Another week of baseball has passed since the last edition of Patience or Panic, and this season has not gotten any more normal. Despite the fact that we are now about a fifth of the way through the regular season, Christian Yelich still only has three hits. Meanwhile, his old team, the Miami Marlins, are tied for the best winning percentage in baseball at .833 with a 5-1 record. No, that is not a typo. The Miami Marlins really are tied for the best winning percentage in baseball. Which is why I’ve decided to simply accept the fact that things might not balance out over the course of the season like they normally do. Maybe Yelich will finish the season with a sub-.200 batting average. Maybe the Marlins will win the NL East. I wouldn’t bet money on either of these things, but nothing would shock me at this point.
For this reason, we can’t look at big name players who have been slumping out of the gates and just assume they will definitely pick things up in the next few weeks before it’s too late. So let’s dive into this week’s Patience or Panic and look at three more struggling players to try and determine if we can expect improvements at the plate in the immediate future.
Marcus Semien (SS, Oakland Athletics)
.192 AVG, 7 R, 0 HR, 2 RBI, 0 SB
After a career year in 2019 that saw him bat .285/.369/.522 with 33 homers, 92 RBI, 123 runs scored, and 10 steals, Marcus Semien has regressed considerably in the early part of this season. A major factor in this is the fact that he simply isn’t putting the ball in play nearly as much as he did a season ago. Semien has posted a 28% strikeout rate, his worst output since his initial 21-game stint in 2013 and more than double the 13.7% K rate he put up last year. To go with this, he is also only drawing walks 4% of the time, nearly three times less than his 11.6% walk rate last year. With an O-swing percentage of 30.6%, his highest rate since 2013, he is chasing a lot of pitches outside the strike zone and showing decreased discipline at the plate.
When Semien does put the ball in play however, he is hitting line drives just 17.6% of the time, the lowest mark of his career. Instead, he is hitting the ball high into the air at a career-high 52.9% fly-ball rate. This is a direct result of a 22.8 degree launch angle, more than five degrees more than in any other season. In theory, an increased launch angle could be very beneficial due to the likelihood to hit more home runs. In this case however, it seems to be a detriment to Semien’s success, as he has yet to hit a ball out of the park, meaning these fly balls are all being caught for outs. This is because of a 26.5% hard contact rate, compared to 41.7% last season, while his 86.2 mph average exit velocity is the lowest of his career. The 29-year-old still has zero barrels on the season and his xwOBA is in the bottom five percent of the league through these first two weeks of the season.
As someone who was never very high on Semien in the first place, none of his peripherals give me any faith that he will get back to anywhere near the level he was at in 2019. At such a deep position, there is no reason to keep starting someone who is struggling to this extent.
Gary Sanchez (C, New York Yankees)
.074 AVG, 2 R, 0 HR, 1 RBI, 0 SB
After clubbing 34 home runs in just 106 games in 2019, Gary Sanchez is off to an absolutely miserable start to the season at the plate. The Yankees catcher is just 2-for-27 with an outrageous 16 strikeouts thus far. As current Phillies and former Yankees manager Joe Girardi would say, “it’s not what you want.” However, if there could possibly be an upside to this, it’s that his O-swing rate is exactly the same as it was last year, and his plate discipline, for better or worse, seemingly has not changed. This means that his problems at the dish are likely just a timing issue, as manager Aaron Boone stated.
Assuming this is true, Sanchez looks poised for a monstrous stretch if he does in fact get his timing right. When making contact this season, Sanchez has an average exit velocity of 93.1 mph, which is in the 86th percentile in the league. Even more impressive though is the fact that this is the highest exit velocity of his career, meaning it is higher than last season when he was on a 52-homer pace if he had played the entire season. Sanchez has also made hard contact on 63.6% of the balls he has put in play to this point, meaning he is crushing the ball when he does make contact.
Overall, the slugger has shown to be one of the streakier hitters in baseball over the past few seasons, but there are very few who are better when Sanchez finds his groove. He’s still hitting the ball extremely hard when his bat hits the ball, and the catcher position is still a wasteland for consistent offensive production. As a result, I am staying patient with The Kraken, as I believe his timing issues at the plate will be resolved sooner than later.
Franmil Reyes (OF, Cleveland Indians)
.163 AVG, 3 R, 1 HR, 4 RBI, 0 SB
Coming off a sophomore season in which he blasted 37 home runs, Franmil Reyes has just one long ball through a sluggish first two weeks of the season. Similarly to Sanchez, Reyes is striking out at a higher rate than ever before, going down on strikes on exactly one-third of his at bats. However, his contact rates are all nearly identical to the numbers he posted last year, so this likely is not too big of a concern.
What does concern me is that Reyes has a ground ball rate of 61.5%, while only hitting line drives 7.7% of the time. Generally speaking, being among the league leaders in home runs is an incredibly difficult task when more than half of your balls in play are hit straight into the ground. Reyes’ 7.1 degree launch angle is relatively low compared to other big sluggers around the league, and it is also 2.4 degrees lower than in 2019.
With all that said, the 25-year-old is still hitting the ball hard with a 91.6 mph average exit velocity, putting him in the league’s 79th percentile. He is also still making hard contact 38.5% of the time, which is considerably lower than his 51% hard hit rate last season, but only because he was in the top two percent of the league in 2019.
Reyes got off to a 2-for-22 start to last season without any homers, so perhaps he is still shaking off some rust and trying to find his rhythm at the plate. He is still hitting the ball hard and his teammates have plenty of faith in him, and I believe he will be back to crushing baseballs out of the park any day now.
Graphic by Michael Packard (@designsbypack on Twitter & IG)