Now over a month into the season, the fantasy landscape is a bit different from in years past. Pitchers are dominating baseball this season, with homers, runs, and hits all down considerably from the last few years. With batters striking out nearly 25% of the time, it’s no surprise that so many hitters are struggling to put up the numbers we expected when drafting them in fantasy. Similarly, while pitchers as a whole are overperforming, numbers that we wouldn’t typically consider to be bad are actually kind of bad by comparison. So perhaps we’re all expecting a little too much from hitters in fantasy this year, while not expecting enough from pitchers. Maybe.
What I do know is that there are still a handful of players struggling mightily, even by these adjusted standards when compared to the rest of the league this season. And as we work our way deeper into the year, it becomes time to take a closer look and make a decision. That decision is whether or not to hang tight and wait for these players to break out of their early season slumps, or if we should cut our losses and move on before suffering several more months of headaches with them. So let’s dive in and examine three players who have yet to play up to expectations and try to figure out if they’ll turn things around in the near future.
Gleyber Torres (2B, SS, New York Yankees)
.242 AVG, 12 R, 1 HR, 10 RBI, 2 SB
After a 42-game shortened 2020 season in which he struggled mightily, the early part of 2021 hasn’t quite been the bounce back season that most were expecting from Gleyber Torres. The Yankees shortstop has shown very few flashes of power thus far, with just his first homer of the season coming Sunday against the Nationals. Torres has simply failed to hit the ball hard to this point in the season, holding an 84.9 mph average exit velocity that currently ranks in the bottom 5% of the league. On top of that, he is making hard contact a career-worst 32.6% of the time, though he has never been one to excel in that area, with his career-best mark sitting at 38%.
What Torres has been able to do well however, is show terrific discipline at the plate. With the entirety of Major League Baseball striking out 24.1% of the time, Torres is sitting at just 18.2%. Meanwhile, he has an impressive 12.4% walk rate, thanks in large part to a career-best 18.7% chase rate that puts him in the top 10% of the league. Despite failing to really heat up at the plate thus far, the 24-year-old hasn’t forced the issue, still waiting for his pitch and only swinging at strikes. As a result, he’s connecting on more line drives (22.1%) than he did in his elite 2019 season, when he clubbed 38 homers with a .278/.337/.535 line. With such strong plate discipline, a seemingly improved ability to hit line drives, and an expected wOBA that is only 15 points lower than that of 2019, it seems like it’s only a matter of time before Torres heats up at the plate. The average and power should start to go way up, as well as the runs and RBI for a guy hitting in the heart of a strong Yankees lineup that seems to be finding its groove.
Zack Greinke (SP, Houston Astros)
2-1, 4.23 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 35 K, 44.2 IP
After posting an ERA over 4.00 last season for just the second time in the last decade, Zack Greinke is on track to do it again, with a 4.23 ERA through his first eight starts of 2021. The veteran has been especially bad in recent games, owning a 5.40 ERA in the last month (his last six starts) with a 1.55 WHIP in that time. Greinke has also failed to make it through five innings in any of his last three starts, giving up 11 earned runs in 12 combined innings against the Mariners, Yankees, and Blue Jays.
The biggest problem for Greinke has been his inability to miss bats. While the 37-year-old hasn’t been known as a strikeout pitcher over the course of his career, he is striking out batters just 18.8% of the time, compared to a 23.1% strikeout rate or better in each of his past four seasons. Similarly, his 7.05 K/9 is his lowest mark since 2005, when he was a 21-year-old kid who went 5-17 with a 5.80 ERA. Additionally, Greinke has induced grounders at a 45% clip or higher in every season in the past decade outside of his disappointing 2020 when his groundball rate sat at 41.2%. This season, his groundball rate is at a disappointingly similar 41.7%. Batters being able to elevate the ball against him has led to a 1.41 HR/9, his worst mark since all the way back in 2006.
While this all sounds pretty ugly, I assure you it is not all bad for the 18-year-veteran. Greinke is allowing hard contact just 30.7% of the time, his best output since 2015 when he posted an immaculate 1.66 ERA across 222.2 innings. Similarly, opposing hitters have an 86.2 average exit velocity against him, a mark that is actually better than in 2015. Greinke is no stranger to struggling out of the gates in recent years, with the first month being his worst in two of the past three seasons. I believe the veteran still has enough left in the tank and is smart enough to figure things out and make any necessary adjustments in order to find more consistency across the rest of the season. The days of a dominant, Cy Young-winning Zack Greinke are likely behind us, but he should get back to being a highly effective pitcher for the Astros the rest of the way.
Gary Sánchez (C, New York Yankees)
.174 AVG, 9 R, 3 HR, 5 RBI, 0 SB
After being Gary Sánchez’s biggest believer year in and year out, I finally had to put my blind faith aside and look at things objectively. And in doing so, what I see is really, really bad. I don’t need to tell you that a .174 batting average is not good, and the fact that he’s currently on pace to bat below .190 for the third time in the last four years is even worse. It seems the Yankees have reached this conclusion around the same time as I have, because they’ve been starting Kyle Higashioka behind the plate much more, leaving a lot less playing time for Sánchez. As a result, the Kraken has started just five of the last 12 games. And while most catchers don’t play every day, and many of them do take a seat with regularity, playing less than half the time is not a situation you want to deal with in fantasy baseball. This is especially true when the production isn’t even there when he does play. Almost impressively, Sánchez has mustered just three hits since April 14th. And after hitting home runs in back-to-back games to start the season, the expected slugger has only hit one since, a solo shot this past Friday.
If there’s a bright side, it’s that Sánchez is striking out 24.4% of the time, his best mark since 2017, and a vast improvement from the hideous 36% strikeout rate he posted a season ago. And with that, his 16.3% walk rate is the best of his career by a wide margin. Unfortunately, his 36.8% whiff rate is the worst of his career. His 68.2% zone contact rate is also his worst-ever output, with his next worst being a considerably better 77.9%.
When making contact, Sánchez is making hard contact 41.7% of the time. While a very solid hard-hit rate, it is the second-worst of his career, and a steep decline from last year’s 50% mark. With the entirety of his value coming from his ability to tear the cover off the ball at this point, it does not bode well for him that he is doing so less than in prior seasons. Furthermore, the Yankees’ backstop has shown a diminished ability to spread the ball to all parts of the field, with a career-low 12.5% of hit balls going to opposite field.
All things considered, his tantalizing potential is not worth the abundance of hitless games and days where he doesn’t even see the field in favor of Higashioka. At this point, he’s not hitting nearly enough homers to make up for his lack of everything else. It pains me to say it, but it’s time to move on from Gary Sánchez.
Featured image by Michael Packard (@designsbypack on Twitter and Instagram)