, 0 SB
Making headlines as the New York Mets’ big acquisition this offseason, Francisco Lindor has not gotten off to the best of starts in a Mets uniform. Lindor has struggled to just 7 hits thus far, with only one of them going for extra bases. He has yet to hit a homer or steal a base and he has only driven in 2 runs despite batting out of the two spot. That said, I am extremely confident that better days are ahead for Lindor, and those days will be arriving sooner than later.
For starters, it’s not always easy to adjust to a new home, a new team, and a whole new environment, especially when that new home is New York and you have to face the pressure of the New York fans and media. This has only been made more challenging by the fact that the Mets are having games postponed seemingly every other day, with doubleheaders being jammed into the schedule on every day that isn’t canceled. As a result, nearly the entire Mets lineup has struggled mightily, and understandably so.
In this case, however, Lindor’s struggles have as much to do with bad luck as they do with difficult circumstances. Despite batting just .189 thus far, Lindor has been seeing the ball incredibly well. His 95.7% zone contact rate is currently among the tops in baseball, while his 30% outside swing rate is the best of his career. He’s hitting nearly everything worth hitting, with an impressive 6.3% strikeout rate, while showing terrific patience at the plate to put up a 16.7% walk rate.
Lindor is also hitting the ball with an average exit velocity of 89.3 mph, which is just 0.5 mph lower than his career average. A similar thing can be said about his 38.9% hard-hit rate, which is actually a tad better than his lifetime 38% mark. Given these numbers, his .200 BABIP is due for some major positive regression as the season continues. With no glaring issues to his swing or approach at the plate, Francisco Lindor should be just fine, and it’s only a matter of time before he starts producing like one of the best shortstops in the league again.
Featured image by Michael Packard (@designsbypack on Twitter and Instagram)