With just a week left until the All Star Game, the rosters for the midsummer classic are set. As a result, we can take a look at some of the season’s biggest overperformers by simply scrolling through the two teams for the game that takes place a week from now.
What we can’t see as easily is a list of the season’s biggest underperformers, or those who have struggled mightily for the better part of the first half of this 2021 season. However, we can break down a few of those players at a time to analyze their performance thus far and try to figure out why they’ve been playing so poorly. This brings us to another weekly edition of Patience or Panic, where we look at three slumping individuals to see if their rest of season outlook will be a positive change or just more of the same disappointment. This week, we’ll take a look at three struggling outfielders to see if they are likely to turn things around after the break.
Cody Bellinger (1B, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers)
.189 AVG, 18 R, 3 HR, 15 RBI, 2 SB
Following an exceptional 2019 season, Cody Bellinger seemingly took a step back in the shortened 2020, and has only further declined thus far in 2021. The talented young outfielder has batted a dreadful .189 to this point in the year, only getting worse of late with a miserable four hits in the last two weeks of action. And while the season has been derailed by injuries, this level of performance is still a massive disappointment for an MVP-caliber player like Bellinger.
His strikeout rate has jumped considerably to a concerning 29.2%, after posting a very respectable 16.3% and 17.3% in each of the previous two seasons. However, with an all-time best 15% walk rate, we can hope that his plate discipline has not declined, and that he is perhaps still just trying to find a rhythm at the plate after being sidelined so frequently.
Bellinger is also making hard contact a career-low 31.7% of the time, a pretty drastic decline from his career 42.6% mark. His barrel rate is also at a career-worst 7.9%, though this hasn’t prevented his exit velocity from sticking at a solid 89.1 mph, just a tick below his career average. And while just three bombs to this point in the season is certainly not what anyone was hoping for or expecting, two of them came nine and ten days ago, and the slugger has not done anything to his swing that would indicate a permanent drop-off in power. His 21.2 degree launch angle is a bit more of an uppercut from past seasons, and his 39.7% sweet spot percentage is right in line with his 2019 season, and a great sign that he is swinging for success if he can get his timing and rhythm down. Still with under 100 at bats on the year, I am confident that Cody Bellinger will have a monster second half of the season assuming he can finally stay on the field for an extended period of time.
Michael Conforto (OF, New York Mets)
.207 AVG, 14 R, 2 HR, 16 RBI, 0 SB
Having also missed his fair share of playing time through the first half of the season, Michael Conforto is another talented outfielder who has yet to get things going at the dish. When I looked at Conforto towards the end of April in an earlier edition of Patience or Panic, he was having a miserable start to the year with one homer and a batting average below .200 at the time. Since then, he has doubled his home run production and his average has risen above the Mendoza line, but with only three hits since a two-hit day on June 23rd, Conforto has mustered just three hits, with all of them being singles.
So while the bad news is that he is still struggling mightily on the surface, the good news is that he is hitting the ball much better despite the results not showing yet. After posting a hard-hit rate of just 26.8% as of April 27th, that number has since shot up to 34.6% and is still on the rise of late. His exit velocity has also seen a slight increase to 87.6 mph, though it is still a far cry from the 89.1 mph mark we are used to seeing from Conforto. Hopefully the power numbers are due for a spike in the near future however, as he has fixed his swing back to an 11.1 degree launch angle, right in line with that of last season, after it had dipped by three degrees in the season’s opening month. As a result, his groundball rate has gone from a career-high 53.7% to a much more respectable 46.7% as it continues to trend back down.
With a 22.9% strikeout rate, better than each of his past five seasons, and a 14% walk rate that is the best of his career, all signs are pointing toward a strong rest of season outlook for the 28-year-old. After the break, Conforto should hopefully look much more like the 2020 version of himself than what we’ve seen from him thus far in 2021.
Ramón Laureano (OF, Oakland Athletics)
.234 AVG, 37 R, 13 HR, 30 RBI, 9 SB
If you look at the first half of the season as a whole, Ramón Laureano has actually had a nice year thus far, flirting with a 25-homer, 20-steal pace over a full season. If you break down his recent numbers however, things start to get much worse, with the vast majority of his production coming in the earlier part of the season. Laureano is batting an underwhelming .169 in the last month, with only two homers and one steal during that time, to go with seven runs scored and eight runs driven in. In fact, the speed has almost entirely disappeared, with eight of his nine steals coming by April 13th.
With the goal being to get back to his 2019 self, wherein he batted .288 with 24 homers and 13 steals in just 123 games, he appears more than capable of achieving that. Nearly all of his advanced metrics are in line with—if not better than—what he did in his career year two seasons ago. His 41% hard-hit rate is up from 39.8% that year, while his barrel rate is up significantly at a career-best 12.4%. His 25.4% strikeout rate is the best mark of his young career thus far, and his 8.2% walk rate, though not his best, is nearly 50% better than in 2019.
Overall, Laureano has proven to be one of the streakier hitters in baseball, tending to go red-hot or ice-cold at the plate for extended periods of time, so you just have to ride out this bad stretch and hope he turns it back around at the start of the second half, which seems more than likely. The power and average should come back soon, and perhaps that will increase his confidence to become a menace on the base paths again, as not too many players are even capable of stealing eight bags in a two-week span like he did at the beginning of the year.
Featured image by Michael Packard (@designsbypack on Twitter and Instagram)