Baseball players are very streaky. Over the course of a day, week, or month, the best players in the game can look like they don’t even belong in the league. Over time however, this tends to balance out, as better players typically stay hot for longer, and slump for shorter periods of time. Take Aaron Judge for instance. Two weeks ago, the slugger endured a four-game stretch in which he went 1-for-17 with 11 strikeouts, including a ridiculous seven strikeouts in a row at one point. Fast forward a few days, and the Yankees outfielder turned things around to go 12-for-21 with eight runs, five homers, and six RBI in a six-game span, winning AL player of the week in the process.
Unfortunately, not everyone is able to flip the switch with such ease. For many slumping players, their struggles could last much longer than the horrid four game stretch we saw with Judge. And this brings us to another weekly edition of Patience or Panic, where we take a look at three underperforming players to see if they appear likely to snap out of their slumps in the near future. This week, we’ll examine three players from the AL Central, who haven’t exactly lived up to their lofty expectations upon entering the season. So let’s dive right in and see if better days are ahead for any of these slumping stars.
.132 AVG, 19 R, 4 HR, 15 RBI, 0 SB
While certainly not known for being someone who hits for average, batting below .250 in each of his past eight seasons, Yasmani Grandal has reached a new low at the plate this season. His .132 batting average to this point is the worst in all of baseball, and 98 points worse than his .230 mark a year ago, which was still a bit low by his standards. Now, if you play in an OBP league instead of the standard leagues that only value batting average, you probably aren’t complaining. Following a four-walk performance last night, Grandal now has his OBP up to .387, thanks to a league-best 29.5% walk rate. Grandal’s plate discipline is extremely impressive, and his affinity for drawing walks is nothing new, as he has maintained a walk rate of 13.9% or better in five of his past six seasons. That said, it seems unlikely that he’ll keep drawing walks at such a ridiculous clip, because he is not Barry Bonds constantly being intentionally walked, and you have to imagine that pitchers are not exactly petrified of challenging a hitter with a .132 average.
However, that average seems very likely to trend up as the season progresses, along with his other currently disappointing numbers. This is because Grandal is actually hitting the ball quite well when he makes contact, with a 54.9% hard-hit rate and a 93.8 mph average exit velocity. Both of these numbers put him in the top 5% of the league, while his career-best 13.7% barrel rate is also in the top 15% of baseball. As a result, Grandal’s expected batting average is 59 points higher than his true batting average, while his impressive .382 expected wOBA is 57 points above his actual mark thus far. Hitting in the heart of a still very strong White Sox lineup, despite losing multiple stars to long-term injuries, Grandal should have no trouble putting up solid counting stats with the rate at which he gets on base, and the rest of the numbers seem ready to follow suit.
At a position with so few players seeing a combination of consistent playing time and the ability for solid production, Grandal has one of the highest ceilings of all catchers in the league. And I believe we will start to see him reach that ceiling sooner than later.
2-4, 4.97 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 50 K, 41.2 IP
After strong back-to-back seasons in 2019 and 2020, Lucas Giolito has seemingly taken a step back in 2021. Chicago’s presumed ace has not performed as such, with only one quality start through his first eight outings of the early season. Giolito’s command has not been at its best by any means, allowing 11 walks over his past four starts. The 26-year-old has also served up eight homers already, after giving up that same amount in nearly twice as many innings in 2020. This is likely due to opposing hitters barreling up 12.5% of balls, compared to just 5.6% of the time a season ago. To that effect, opponents are also making hard contact 42.9% of the time, his worst mark since his first big league stint in 2016, when he owned a 6.75 ERA across four starts and six appearances.
One reason for his early struggles likely has something to do with his typically impressive slider being less than impressive thus far. After posting whiff rates of 41.8% and 52.6% in each of the past two seasons, his whiff rate with the pitch is down to just 30.8%, while opponents are batting a healthy .308 with a .769 slugging percentage against the pitch. Getting that pitch back to its previous effectiveness would seem to make a huge difference in Giolito’s performance. And with the velocity and spin rate of the pitch both a bit up from the past few seasons, I believe he will be able to find his slider fairly soon.
The good news is that he has certainly had his share of bad luck on the mound, as his 3.72 xFIP and 3.86 SIERA indicate better days could very well be in store. And in his last start against the Royals, he seemed clearly shaken up by the collision involving his teammate José Abreu, and immediately served up a bomb on the following at bat. Overall, I think Giolito is too talented to keep struggling like this, and he has shown his dominant form in enough spurts this year to believe his time is coming. With his next start scheduled for tomorrow against the struggling Twins, it wouldn’t be crazy to think he starts to get back on track right away. Pitch him with confidence!
Eddie Rosario (OF, Cleveland Indians)
.207 AVG, 14 R, 3 HR, 21 RBI, 5 SB
Playing in his first season with the Cleveland Indians, Eddie Rosario has been something of a disappointment after back-to-back strong seasons with the Twins. Never known for his plate discipline, as seen by his career 4.8% walk rate, Rosario has posted a 37.3% chase rate that puts him in the bottom 6% of the league. And while has lack of discipline at the plate hasn’t resulted in too many whiffs (21%) or strikeouts (17.9%), it has led to a lot of weak contact being made on the ball, which has severely limited his ability to drive the ball out of the park or for extra base hits.
Rosario has just one home run since April 12th, with a disappointing total of five extra base hits in the last month. In a year when batters on average are making hard contact more than in years past, Rosario is hitting the ball hard just 33.3% of the time, his lowest mark since 2017. As a result, his .364 expected slugging percentage is the worst of his career, and the first time since 2016 that it’s even dipped below .415.
While I do like Rosario, it’s incredibly hard to vouch for a guy who swings at garbage and has been making way too much weak contact to be a consistently productive hitter. And currently being stuck in a 3-for-31 rut certainly doesn’t help the cause. His one pleasant surprise this season was the five early stolen bases after only stealing three in each of the past two seasons, but with none since April 24th, I wouldn’t be expecting too many more the rest of the way. In my opinion, there are plenty of outfielders who are capable of hitting 25-30 homers with a mediocre batting average, so waiting around for him to hopefully become one of those guys wouldn’t be my choice, especially in the middle of a lineup as lifeless as Cleveland’s has been thus far.
Featured image by Michael Packard (@designsbypack on Twitter and Instagram)