Patience or Panic 6/8: Solak, Lowe, LeMahieu

Will these struggling players turn things around?

The MLB season, for most players and teams, consists of a number of hot and cold streaks over the course of the year. Teams like the Rays and Giants have had some great stretches, helping them each get to first place in their respective leagues. Meanwhile, teams like the Yankees, Cardinals, and Dodgers have had their share of cold streaks, which is why they are all a bit further out of first place in their respective divisions than they’d like to be.

The exact same thing can be said about players, which can be an incredibly frustrating experience for their teams, their fans, and especially those who have rostered them in fantasy baseball. Too many players these days lack any semblance of consistency, as guys like Giancarlo Stanton routinely bounce back and forth between looking like the best baseball player to walk the earth one month, and looking like someone who has no business even being on a high school baseball team the next.

This brings us to another weekly edition of Patience or Panic, where we take a look at three players who are in a deep slump to try and determine if they are on the verge of potentially breaking out of it. This week, we’ll examine three infielders who, after getting off to very solid starts to the season, have tailed off considerably in recent weeks. So let’s dive right in and figure out which of them, if any, are showing some light at the end of the tunnel.

 

Nick Solak (2B, 3B, OF, Texas Rangers)

.237 AVG, 36 R, 8 HR, 24 RBI, 2 SB

 

After an impressive start to the season that saw him batting .319/.404/.582 through April 28th, Nick Solak has been ice cold at the plate. The 26-year-old is batting just .182 since that point, struggling to hit for average or power. After clubbing seven home runs by April 27th, Solak has only hit one more in the last six weeks. On top of that, after stealing two bags on April 6th, he is 0-for-2 on steal attempts since then.

A major part of the problem for Solak has been a career-worst 26.3% strikeout rate, after keeping this mark at a much better 21.5% and 18% in his first two seasons in the league. Paired with a career-low 6.3% walk rate, his plate discipline is declining as his struggles seem to worsen. While Solak’s career-best 90.1 mph average exit velocity is solid, his 38.7% hard-hit rate is not, and it never has been, with a career hard-hit rate of just 35.3%.

Though he certainly did get off to a hot start to the season, neither the bulk of this year nor the entirety of last year would lead me to believe his strong April was more than an outlier. He hit a pair of homers last season while batting .268/.326/.344, and currently only has 15 long balls in his whole career. Still being rostered in 73% of leagues, his value moving forward seems to be that of a speedster who doesn’t steal bases, which isn’t very valuable at all. And despite typically batting second or fifth for the Rangers, those juicy spots in the order don’t do a whole lot on a team that scores fewer than four runs per game (3.9). Even though his position eligibility is great, it is time to move on from Nick Solak in fantasy.

Verdict: Panic

 

Nate Lowe (1B, Texas Rangers)

.241 AVG, 27 R, 8 HR, 31 RBI, 4 SB

 

In very similar fashion to his teammate Nick SolakNate Lowe has also struggled mightily of late, after getting off to a red-hot start at the dish. Lowe had six homers through April 26th, and he was batting a healthy .289 through May 11th. Unfortunately, he is batting .154 with a single homer in nearly a full month since then. Lowe has just two extra-base hits since May 10th: a double and the aforementioned homer.

After striking out multiple times in 11 of his first 41 games, Lowe has achieved this feat ten times in his last 20 games. As a result, his career-best 28.8% strikeout rate might not stay his career-best for much longer if he continues to struggle like this. His discipline at the plate has shown some improvement however, where a career-best 13.6% walk rate has been fueled by a career-best 20.4% chase rate.

In addition to his improved eye at the plate, Lowe has ripped the ball when making contact, owning a 44.2% hard contact rate and a 90.9 mph average exit velocity. Along with a 12.2% barrel rate, an impressive mark that has never dipped below 10.6% in his short career, Lowe has shown a great ability to square up the baseball and put some power into it. With an expected slugging percentage that is .064 higher than where it currently sits, all signs would point to Lowe having improved success in the power department in the near future. While the four early stolen bases were almost certainly a fluke, as he had swiped just one bag in his career prior to this season, the expected power increase should more than make up for that missing aspect of his game. I think the 25-year-old will turn things around soon, and he should produce some solid numbers the rest of the way.

