We’re now over a quarter of the way through the 2020 MLB season, despite the fact that head-to-head fantasy baseball leagues are currently halfway through week three. Among the many bizarre things we’ve seen as a direct result of this wildly condensed season is the hunt for a .400 batting average. As it currently stands, there are a handful of players above the .400 mark, with several others still well within range. Charlie Blackmon has even taken things to another level, as his three hit performance last night raised his average to an even .500, an unheard of achievement if he were to somehow keep up this torrid pace over the course of the shortened season.
That said, while some players such as Blackmon are performing mind-blowingly well, others are performing at almost unfathomably bad levels to this point in the year. This brings us to this week’s edition of Patience or Panic, where we take a look at three players who are drastically under-performing to try and determine if there are brighter days ahead or if their struggles are likely to continue throughout the season.
Rhys Hoskins (1B, Philadelphia Phillies)
.211 AVG, 8 R, 0 HR, 1 RBI, 0 SB
After putting up 29 and 34 home runs in each of the two prior seasons, Rhys Hoskins has been a major surprise thus far for the wrong reason, having still yet to hit one out of the park. On top of that, Hoskins has somehow only drove in one run, despite batting second for a team that scores over five runs a game. Fortunately, it appears that Hoskins is still hitting the ball well, despite these lackluster results. The 27-year-old has an average exit velocity of 89.5 mph, directly in between his 89.8 mph exit velocity from last year and 89 mph the season before that. His hard hit rate of 37.5% is also only a tad below his 38.7% hard hit rate from 2019. His 23.1 degree launch angle is right in the middle of the 23.9 and 22.6 degree launch angles he posted each of the previous two seasons, while his ground ball rate is the exact same as it was each of the last two years, meaning he is still hitting the ball in the air consistently.
His 17.4% strikeout rate is considerably lower than any other year of his career, especially last year when he struck out 24.5% of the time. Meanwhile, his 28.3% walk rate is at the top of the league, and almost twice as high as it was last year, despite being in the top 2% of the league in 2019 walk rate. Based on these numbers, it looks as though Hoskins is due for a hot streak sooner than later, so hang in there and wait for his home run power to come roaring back.
Oscar Mercado (OF, Cleveland Indians)
.119 AVG, 2 R, 0 HR, 3 RBI, 0 SB
After a surprisingly strong rookie season that saw him post 15 homers and 15 steals in just 115 games, Oscar Mercado has done very little to prove that last season was more than just a fluke. His power has seemingly vanished, likely in large part due to his launch angle decreasing from 14.7 degrees to 10.9 degrees. This is paired with the fact that his hard contact rate according to FanGraphs is an embarrassingly low 25%, making it extremely difficult to hit the ball out of the park. To make matters worse, Mercado has yet to log a barrel this season, after posting a meager 4.1% barrel rate a season ago.
Power is not the only aspect of Mercado’s game that has been missing through the first three weeks of the season, as his ability to make contact seems to have severely declined as well. After striking out a respectable 17.4% of the time in 2019, the 25-year-old is going down on strikes in 30.2% of his at bats this season. This drop in performance appears to be a combination of his zone swing rate declining from 77.7% to 63.9%, and his swinging strike rate jumping from 11.3% to 13.5%.
Now, not only is every aspect of his offensive production down from his rookie season, but the Indians outfield situation has gotten a bit more packed with the return of Delino DeShields. As a result, Mercado has not gotten a start in three straight games, and this trend could continue, especially with how poorly he’s been hitting the ball. With bad production and now inconsistent playing time, there is no reason to keep holding out hope for Mercado to suddenly revert to his rookie performance levels.
Robbie Ray (SP, Arizona Diamondbacks)
1-2, 10.59 ERA, 2.12 WHIP, 23 K, 17 IP
After striking out 235 batters in 174.1 innings last season, Robbie Ray has left a lot to be desired in 2020, allowing more earned runs than innings pitched thus far. The lefty has given up hard contact 48% of the time, putting him in the bottom 7% of the league this year. Batters also have an average exit velocity against him of 91.4 mph, while logging a 16% barrel rate, which is bottom 5% of the league. As a result, Ray has already given up seven long balls in his four starts, giving him 3.71 HR/9 allowed, nearly three times worse than over the course of his career.
The one thing Ray has done fairly well this year is record strikeouts, but even that aspect of his game is not up to his usual standards. His 26.4% strikeout rate is his worst mark since 2015, as is his 11.4% swinging strike rate. Meanwhile, his 16.1% walk rate is the worst of his career, showing a lack of control in addition to batters being able to square him up at an unusually high clip.
Looking forward, Ray has an extremely tough schedule on the horizon, with three of his next four starts currently lined up to be against the Padres, Rockies, and Dodgers. While Ray still has good enough swing and miss stuff to have the occasional strong game, his performance to date combined with his upcoming schedule have me very wary of starting him in a shortened season where every outing is that much more important. While I wouldn’t be surprised to see him turn in a few solid starts over the rest of the year, this is a situation I am avoiding.
Graphic by Michael Packard (@designsbypack on Twitter & IG)