Patience or Panic 5/8: Seager, Carpenter, Odor
Now that we’re more than a month into the 2019 MLB season, we’re finally at a point where bad players who got off to ridiculously hot starts are coming back down to earth, and good players who looked completely lost to start the year are climbing back to their typical production levels. Thus, it’s becoming increasingly worrisome for all the players who are still struggling and still haven’t hit their stride despite being almost a quarter of the way through the season. With that, let’s dive into this week’s edition of Patience or Panic and see if we should actually be concerned with some of these players’ ongoing struggles.
Corey Seager (SS, Los Angeles Dodgers) – .234 AVG, 22 R, 2 HR, 11 RBI, 0 SB
After missing essentially all of last season due to Tommy John surgery, in addition to arthroscopic surgery on his left hip, I think it would have been unreasonable to expect Corey Seager to look like an all-star shortstop right out of the gate. However, it was not an unreasonable assumption to expect more than the almost non-existent level of production he’s given us so far. After homering on opening day and getting our hopes up in the process, Seager has proceeded to hit just one long ball since. His average exit velocity is down to 87.5 mph, down from his career average of 90.3 mph. Another concern is that Seager is having much less success pulling the ball this season, pulling the ball 28.1% of the time, compared to his 36.2% lifetime pull rate. As a result, he is hitting the ball to opposite field a whopping 36.5% of the time this season. It is also worth noting that Seager has been hitting fly balls 43.8% of the time this year, considerably higher than his career mark of 31.5%. This is due to his drastic change in launch angle from 10.8° lifetime to 16.2° this year.
While his xwOBA of .299 is less than encouraging, I believe that Seager’s struggles are a result of him not yet finding his groove after missing so much time from injuries, as opposed to the hypothesis that the 25-year-old all-star suddenly a bad baseball player. He didn’t make his spring training debut until late March, so he had even less time to shake off some rust, despite likely needing more time than a typical spring workload. For now, I have confidence that one of the baseball’s top young players will figure things out at the dish sooner rather than later.
Matt Carpenter (1B, 2B, 3B, St. Louis Cardinals) – .215 AVG, 20 R, 4 HR, 8 RBI, 2 SB
After crushing a career-high 36 home runs last season, Matt Carpenter has left a lot to be desired through the early part of this season. One of the major problems for Carpenter this season is that he simply isn’t hitting the ball as hard as he was a season ago. His hard contact rate is 39.4% this season, down a full 10% from last year. Some decline was expected, however, as his robust 49% hard contact rate was well above that of any other season in his career. But while his hard contact rate has almost inevitably declined, his soft contact rate has dropped to an incredible 6.4%: a career best. Carpenter is also pulling the ball 45.7% of the time and hitting fly balls 47.8% of the time, right in line with his career norms. His average exit velocity of 88.7 mph is also right around his career average of 89.2 mph. Although his barrel rate of 8.5% is considerably lower than the 13.7% he averaged last year, just like with his hard contact rate, it appeared that last season was an outlier and some regression was to be expected.
Overall, I think Carpenter will be just fine as the season progresses. He struggled to a miserable .145 AVG with just one long ball through April last year before going on one of the best stretches in baseball from mid-May to mid-August. While it is completely unreasonable to expect another 30 homers with a .332/.433/.721 line over a 79 game stretch, Carpenter should pick things up at the plate some time in the near future.
Rougned Odor (2B, Texas Rangers) – .141 AVG, 11 R, 2 HR, 8 RBI, 2 SB
After a somewhat injury-plagued 2018 season, Rougned Odor looked poised for a bounce-back campaign entering the season. Unfortunately, it has been quite the opposite for the 25-year-old. Odor has looked lost at the plate, striking out a whopping 36% of the time to accumulate 31 strikeouts in just 20 games. He is also hitting the ball hard 29.8% of the time—a major downgrade from his 45.2% hard hit rate just a year ago. Another thing that really stands out about Odor this season is that his launch angle has jumped to 18.6°, after averaging 13.1° for his career and an even lower 11.7° last season. This could be a big part of why he has just two barrels to this point—a disappointing 4.3% barrel rate. Power aside, Odor has also been caught stealing on three of his five attempts this season, the continuation of an ugly trend after he was caught stealing on 12 of his 24 stolen base attempts in 2018. Never known to hit for average, Odor has not displayed either side of the power-speed combo that made him an intriguing fantasy option. While some power could eventually return at some point, it might be time to cut your losses and move on from Rougned Odor.
(Photo by David Berding/Icon Sportswire)