Verdict: Patience

 

DJ LeMahieu (1B, 2B, 3B, New York Yankees)

.253 AVG, 33 R, 3 HR, 14 RBI, 2 SB

 

Overall this season, the New York Yankees have been underwhelming to say the least. As a whole, their offense has produced the second-fewest runs in the American League, despite entering the season with expectations of being an offensive juggernaut. And while these struggles are a result of several players not performing even close to expectations, one of the key problems has been their leadoff hitter, DJ LeMahieu. LeMahieu was ridiculous at the plate in his first two seasons in pinstripes, batting .327/.375/.518 his first year, before topping those numbers with a .364/.421/.590 line in 2020. This year has been very different however, as he has failed to repeat his uncanny ability to hit for average or his somewhat surprising display of power since arriving in New York.

For starters, LeMahieu is striking out a career-worst 17.9% of the time. But that is still very impressive for most hitters, especially given the state of the league right now, where striking out is a grossly common occurrence. And while his 89.8 mph average exit velocity doesn’t match the 91.3 mph or better he managed to post in each of the past three seasons, it is still above the league average. The same can be said for his 43.3% hard-hit rate that is better than it was in multiple past seasons in which he finished the year with an above .300 batting average.

The biggest problem is likely that his line drive rate is down substantially, from 28.8% or higher in five of his past six seasons, to just 23% thus far in 2021. Instead, LeMahieu has increased his fly ball rate, which is resulting in a lot of extra outs, as those balls clearly haven’t had enough on them to consistently leave the park, with just three homers on the year. And without the ability to provide himself with RBI by way of home runs, LeMahieu has struggled to produce in that area due to the major struggles at the bottom of the order for the Yankees. The veteran hasn’t driven in a run since May 19th, and he has scored just five times in that span. But I have to believe that LeMahieu, and the Yankees offense collectively, will somehow flip a switch at some point and start crushing the ball like they’ve been expected to do all year. LeMahieu is still making good contact, hitting the ball hard, and batting at the top of what should be a top-five lineup in baseball. His time is coming.

Verdict: Patience

 

Featured image by Michael Packard (@designsbypack on Twitter and Instagram)

Kyle Frank

Kyle studied finance and sport management at UMass Amherst, and he is a die hard Red Sox fan, despite both of his parents rooting for the Yankees. He can also be found writing about the NBA on Fantrax.

  • Avatar Firtree Baseball says:

    I read the headline and thought you are going to tell me whether to panic on Brandon Lowe. :)
    Great Article.

  • Avatar Jack says:

    Totally concur on Solak and in fact just dropped him, probably a couple weeks late, but whatever.

    As for Lowe, I see a guy who has never had anywhere near an .800 OPS, whose profile as a power-hitting 1B with no other position eligibility, who doesn’t steal bases or hit for average, falls short of the minimal expectation you’d have as a fantasy owner to justify rostering him in 12-teamers (or my slightly deeper 10-teamer with its 1B/3B and UTIL spots and six OF spots).

    I’m a guy who purposely waited for that position so I’m staring at him on the wire, but I think I’ll stick with Muncy and Cron and leave him there, instead opting for flavor of the month Patrick Wisdom, who hits in a similar spot in a way better lineup. Maybe when the weather starts to heat up in Arlington…

  • Avatar DB says:

    Nate Lowe’s swing profile is being exploited. I drafted him (very late,) but expected this and expected to swap him out when this happened. I loved him as a prospect and constantly wondered why the Rays didn’t give him much of a shot and kept intentionally blocking him in the majors, but (as a Yankees fan) I’ve come to understand that if the Rays are going to offload a player that costs basically nothing, they’ve probably got a reason. Lowe’s probably got a long leash as TX kinda sucks and really has no replacement for him. He’s on my watchlists as I HOPE he’ll adjust.

    As far as LeMahieu, I also suggest patience, although I think that performance will only come when he has a defensive home and he gets used to whatever funk is going on w/the baseball, the pitching substances, etc. and that all levels out.

    As a huge fan of pitching, what I see as the biggest issue for batters this year is an increase in LATE movement on pitches, along with the whole balloon/dodgeball analogy as far as the physics of the new ball. Exit velos are fine or even higher, but the softer core of the ball only keeps up exit velo, while the higher seams and stitching create drag, leading to more balls that die on the warning track and make it harder to loft a solid line-drive at an optimal angle. DJ is an artist waiting on a ball to break late while in the box, then use a more normal recent ball path to plunk it where it should go (AKA: hit it where they ain’t.) Increased late movement and increased aerodynamic drag are really killing him, and I’m not sure he’ll come out of it, as hard as it is for me to say it. Maybe, if there is a true and actual crack-down on doctoring balls, he’s got a shot, but if it’s just eyewash, I’d be worried if I had DJ shares.

