Now almost two months into the 2021 MLB season, the sample size is becoming large enough that in most situations, we need to finally start believing what we are seeing. An extraordinarily good or bad two weeks, and it’s natural to say “that’s great, but it won’t last.” When the same production carries over for two months however, it starts to look a bit more like the new normal, rather than an extended fluke.
That said, there are still certain circumstances in which the above isn’t true. Which is where this weekly Patience or Panic piece comes into play. Every week, we take a closer look at three players who either haven’t been able to figure it out from the start, or have found themselves in a very extended slump. Ideally, we’re able to dive into the numbers and figure out whether these slumps are here to last, or if there are brighter days ahead. This week, we have three players with solid track records, who simply haven’t been able to put it together yet. So let’s dive right in and see which of these struggling players, if any, look to be on the verge of turning things around.
Anthony Rendon (3B, Los Angeles Angels)
.234 AVG, 13 R, 3 HR, 12 RBI, 0 SB
After a solid first season with the Angels that saw him hit .286/.418/.497 with nine homers in 52 games, Anthony Rendon has not quite been himself through these first two months of 2021. Injuries have certainly played a factor, as the 30-year-old has sat out for two short stints this season with a pair of minor injuries. However, the results when he has been on the field have been less than superb, batting .234 on the season, .206 in the last month, and .167 in the last two weeks. That most recent stretch since returning from a left knee contusion has seen Rendon bat 6-for-36 with no extra-base hits and just a single RBI.
One of the problems for Rendon is the stark increase in his strikeouts this year. After consistently posting a strikeout rate between 13.3% and 13.7% in each of the past four seasons, that number has ballooned all the way to 19.3%. That’s still not bad, given the league average rate of 24.1%, but clearly a reason for his early-season woes compared to previous seasons. The bright side however, is that it seems like Rendon may just need a few consecutive weeks of action before truly finding his rhythm at the plate. And so far, he has yet to have that. The third baseman has had stretches of eight, seven, and currently 11 consecutive games, all having been broken up by injuries. Most recently though, Rendon has struck out just three times in his last five games, while he also struck out only twice in the six games prior to his last IL stint.
By this logic, it seems that barring another injury, he needs a handful of games under his belt to get his timing right before he is able to tear the cover off the ball. And with all three of his homers this season coming within three games of an injury, it seems even more likely that his struggles thus far are purely a result of rust. Even so, his 90.6 mph average exit velocity is tied for his best of the last five seasons, while his 44.6% hard-hit rate is his second-best mark in that time.
The only other possible concern is a somewhat dramatic decline in his 18.9% line drive rate, the worst of his career, but that could also be a result of him still getting his timing right at the plate. Overall, his counting stats might be a bit down over the next couple months with Mike Trout out of the lineup as he works his way back from injury, but there is very little doubt in my mind that Rendon will be crushing the ball in the immediate future. As long as he can stay on the field long enough to find his groove, he should return to being one of the league’s best third basemen over the final four months of the season.
Eduardo Rodriguez (SP, Boston Red Sox)
5-3, 5.06 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 54 K, 48.0 IP
In the first week of the season, Eduardo Rodriguez appeared in the year’s first edition of Patience or Panic due to him getting off to a late start to the year as he worked through a dead arm phase. Now however, he has returned as a focal point, this time due to his lackluster performance on the mound. Despite missing all of 2020 due to COVID-19 complications, Rodriguez got off to a very encouraging, though a little delayed, start to his season. The 28-year-old collected four wins in his first four starts, allowing three or fewer runs in each, pitching to a strong 3.52 ERA and 0.87 WHIP.
Things have been ugly since then however, as the southpaw has given up four or more earned runs in four of his last five starts, allowing 47 base runners in those five starts. He has picked up the loss in three straight, while his ERA has jumped to 5.06 and his WHIP to 1.40. Part of this has been his changeup lacking its typical effectiveness. In each of his past four seasons, Rodriguez induced a 34.7% whiff rate or better with his changeup, with his most recent season hitting a strong 37.1% mark with the pitch. This year however, his changeup’s whiff rate is down to just 25.2%, the worst of his career. In addition to that, opponents are hitting line drives at a 27.1% clip, the highest since his rookie 2015 season.
Those few things aside though, there is still a lot to like about what E-Rod is doing. His 26.2% strikeout rate is the second-best of his career, while his 5.3% walk rate is his best mark by a decent amount. And while his 1.31 HR/9 is a bit higher than in each of his previous three seasons, he’s actually improved on that despite his struggles, allowing just three long balls in his last six starts. While an opposing hard-hit rate of 35.7% is a bit higher than he’s typically accustomed to, his 87 mph average exit velocity allowed is right in line with his career numbers.
E-Rod has a very solid 3.35 xFIP and 3.50 SIERA, indicating that he has in fact pitched better than his ERA and WHIP would show. And if history is any indication, Rodriguez will pick things up as the season progresses, as he has a lifetime ERA of 4.59 in the first three months of the season, with that number drastically improving to 3.53 over the final three months. At the very least, pitching for the team tied for the most runs scored in baseball will certainly help his chances to pick up wins, but I do believe his performance will get back to what it was over the season’s first month. An upcoming start against the Marlins could be just what he needs to build some confidence and gain a little momentum, and I think the 28-year-old will be just fine as he pushes past this rough patch.
Matt Chapman (3B, Oakland Athletics)
.211 AVG, 18 R, 5 HR, 20 RBI, 1 SB
Despite a career-worst .232 batting average a season ago, Matt Chapman was able to slug 10 homers in just 37 games. Through 49 games so far in 2021, Chapman’s average has continued to tumble to a new low of .211, but the power has not quite been there to make up for it. With only half of last season’s total in 11 more games played, Chapman’s power seems to have disappeared with no homers and just three doubles since May 5th. After posting elite exit velocities of 93.1 mph, 92.7 mph, and 93.6 mph in each of the past three seasons, that number sits at a pedestrian 88.1 mph through these first couple months of 2021. On top of that, his normally outstanding hard-hit rate that reached an impressive 51.7% last season, is all the way down to 39.4% this year. And without the immense power he’s displayed in the past, his .211 average with a 32.1% strikeout rate looks a whole lot worse. Now 1-for-20 in his last six games, he appears nowhere close to breaking out of this miserable slump.
The one bright side to Chapman’s performance thus far has been his improved plate discipline, walking a career-best 13.5% of the time, but that’s certainly not enough to warrant any strong amount of confidence in him suddenly flipping a switch. The slugger has been known to be a streaky hitter in prior years, but this might be the worst he’s looked over an extended period of time since his MLB debut in 2017. With his expected average, slugging percentage, and wOBA all lower than his actual production to date, there are hardly any encouraging signs that lead me to believe better days are ahead for the slugger. With third base proving to be one of the more stacked positions in the league this season, there is little reason to keep someone in your lineup there who is doing as little as Chapman is, at least not until defensive performances can count toward fantasy.
Featured image by Michael Packard (@designsbypack on Twitter and Instagram)