After just six days of the 2020 MLB regular season, this is already the strangest year of baseball we’ve ever had. There are so many oddities, from extra innings starting with a runner in scoring position to teams being shut down due to coronavirus outbreaks. However, one constant still remains; players do not always perform to expectations. Nobody expected Freddie Freeman to strike out in all four of his at bats last night, but hey, that’s baseball. In any given stretch of time, some of the worst players in the league can look like hall of fame athletes, while baseball’s perennial allstars look as though they ought to be sent down to the minors.
This brings us to this year’s first edition of Patience or Panic, where we’ll take a look at a few players who are severely under-performing, and try to determine if their struggles are a real cause for concern. This task will be especially difficult this year, as we cannot simply wait a month or two for a player to break out of a slump because two months is the entire season. So while the very notion of panicking about a player just six days in may seem utterly ridiculous, we’re already nearly 10% of the way through the season. With that said, let’s dive in and examine a few players who are off to slow starts this year and see if they are likely to turn things around before this short sprint of a season comes to an end.
When fantasy players likely drafted Christian Yelich with a top three overall pick, they certainly were not expecting him to get off to a 1-for-22 start at the plate. The former MVP has gotten off to an absolutely miserable start to the shortened season, already striking out nine times through five games while walking only once. Despite his lone hit being a two-run blast off Brad Wieck on Saturday, Yelich has obviously left a lot to be desired thus far. His hard-hit rate of 27.3% is nearly cut in half from the 50.8% he posted a season ago, while his exit velocity sits at a lowly 86.1 mph, more than seven mph less than in 2019.
However, there are more than a few reasons to believe he will turn things around sooner than later, and not just because he’s too good to stay this bad forever (although he very much is too good to stay this bad forever). Despite his struggles, Yelich is still in the 68th percentile with a respectable 9.1% barrel rate this season. His line drive and fly ball rates of 18.2% and 36.4%, respectively, are also right in line with his numbers from the past couple years. On top of that, he does not appear to be getting frustrated at the plate and he is remaining disciplined, as his 24.4% chase rate is his lowest in the past three seasons. Overall, the 28-year-old is likely just needing some extra time to get back into the swing of things, playing in his first week of meaningful games since suffering a season-ending knee injury last September. While the slow start is less than ideal given this year’s timeline, I am confident he will make up for it in the coming weeks.
After a disappointing 2019 season that saw him bat .266 with 13 homers, this has been far from the bounce back season fans were hoping to see out of Andrew Benintendi. The 26-year-old has looked dreadful at the plate, striking out eight times in his 16 at bats, while his only hit came on a bunt single. Benintendi has also hit grounders twice as often as he has managed to hit fly balls, as his launch angle currently sits at 0.6 degrees. Furthermore, his hard-hit rate is an ugly 12.5%. After showing a sudden decrease in power to end 2019 (he hit one home run after August 3rd), this is a discouraging sign that he is continuing along this downward trend with no end in sight. The only thing he really had going for him was the fact that he was batting atop a strong Red Sox lineup, but that no longer seems to be the case, being bumped to the nine spot in the order last night with Jose Peraza jumping up to the leadoff spot.
One positive I can say is that it was nice to see him already steal a base, having swiped just one bag after July 6th last year, but his willingness to run doesn’t do a whole lot when seemingly every one of his at bats ends in a strikeout or a ground out into the shift. It pains me to say it as a Red Sox fan, but Benintendi is showing us everything we didn’t want to see from him, and I have no confidence that he will figure things out quickly enough for it to make much of a difference this season.
Eugenio Suarez (3B, Cincinnati Reds) – .059 AVG, 0 R, 0 HR, 0 RBI, 0 SB
After improving his home run total in every season since entering the league, culminating with a whopping 49 bombs in 2019, Eugenio Suarez has gotten off to a brutal start in 2020 with only one hit to this point. Suarez has been hitting the ball into the ground much more frequently this season than he has in any other year of his career, with a ground ball rate over 50%. This is backed up by an 11.9 degree launch angle that is at least three degrees less than that of any other season. Suarez has also yet to hit any barrels, an area in which he shined last season, as his 14% barrel rate was in the top seven percent in baseball.
Despite the lack of barrels however, the 29-year-old does seem to be seeing the ball just fine at the plate, drawing four walks to his five strikeouts thus far. Suarez has also made hard contact 33% of the time, while he has yet to make soft contact at all this season. These are all very encouraging signs that perhaps he has faced a bit of bad luck in addition to likely still shaking off some rust. After all, the slugger got off to a 1-for-10 start last year too before putting up a career best 49 homers, and I believe he is more than capable of a similar turnaround this season.
(Photo by Doug Murray/Icon Sportswire)