    • Avatar Jack says:

      Nice analysis of LeMahieu, DB. What about everyone else on the team (except Judge)? As a fellow Bombers fan, I, too, am waiting for the bombing to resume, and getting a bit uneasy.

      • Avatar DB says:

        Thanks.

        On a previous P or P piece, I said Gleyber would put it together (offensively,) and while the power still really isn’t there, (it will come, mark my words he’ll have at least 20HR’s,) he’s been A LOT better since then… But I really think a lot of this is psychological, and a lot of that has to do w/ Le Machine.

        Damn near every player on the team came out ON SOCIAL MEDIA, not just in texts or calls to the club over the offseason, basically demanding that he be re-signed. Having a routine batting champion at the top of the order meant a huge amount to everyone behind him. That’s probably a lot more pressure than he’s ever faced, ON TOP OF all the stuff mentioned above.

        Luke Voit, who has kind of been the mouthpiece for the team (while Judge seems like the clubhouse captain) being out has been big as well. It seems like chemistry and cohesiveness has been an issue for a team that has thrived on clubhouse culture since, at least, their record-breaking IL stint season and the birth of the “next man up” mentality. A club can only live on that mentality for so long, and in truth, the strength and conditioning HAS been better, it’s just that they, along with many other teams, are now a LOT more cautious about guys playing through things they normally would have before.

        I think they’re honestly all demoralized by the TOOTBLANS and GIDP’s as well. And as much as I’m not a fan of many of Phil Nevin’s calls for runners on 3B, he obviously is a big part of the “heart” of the team, and having him sick for as long as he has been has probably been a drag as well.

        I’d never take Cashman or Boone’s job though, so just consider this a fan bloviating.

        • Avatar Jack says:

          All sounds like valid bloviation to me, and sounds better than insane but somehow also intriguing speculation that covid shots are taking their toll on everyone except the Bunyanesque Judge.

          Would you take Nevin’s job (please)?

          • Avatar DB says:

            To be fair, the Yanks all took the single J&J shot which has since been kind of panned by the medical community since they had it. Phizer and Moderna vaccines are doing great things and rarely have post-vaccination infections and only mild side effects at worst. I got the Phizer regimen, felt exhausted the day after the first shot w/a little bit of shoulder soreness. Others, I’m told have similar side effects after the second shot, but it beats the hell out of getting COVID.

            Nevin lost like 20 pounds and got a staff infection from COVID, and Eduardo Rodriguez got myocarditis… I’d rather feel groggy for a day than deal w/ that stuff.

  • Avatar Jayson says:

    I personally find the article and too many people way too much optimistic about DJ LeMahieu!

    DJ LeMahieu may have a track of previous seasons as one of the best batters and he may have current metrics stating he’s fine but just unlucky and batting in a team who hasn’t found its groove yet, it doesn’t change the simple and unbreakable fact that he has been awful so far fantasy-wise. We speak about a guy drafted as a 3rd or early 4th round in the overwhelming majority of fantasy leagues. And currently this guy is out of the top 350, if not 400 depending on the fantasy league. We already passed 2 months in the season! He will never finish the season with overall numbers of why this guy was drafted so early! Never!

    To focus on metrics is a bit irrelevant and too much academic in my opinion because there are plenty players who are good for real life baseball purpose but doing nothing valuable for fantasy purpose. Most baseball fantasy leagues have Runs, HR, RBI, SB, and .OBP as their main cats for batter. DJ LeMahieu is awful for such fantasy leagues. Just a fact! The reality although it’s a tough one is that we are close to middle of June and he hasn’t showed anything proving he’s heating up, so he’s not worth rostering in any 12 teams league. Especially when DJ LeMahieu is someone who doesn’t steal any base or not enough to be relevant.
    That’s my opinion, but in less than 12 teams league, he should be dropped and he should have been dropped from a while now. And even in 12 teams league he’s not worth rostering unless it’s a 12 teams league very deep. He should be traded away to a manager who is delusional enough to believe it’s a nice buy low candidate. In 12 teams leagues, there are definitely better options in the FA market, even though some won’t last for the rest of the season.

    In a sense, DJ LeMahieu reminds me all the article here and there about how good Soler will be because you know the guy has had good metrics… Sport isn’t only about data and metrics.

