Baseball is a game of hot and cold streaks no matter how you look at it. A week ago, the Rays and White Sox had the two best records in the American League. Now, the Rays have lost six straight while the White Sox have dropped their last four. Meanwhile, the Arizona Diamondbacks, who finally won a game last night, are in the middle of a historically bad stretch in which they had previously lost 17 games in a row, as well as an ongoing 23 straight on the road.
This kind of streaky performance is true of individuals too, as both the best and worst players experience the highest highs and the lowest lows over the course of a 162-game season. In this edition of Patience or Panic, however, we will be focusing on the lows, as we take a look at three struggling players in an attempt to determine if they are on the verge of breaking out of their slumps, or if it is going to be a long summer as their frustrations appear likely to continue. All three of these players have flashed the potential to be very valuable in fantasy baseball, having all been red hot at varying points in the season, but whether they can return to that level of play is uncertain. So let’s dive right in and try to figure out if better days are ahead in the near future.
Yoán Moncada (3B, Chicago White Sox)
.277 AVG, 31 R, 5 HR, 33 RBI, 1 SB
After a disappointing 2020 season that mainly resulted from problems with COVID-19, Yoán Moncada has had an up-and-down year as he attempts to have a strong bounce-back season. After batting just .180 through April 17th, Moncada turned it on for a little more than a month, raising his average to .301 on June 1st. Now in the last two weeks however, Moncada has worked his way into a slump once again, batting an abysmal .176 with just one run scored and three RBI.
Moncada is struggling mightily to hit for power too, as we are closing in on the midpoint of the season, and he has just five bombs, putting him on pace to just barely crack double-digits. Some of this likely has to do with his flyball rate dropping to 19.7%, after posting a mark of 22.7% or higher in each season from 2017-2019. However, these flyballs have primarily been replaced by line drives, as he is now hitting 35% of balls on a rope, compared to a previous career-best of 30.7%. So while the home run power may take a small dip from this over the long haul, I would say this is an overall positive development for his future success as a hitter, assuming this trend continues. In addition to the increase in liners, he is making hard contact a solid 43.9% of the time, to go along with a 90.3 mph average exit velocity.
Regarding his ability to make contact, Moncada is striking out 27% of the time, which just barely beats out his 2019 season as the best mark of his career thus far. On top of that, his 15.6% walk rate is the highest of his career by a solid margin, with a 21.3% chase rate that is down considerably from 29.1% in 2019. With his plate discipline and contact skills improving by the day (one strikeout in his last four games), and consistent hard-hit line drives being sprayed around the field, he looks like someone who is more than ready to go on a heat streak some time in the near future. While his .388 BABIP is probably unsustainable, and he might not show off too much power, I firmly believe he will hit the ball well enough to score enough and drive in plenty of runs in the middle of that White Sox lineup to be a very valuable fantasy third baseman the rest of the way. Better days are on the way for the 26-year-old.
Nick Pivetta (SP, RP, Boston Red Sox)
6-3, 4.36 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 86 K, 74.1 IP
Despite showing the potential to eventually be a really solid pitcher in the league, Nick Pivetta was nothing short of a major disappointment from 2017 when he first came up to the majors, until he was traded to the Red Sox last season. After a pair of strong outings with the team to end 2020, he got off to a hot start to his 2021 campaign. Unfortunately, he has seemingly come crashing back to reality of late, looking much more like the pitcher he was in Philly than the one who was dominating the American League through the first month and a half of the season.
After allowing more than two earned runs just twice in his first eight starts of the season, he has now done this four times in his last six starts. This resulted in a strong 3.16 ERA through the first month and a half, followed by an ugly 5.97 mark in the most recent month of the season. This stark drop-off in his performance level has translated to an 0-3 record in June, after going 6-0 through April and May.
The biggest difference for Pivetta has been the long ball. The 28-year-old did a tremendous job of keeping the ball in the park at the beginning of the year, giving up just four homers in his first 11 starts. Since then, opposing batters have been teeing off against him, with six bombs in his last three starts. This is a bad sign for the hard-throwing righty, as he had major problems both in 2019 and in his limited work in 2020 when it came to keeping the ball in the park. And with Pivetta ranking in the bottom third of the league this season in average exit velocity and barrel rate against him, the sudden spike in homers might not be merely a fluke.
The good thing about Pivetta is that he can always be counted on to at least put up strong strikeout numbers. He has recorded six or more strikeouts in seven straight starts, despite failing to pitch more than six innings in any of them. However, control has been a major problem all season long, with him giving up fewer than two walks in a game just once in his 14 starts thus far. And the combination of a lot of walks allowed and/or a lot of baserunners, mixed with a high propensity to serve up the long ball, spells trouble. While he certainly does have the talent to bounce back and finish the season strong, the way he’s trending combined with the way he’s pitched in the big leagues in every other season of his career are making me shy away. Especially with so many starts coming against AL East opponents, my confidence in Pivetta is disappearing fast.
Ian Happ (2B, 3B, OF, Chicago Cubs)
.183 AVG, 22 R, 8 HR, 18 RBI, 1 SB
After starting the 2021 season with a huge slump, and eventually breaking out of it in mid-May after returning from injury, Ian Happ is back to his slumping ways. Hitting arguably worse now than he was at the start of the season, Happ has just two hits in his last 22 at bats, with no runs or RBI in that span. He only has three extra-base hits in the last month, and his average has fallen from an already underwhelming .225 to an even worse .183 on the year.
Happ is striking out 29% of the time, worse than that of his 2019 and 2020 seasons, and a mark that puts him in the bottom 12% of the league. When he does make contact, he is getting on top of the ball more than ever before, as seen by his 54.3% groundball rate. For reference, his career average is 44.3%, and last season was his previous career-high in that regard at just 47.1%. The main reason for this is likely due to a 6.1 degree launch angle that is half of where his lifetime launch angle sits. This change is responsible for not just the spike in grounders, but also the reason for him only having three homers all season long if you take out a seven game stretch in May.
The bottom line is that Happ is not producing in any area relevant to fantasy baseball, as his average is an active detriment to fantasy rosters, his home run power is almost nowhere to be found outside of the aforementioned week in May, and he has never shown a whole lot in the way of stolen bases. The fact that he only has 18 RBI despite having eight homers and typically batting somewhere in the middle of a solid enough Cubs lineup is almost impressive, but not in the way you want someone to be impressive. I held out hope that Happ would turn things around during his first slump, and my belief was rewarded with a week of success followed by another month of nothing. It is long past time to move on.
Featured image by Michael Packard (@designsbypack on Twitter and Instagram)