Sarris: What’s up with that guy, part two — Seven struggling hitters and their futures (2023)

Hey, this worked well last week with pitchers, so let’s do it again this week with hitters. Go where the people are.

Here are the bats ranked in the top 100 by Yahoo in the pre-season who are healthy, have managed 150 at-bats, and are currently ranked worse than 200 by Yahoo’s algorithm. They’ve been struggling.

Player

Pre-Season Yahoo

Yahoo Now

Trea Turner

7

495

Julio Rodriguez

12

247

Austin Riley

24

243

Bobby Witt, Jr.

29

271

Kyle Schwarber

37

297

Xander Bogaerts

39

245

George Springer

56

338

Dansby Swanson

59

241

Teoscar Hernandez

60

383

Andres Gimenez

63

711

Alex Bregman

69

360

Willy Adames

73

368

Starling Marte

80

574

J.T. Realmuto

83

351

Jeremy Peña

88

304

I can’t get that worked up over a guy that’s still on pace to come close to a 30/30 season, so Julio Rodriguez won’t get a full rogering. Is anyone really all that upset about the start Xander Bogaerts is having? If he hits a homer tomorrow and has a hot week, his numbers will look almost exactly like they did last year, with more steals and runs to boot. These numbers were run Tuesday, before he did hit a homer that night.

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But the rest of these struggle bunnies? Well, a bunch of them deserve a longer look.

Trea Turner, SS, Phillies

Here’s why you could worry a little about Trea Turner. He’s on an ignominious list: players who have added the most to their strikeout this year compared to last year (120 plate appearances minimum).

Player

K% Increase

DJ LeMahieu

14.0%

Michael A. Taylor

9.4%

Nolan Arenado

9.2%

Trea Turner

8.4%

Amed Rosario

8.3%

Connor Joe

8.3%

Ha-Seong Kim

7.8%

José Abreu

7.8%

Luis Robert Jr.

7.7%

Juan Soto

7.4%

That’s not great. He hasn’t had a full season with a strikeout percentage over 20 and now he’s approaching 30 this season. It’s also backed up by the worst chase rate of his career and the highest swing rate of his career.

He’s pressing.

This is something we’ve seen with other players who have switched teams in the offseason —the average player swings more and chases more with their new team at first. The good news is that most of the sample regressed to their career means eventually. The theory is that once Turner has a normal week, even if it was due to a little good luck, he’ll feel more secure on his new team and will be a little less likely to try and push the envelope to prove he’s worth that big ol’ contract to his new teammates.

And the running? Who knows, really. He’s still in the 99th percentile of the league in sprint speed, and he’s coming off a 27-steal season. Why would he settle for 15-18 steals this year, with the new rules helping him along? That doesn’t make much sense. It also doesn’t copy that he’d land in Philly and see a power outage, so despite some of the reduced Barrel rates and max exit velocity numbers, there’s a bet here that he still ends up with around 20 homers, which is really his norm.

Austin Riley, 3B, Braves

A look at Austin Riley’s batted balls shows immediately what the problem is. Riley isn’t hitting the ball as hard, he’s not hitting the ball in the air as much, and he’s not hitting the ball hard in the air as often. That’s fine and all to say like that, but he just spent 1,300+ plate appearances absolutely mashing the ball and it seems unlikely that his skill in that area would just vanish at 26.

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It’s possible that this flawed statistic provides us a clue as to why he’s struggling a bit on the power. Pitch type values sum up everything a player does on a pitch — take a ball, a strike, swing at a ball or strike, put a ball in play, etc — and put it on a run value scale. There’s noise in the stat, but it still helps to tell a story. Here we are showing the pitch type values per 100 of each pitch type. Riley is a slider masher who does enough on fastballs to keep pitchers honest. This year, he’s not doing enough on fastballs.

Season

wFA/C

wSI/C

wFC/C

wSL/C

wCH/C

wCU/C

2019

-0.68

1.44

-4.18

-1.79

0.88

0.86

2020

-0.40

-1.70

-2.94

1.19

-4.31

5.16

2021

1.68

-0.48

2.18

0.77

2.72

3.90

2022

0.52

-1.17

3.03

1.61

2.65

6.33

2023

-1.28

-2.21

1.62

0.91

1.79

2.60

As a result, he’s seeing more fastballs this year than he did last year. And it looks like he’s always had a weakness against fastballs.

“Sometimes, I’ll get stuck between the hard and soft stuff,” he admitted to me all those years ago in the Arizona Fall League.

Looks like it’s still an issue. The pessimist would say that he’s got slider bat speed, but that ignores the fact that he’s had good years against fastballs on his resume. More likely, this is a temporary blip in his approach, and he needs to re-adjust to the number of sinkers and fastballs he’s seeing.

George Springer, OF, Blue Jays

This one seems super easy. Compared to last year, when George Springer hit .267 with 25 homers and 14 steals, Springer is:

  • Running as fast as he did
  • Showing better max power
  • Showing a better Barrel rate
  • Striking out less
  • Chasing less

If you can get him on any sort of a discount, this is your last chance to do so.

