Patience or Panic 6/5: Cain, Foltynewicz, Benintendi
We are now officially into the month of June, which means that we are no longer in the early part of the season. For any players who got off to unexpected hot starts and never cooled down, it’s becoming increasingly likely that this might truly be a breakout season or a career year. On the other hand, for players who have gotten off to disappointing starts this season, it’s time to acknowledge that they might not flip the switch at any point, and this really might just be a bad year for them. With some players however, it’s too difficult to not hold out hope that a midseason turnaround is coming. This brings us to another edition of Patience or Panic, where we take a look at three under-performing players to see if that midseason bounce back is coming, or if their struggles will continue throughout the year.
Lorenzo Cain (OF, Milwaukee Brewers) – .256 AVG, 36 R, 4 HR, 24 RBI, 5 SB
Coming off a strong season that saw him bat .308 with 10 home runs, 30 stolen bases, and 90 runs scored, Lorenzo Cain has been a bit of a letdown so far this season. One of his biggest assets, speed, has not been very prevalent this year, as he has just five steals after swiping 26 bags or more in four of his last five seasons. While his success rate is slightly down this year, having been caught on three of his eight attempts, the fact of the matter is that Cain is 33-years-old now, and it is entirely possible that he never again steals 25+ bases in a season.
Speed aside, Cain has been better at the plate this year than his surface stats indicate. His hard hit rate of 37.2% is right in line with his career average of 37%. He is also making slightly better contact this season, with a barrel rate of 4.1%, which is actually higher than it was in either of his past two seasons. Additionally, he has raised his line drive rate to 26.9%, up more than 4% from each of his last three years. Cain’s BABIP currently sits at .295, drastically lower than in years past, as his BABIP in each of his last five seasons was at least .340. Given that he is hitting the ball just as hard as usual, this appears to be a result of some bad luck. This is also supported by a .274 expected batting average. Overall, Cain’s speed might not be what it used to be, but I fully expect his production everywhere else to improve in the near future.
After starting his season a month late because of an elbow injury, Mike Foltynewicz has looked nothing like the pitcher who posted a shiny 2.85 ERA a year ago. He has struggled to miss bats like he did last season, posting a 19.2% strikeout rate that is a full 8% lower than in 2018. Foltynewicz has also been unable to keep the ball in the park this year, with batters hitting just over three homers per nine innings against the 27-year-old. This is partly due to an inflated fly ball rate that has jumped over 8% from last year to sit at 46.7%. These additional fly balls have directly replaced ground balls, as his ground ball rate has dropped more than 8%, while his line drive rate has remained the same. Batters are also making hard contact a whopping 46.4% of the time, 14.3% higher than his career average. On top of that, hitters are pulling the ball 48.8% of the time against Foltynewicz—a 10% increase from his norm. This is likely due to a drop in velocity on all of his pitches, especially his fastball, which is down a full two mph compared to last season. This has led to him throwing his heater just 27.5% of the time, after utilizing the pitch on 40.5% of his pitches in 2018.
All that being said, I believe that the injury he suffered is still playing a major factor in his performance, and he likely just needs some more time to find his rhythm and get back to where he was both physically and mentally before he went down. There are some positives as well, such as a 4.8% walk rate that is currently the lowest of his career. He also has an SIERA of 4.62 and an expected FIP of 5.07, so even his miserable performance thus far hasn’t been quite as bad as his ERA shows. Foltynewicz should start to pitch better as he continues to work his way back into the swing of things, and he should return to his dominant 2018 form before the year is over.
Andrew Benintendi (OF, Boston Red Sox) – .259 AVG, 28 R, 6 HR, 26 RBI, 7 SB
After two strong full seasons in the big leagues that showed potential in all aspects of the game, Andrew Benintendi was expected by many to take a big leap forward in his age-24 season. Unfortunately, he has seemingly regressed at the plate so far in 2019. A big issue this year has been a newfound difficulty to put the bat on the ball, as he is striking out 23.9% of the time. This is a huge increase from his previous strikeout rates of 16% and 17% in each of the past two seasons. With this, Benintendi has posted a career-worst 11% swinging strike rate. However, the 24-year-old has actually shown some improved plate discipline, with a career-best 11.8% walk rate, along with a z-swing rate of 78.2%, almost 10% better than his career average. He has also decreased his soft contact rate to just 10.6%, while his barrel rate has reached a career-best 8.9%. Furthermore, Benintendi has a .444 expected slugging percentage, 32 points higher than his actual slugging percentage.
Interestingly, most of Benintendi’s struggles have come in the first inning of games, where his batting average sits at an ugly .093. After the first inning, he is batting exactly .300 on the season. It’s very possible that the switch he made to hit leadoff this year could be the reason for this, so perhaps he will improve now that manager Alex Cora has moved him back into the second spot in the lineup, where he batted all of last season. Either way, Benintendi is too talented of a hitter to continue struggling like this, and I fully expect him to pick things up at the plate sooner than later.
(Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire)