Good teams tend to have good players. When those players start to struggle, often so too do their teams. This rings all too true for the Blue Jays and Padres, who have hit the skids alongside key pieces of their roster. So, what should we make of the struggles? Let’s explore.
Matt Chapman, 3B, Toronto Blue Jays
Chapman’s first month of the 2023 season was one of the most torrid in recent memory. Through April, he sported a .384 AVG with five home runs, 17 runs, and 21 RBI, trailing only Brent Rooker with a 216 wRC+. At first glance, his .485 BABIP over that span points to regression, but a .446 xBABIP supported by a 56% hard contact rate begged to differ.
And yet, regression has come all the same. Through 20 games in May, Chapman is batting .192, has hit 1 home run, and mustered only seven runs and three RBI. He’s making hard contact considerably less frequently and striking out at an unpalatable 32.2% clip. The strikeouts have been accompanied by a frightening 33.3% whiff rate and his xAVG of .181 actually indicates that he may be experiencing some good fortune.
Despite the sluggish May, Chapman is still blowing away his career numbers. His average remains around .300 and he’s produced solid run and RBI totals. Nevertheless, he hasn’t produced an average north of .250 since his rookie season in Oakland, so his May output might not be as fluky as his April.
Verdict: Patience. The early production was never going to continue at such a ridiculous clip and any AVG help Chapman gives you is house money. The power production is on track to meet expectations and the team context is still ideal for runs and RBI despite the Jays’ recent struggles.
Jake Cronenworth, 2B/1B, San Diego Padres
After two seasons of very good production for a second baseman, Cronenworth is off to a comparatively rough start. His four home runs are on pace to be roughly in line with his 2021 and 2022 output, but that’s about where the positivity stops. The RBI and run totals are fine but disappointing and his average is at a lowly .211.
The slow start to his season has been accompanied by a few troubling developments. He’s trending toward a career-high strikeout rate of 22.4% after striking out very infrequently through his first three seasons. His .211 AVG would be a career low, as would his current OBP and SLG. An xAVG of .204 coupled with a measly 4.2% barrel rate does little to calm fears of his trajectory.
An interesting piece of Cronenworth’s game throughout his career has been his selectivity. He owns a career swing rate of 42.5%, a figure that has jumped to 46.4% this season. With it, his whiff rate has spiked as well, though it remains below league average.
The Padres’ offensive struggles have also unexpectedly hindered his fantasy production. Hitting in the middle of that lineup with his ability to put the bat on the ball has been a big factor in his ability to drive in runs. Fewer opportunities and a .162 AVG with runners in scoring position have put a cap on his RBI output. In a similar vein, a .182 average from the Padres’ 7-, 8-, and 9-hitters has prevented him from scoring more runs.
Verdict: Patience. Much of Cronenworth’s appeal is driven by team context. Hopefully, the average can improve, but even if it doesn’t, there’s too much talent on this Padres roster for the RBI and runs not to improve.
Joe Musgrove, SP, San Diego Padres
It’s been a tough couple of weeks for the Friars, who hoped their hometown starter would build on a strong 2022. A February toe injury provided an inauspicious start to the year, and Musgrove didn’t make his season debut until April 22. In 5 starts since, he’s recorded only 1 win and posted a staggering 6.75 ERA.
As Nick Pollock wrote last week, Musgrove has lost some movement on his slider. As a result, it’s been hit hard and he’s gone away from it, instead leaning on his 4-seamer and, to a lesser extent, his changeup. The changeup has been dominant, but he’s thrown it only about 12% of the time. Unfortunately, the 4-seamer has taken on most of the work from his slider, and he’s paid for it.
Despite an acceptable 8.0% walk rate, Musgrove hasn’t commanded the strike zone particularly well this year, finding the zone on only 42.8% of his pitches. His 15.4% CS% is well below his career average and below league average. 36.9% of his pitches have been up in the zone or above it, a figure that did not eclipse 24.8% in the previous three years. As a result, his groundball rate has dropped to 35.5% from 44.5% in 2022.
Struggles notwithstanding, there are reasons for optimism. A .329 BABIP against and 66.5% LOB rate indicate some bad luck, not to mention his xERA which is nearly 2 runs lower than his ERA at 4.80. Add in a solid SwStr% of 12.1% and the picture becomes even less ominous.
Verdict: Patience. Musgrove is still finding it. The slider troubles are concerning and lead me to believe he probably won’t recover his 2022 form, but he’s only surrendering hard contact at a 26.8% clip. Things will start to break his way.