Teoscar Hernández, OF, Mariners

Did you know that T-Mobile Park, where the Mariners play, is the toughest park in baseball on hits? Balls in play lose around five feet, on average, to the cold, sea-level surroundings. Unfortunately … that doesn’t seem to be the problem here. Or at least not the main problem. Teoscar Hernández is showing a much higher batting average on balls in play on the road than he is at home, but more concerning is the fact that his flaws at the plate are being exacerbated right now. Home or away, he’s striking out about ten times more than he’s walking, and he was never really good at keeping those numbers well aligned in the first place.

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He always chases a lot, but this year, only 12 batters are swinging at balls more than Hernández. And that’s not really showing signs of improving on a game-to-game basis:

Sarris: What’s up with that guy, part two — Seven struggling hitters and their futures (26)

Hernández has always chased a lot, and been fine with it, but he’s 30 now. Unfortunately, that’s a magic number. At 29+, hitters start to lose the ability to make contact on pitches outside the zone, and in a precipitous fashion. He’s got the second-lowest contact rate on pitches outside the zone right now, and that’s not likely to improve. In all likelihood, he will have the worst full-season strikeout rate of his career, and therefore one of the lowest batting averages of his career. Buy only if you can handle the .230 average.

Andrés Giménez, 2B, Guardians

In an obvious effort to be more of a Guardian than he already was, Andrés Giménez is striking out less and hitting for less power. The hope had been for the 24-year-old to continue to improve his Barrel rate, continue tapping into his power, and continue to grow into more of a superstar middle infielder, but he’s instead regressed, and last year seems like the power outlier looking back. Still … he’s on pace for something like 11 homers and 25 stolen bases, and those are viable counting stats in any league.

It’s the .228 average that’s the problem. The thing is, you don’t usually see a good strikeout rate like this, paired with at least passable raw power, and batting average outcomes like this. Look at how Giménez compares to other qualified hitters last year with a strikeout rate under 19 percent and a maximum exit velocity over 108 and under 111.

Player

K%

Max EV

Batting Average

15.5%

109.7

0.264

Andrés Giménez

17.3%

108.1

0.228

It would still be better for Giménez to hit the ball harder, but when you see him projected for a high-.260s batting average everywhere, it looks like he still has the process skills to get there. He’s a decent buy for those steals.

Starling Marte, OF, Mets

Age matters. Starling Marte is baseball old, and when you get that baseball old, the possibility that your athleticism has waned to the point that you aren’t a full-time player becomes real. Look at how bad the outcomes have been for people like the 36-year-old José Abreu.

Since 1976, there have been 87 players aged 36 & older that have had an OPS <.600 through first 175 PA of their season like Jose Abreu does now.

21 put up 200+ more PA.

5 of those had a rest of season OPS over .750.

1 (Andre Dawson) managed >.800 RoS OPS. @StatsPerform

— Eno Sarris (@enosarris) May 24, 2023

But Marte is 34, not 36, and that seems meaningful. He’s also not struggling quite as hard as Abreu. Here’s how batters with an OPS+ under 80 through their first 175 plate appearances have fared the rest of the way, bucketed by age.

AGE

First 175 OPS+

RoS OPS+

Sum RoS PA

32

73.8

89.9

15253

33

73.7

86.4

9193

34

75.3

93.9

6950

35

73.8

101.0

5115

36

73.7

88.7

1985

37

75.8

84.8

2076

38

74.0

85.4

2800

Clearly Marte is in a better place than Abreu right now, as he’s in the age range where a full bounceback is more theoretically possible. Unfortunately, he’s now below-average in speed, and he’s lost some maximum exit velocity, so he’s clearly lost some athleticism. But he’s still making contact, still stealing bases, and not yet old enough that we should write his obituary. He’s a decent buy-low in redraft leagues, but if you’re buying in dynasty treat him like a one-year rental.

Jeremy Peña, SS, Astros

This all has something to do with the NCAA tournament. A 2011 study found that outstanding NCAA tournament performances boosted players’ draft stock when the NBA came calling, probably due to recency bias, but also maybe because it’s just so tempting to think that those players did well against the best and deserve a boost. Sometimes, though, it’s just a well-timed hot streak.

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Consider three batting lines from Jeremy Peña — his rookie year, his playoff run, and so far this season.

SituationBatting AverageOn-Base PercentageSlugging Percentage

Rookie Year

0.253

0.289

0.426

Playoffs

0.345

0.367

0.638

This year

0.247

0.291

0.414

If the playoffs had never happened, would we be wondering why Peña wasn’t doing better?

He’s young, yes, but at 25, he’s not so many years away from the established 26-27 year peak that you’d expect massive gains in his plate discipline, strikeout rate, or power numbers. More likely, he’s a solid shortstop in real life and fantasy, a .250/20/20 type, that peaks in one of the next three years with a spike due to accessing more of his power or improving his plate skills. But there’s no number right now that suggests that he’ll hit for more power or batting average this season, so what you see is what you get … at least until the playoffs.

(Photo of Turner: Mitchell Leff / Getty Images)

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