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.
Nate Lowe (1B, Texas Rangers)
.241 AVG, 27 R, 8 HR, 31 RBI, 4 SB
In very similar fashion to his teammate Nick Solak, Nate 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.
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.
Featured image by Michael Packard (@designsbypack on Twitter and Instagram)