    DJ LeMahieu was drafted as an above average player. So far this season, fantasy-wise, he has been a below average player. Even though he would get better, he would never become an above average player for the rest of the season. I do think he will get 100 Runs, more or less, but I hardly believe he will ever get 20 HR. And about RBI, if he can get 65, more or less, it will already be something wonderful based on his slump. So does a guy with a ceiling of 100/20/65/5 a real 3rd or early 4th round in any league with no more than 12 teams? I don’t think so.

    • Avatar DB says:

      This wasn’t about ROI overall in the season on draft capital spent, it’s about whether he can turn it around and be useful from here on out.

      He’s obviously already crapped all over the people that drafted him. The question is whether or not he’ll continue to crap on them.

      And I hate to tell ya, Jayson, but FANTASY baseball, (the main focus of this site,) IS “only about data and metrics.”

      The stat/metric outcomes are all that matters when it comes to winning a league. If I wanted hugs, I’d have drafted Sandoval… and still wouldn’t have gotten any hugs.

      • Avatar Jayson says:

        I hardly believe anybody is winning a Fantasy baseball league looking at metrics like “”.327/.375/.518 or “And while his 89.8 mph average exit velocity doesn’t match the 91.3 mph” or “his 43.3% hard-hit”. Why? Because at the end of the day fantasy baseball leagues don’t care for such metrics. As I wrote in my previous comment and I’ll reaffirm it once again, 99% of fantasy baseball leagues don’t use such metrics as their cats. So the reality is that we don’t care to know if this batter is an awesome batter just hurt by a lack of luck from 2 months or whatever else about his velocity or whatever else in the same tone. Runs, HR, RBI, SB, .OBP are the 5 most common cats in the overwhelming majority of fantasy baseball leagues. And the reality is that DJ LeMahieu isn’t going to reward you anytime soon this season. If we would find his groove, he would just limit the damages. And so as long as we are already over 2 months in the season, as I wrote, I don’t see any logical reasons to keep waiting something from him when you aren’t in a league of at least 12 teams. Yeah, maybe he will be awesome and near a top20 elite level in August, but the fact he was drafted so early (3rd or 4th round) means that most people who drafted him have been playing with a ghost for over 8 weeks and are likely to remain with a ghost for 4-8 more weeks. The points and opportunities they have been losing will never be counterbalanced by the few POTENTIAL weeks DJ LeMahieu could delivery later in the season.

        The smartest thing is to sell him to anybody crazy enough to believe DJ LeMahieu is a good buy low candidate because he will eventually put 100/20/100 by the end of the season lol.

        It wasn’t about ROI, yes! But when analysing if a player is going to reward you or to kill you, I think it’s obvious to look at if this player was drafted or not. And if he was drafted, how early he was. Someone suffering from Alec Bohm sleep is definitely not in the same analyse of the situation as someone suffering from DJ LeMahieu sleep.

        Finally, as you perfectly said, “the question is whether or not he’ll continue to crap on them”. Someone who has crapped on you for over 8 weeks and who is still showing no sign of things are turning around is someone I call a “sell this guy before his value fades away in the eyes of other managers”. It’s foolish in my opinion to expect things to magically turn around because some metrics say he cannot be that bad. There are bad batters who perform better than good batters just like there are bad pitchers who has better stats than good pitchers and so-called “ACE”. As I said, it’s sport! If everything was a matter of data and metrics, then we could predict everything before the game has started. Is that the case? No! And it’s literally the beauty of sport and why so many of us love it!

        • Avatar DB says:

          Okay….

          There’s a lot to take in in your last two points, and while I COMPLETELY agree that the fantasy world has put WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY too much emphasis on statcast’s “x” stats when they’re descriptive rather than predictive, I also see a lot of usefulness in them as well.

          I use them as a reason to look into players, rather than a reason to pick them up. Franchy Cordero is a prime example of why that doesn’t work, but all stat sets are worth knowing about… So when you watch a guy play, you can have a better idea if they’re about to work into their prime, or at least a hot streak.

          A guy that’s hit 110mph worm-burners all season that is, all of a sudden, getting some loft on his hits is a guy you should be watching, etc…

          Deep Stats aren’t for everyone, but for those that dig, they can find buried treasure. I’ve done it many times. Max Muncy’s breakout season is one. Cedric Mullins this year is another.

          • Avatar DB says:

            Of course, as always, it depends on your current roster and your competition. If you don’t need AVG or runs, then there’s no reason why you should be clinging to LeMahieu.

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