As we hit the middle of June, it seems like baseball might be starting to shift back to a slightly more offensively potent league. With Major League Baseball doing its best to crack down on sticky substances used by pitchers, offensive numbers seem to already be back on the rise, and this should only continue with time.
Perhaps this shift will ignite the bats of so many hitters who have slumped their way through the first two and a half months of the season. And on the other hand, we might see a lot of pitchers who have had outstanding starts to the year show some serious regression if they were using any substances to this point.
So while we won’t know for sure what kind of impact this could have on individual players, we can certainly keep it in mind when we look at this edition of Patience or Panic. This week, we’ll examine three underperforming players on the west coast who have either struggled right from the start or have slowed down significantly in recent weeks. So let’s dive right in and try to determine who, if any of them, appears ready to turn things around.
Eric Hosmer (1B, San Diego Padres)
.255 AVG, 20 R, 5 HR, 33 RBI, 4 SB
After an incredibly hot start to the 2021 campaign, Eric Hosmer has cooled off significantly of late. The first baseman has just one extra-base hit, a double, since May 27th, while batting an ugly .186 in the last month and an even worse .136 in the last two weeks. And while he’s certainly not known to be a speedster by any means, a lone steal since May 1st leaves something to be desired when the power is lacking the way it is. On top of that, Hosmer has only scored twice and driven in just three runs in the last two weeks, with the rest of the Padres offense seemingly trudging through mud of late, with a league-worst 37 runs and .581 OPS in that span.
Despite these numbers however, Hosmer actually looks pretty good at the plate lately. Even though his batting average against fastballs this month is a lowly .105 with an even worse .158 slugging percentage, his expected batting average against heaters is .282 with a strong .565 expected slugging percentage. This is due to a ridiculous 99.7 mph average exit velocity, that is an improvement from his season-long 91.4 mph exit velocity, his best mark in the last five seasons. And against offspeed pitches, he’s hitting the ball even harder, with a .431 expected average and a crazy 1.002 expected slugging percentage, despite failing to record a hit against offspeed pitches this month. Hosmer is making hard contact a career-best 49.5% of the time, and his .288 BABIP is his worst mark since 2012. Striking out a career-best 15.1% of the time, Hosmer is putting the ball in play and hitting it hard, making it seem very likely that he is due for some positive regression.
The biggest concern with Hosmer thus far is his 58.8% groundball rate, but this is nothing new for him. Hosmer went four straight seasons from 2016 to 2019 with a groundball rate above 56%, and he still managed to hit 25 homers twice, top 94 RBI three times, and bat as high as .318 during those years. So while it would certainly be nice to see him start to hit more line drives instead of so frequently hitting the ball into the ground, he has proven capable of working around this flaw in his game. I believe that Hosmer, along with the Padres offense as a whole, is due for better days ahead, and he will hopefully finish the season looking more like the hitter he was for the first month and a half of the year.
Jesús Luzardo (SP, RP, Oakland Athletics)
2-3, 6.14 ERA, 1.58 WHIP, 40 K, 36.2 IP
Before the season began, I was the biggest believer in Jesús Luzardo. I was all in on the talented lefty and thought this would be the year he finally put it all together for a dominant season on the mound. I couldn’t have been more wrong. After only looking really good in one of his first six starts this year, he broke his pinkie while playing a video game. Unbelievable. And since returning to game action and being moved to the bullpen, he has been dreadful in each of his last three times on the hill. He’s allowed seven runs and four homers in just 4.2 innings across his last three appearances, which now makes it seem more and more likely that he will not return to the starting rotation any time soon, if at all.
Luzardo has given up a home run every four innings this season, with a career-worst 19.1% homer to flyball ratio. The 23-year-old has allowed a 9.9% barrel rate and 89.8% average exit velocity, while giving up hard contact at a 36.9% clip. All of those are career-worsts, despite his career obviously being a short sample at this point.
Specifically, Luzardo’s four seam and sinker are being rocked, with opponents batting .327 and .333 against the pitches, respectively. The fastball stands out the most, as he was able to limit batters to a .215 average against the pitch a season ago. And while his velocity and spin rate on the pitch are consistent with previous seasons, batters have been connecting with ease, doing the most damage on these pitches, which he throws the most.
Overall, I still believe Luzardo is too talented of a pitcher to not figure things out eventually, but I’m afraid that won’t happen this season. Having already struggled as a starter and as a reliever, with an injury in the middle, it could be a little while before he regains his rhythm and confidence to pitch up to the level of which he is capable. And with his future in the starting rotation extremely uncertain at this point, his fantasy value is almost completely diminished for the foreseeable future. It’s time to move on from Luzardo for now and maybe try again next year.
Trevor Story (SS, Colorado Rockies)
.243 AVG, 27 R, 5 HR, 24 RBI, 9 SB
After being drafted in the late first or early second round of most fantasy baseball drafts this season, Trevor Story has failed to live up to expectations, struggling for most of the season outside of a hot stretch from late April through the early part of May. Batting .243 on the season, Story has struggled to a .152 batting average with just one home run in the last month. And while there was a stint on the injured list during that time as he recovered from some elbow inflammation, Story is a miserable 2-for-18 since returning, with both hits being singles.
While Story is making contact at a nearly identical rate to last season, the type of contact he is making is consistently worse no matter which way you look at it. His 35.6% hard-hit rate is the worst of his career by a decent margin, with his career average sitting at a much more impressive 43.1%. His 88.7 mph exit velocity and 8.2% barrel rates are also career lows, as he simply isn’t connecting with the ball like he has in years past. He’s getting on top of the ball more than ever before, as seen by a career-high 37.4% groundball rate, a drastic increase compared to the 29.7% mark he posted in 2020.
While it is entirely plausible that his focus is off due to the trade rumors swirling around him, those discussions should only heat up as we inch closer to the trade deadline at the end of July. And assuming he is traded, which seems much more probable than not at this point, it would only likely hinder his performance even further, as he would lose the luxury of playing at Coors. Like most Rockies hitters, he has absurd home and away splits, with his average dropping from .288 at Coors this season to a disappointing .191 on the road. And this season is no fluke in that regard, as he is a lifetime .303 hitter at home with 87 homers, while he has batted .245 on the road in his career with only 52 long balls. That stark difference could potentially result in a major drop-off in production over the final two months of the season when he is likely no longer playing his home games in Colorado.
As a result, while he almost certainly won’t continue to perform as poorly as he has of late, I don’t anticipate seeing his rest of season value coming anywhere near what was expected of him at the start of the season. If he starts to heat up and boosts his trade value, or even if he doesn’t, it might not be a bad idea to make a deal before he is likely shipped out of Colorado.
Featured image by Michael Packard (@designsbypack on Twitter and Instagram)