TDG Roundtable: What To Do With Slumping Players
Every week on Fridays, our writers here at The Dynasty Guru will be bringing you some quick hit musings about a particular topic so you, the reader, can get a blast of info from a bunch of different writers with some passionate opinions. This week’s roundtable topic is what to do with slumping players.
Walker Buehler, SP, Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers have so many things going right (Mookie Betts and a resurgent Corey Seager) and have the best record in baseball (at the time of this article) but their ‘ace’ is not looking so ace-like to begin the 2020 season. Coming into this year, I had Walker Buehler pegged as Jacob deGrom’s biggest competition in the NL CY Young race. Yup…I had Buehler over Max Scherzer, mainly due to Scherzer’s back injury last year. Well…then March 2020 happened and everything shut down. Once things started back up, Buehler was much farther behind most other pitchers as he took time off during the shutdown. He has only thrown 19 innings over four games and currently sits with a 5.21 ERA, a 21.3 K%, and an 11.3 BB%, which are the worst of his career. However, don’t be concerned if he is on your fantasy team (or real-life team if you are a Dodgers fan). His velocity is right in line with his career averages. It seems that Buehler just doesn’t have the feel on his pitches right now. A 49.8 Zone% is easily the worst of his career and batters seem to know it as they are swinging just about seven percentage points less the year. Once Buehler gets some more innings under his belt, I’m sure he will return to his 2019 dominance….which should be scary for every other team in the league.
Andrew Benintendi, OF, Boston Red Sox
Sometimes diagnosing the reasons for a player’s slump is difficult; diagnosing Andrew Benintendi’s reasons for struggles is not. Looking at his tendencies at the plate, it’s pretty clear the solution for Benintendi is to swing the bat. Benintendi’s Z-Contact percentage is the highest of his career, while his Z-Swing percentage is at the lowest mark of his career. In short, he’s not swinging at pitches in the zone, but when he does he’s making contact. The fact that Benintendi has always been a master of the strike zone–consistently putting up double-digit walk rates, and a career-high walk rate of 21%–suggests he knows when a pitch is a ball or a strike and just needs to swing the bat. When drafted Benintendi’s hit tool drew 70-grades and was praised for his hitting ability, now he just needs to actually swing the bat to put it on display.
Eduardo Escobar, 2B/3B, Arizona Diamondbacks
For those of you that have Eduardo Escobar on your team, don’t push the literal panic button (i.e. the drop button) just yet. You are probably worried about his current .186/.268/291 line in comparison to the .269/.320/.511 he finished with last year. I believe that the last seven days of production for Escobar are indicative that his slump shall pass. His sabermetrics from last year and this year tell a similar story. His exit velocity is higher in this small sample size of 2020 (47th percentile this year compared to 22nd last year). Escobar is also in the 86th percentile for whiff percentage in contrast to 2019 when he was in the 49th percentile. The right hook that will keep you from cutting Escobar is his xBA of .285. Last year Eduardo finished with a .269 batting average and his xBA was .259. Basically, Escobar got lucky at times last year, and this year he hasn’t caught any luck. Keep him.
Francisco Lindor, SS, Cleveland Indians
This past Wednesday, Lindor went 0-for-5 with three strikeouts and grounded into two double plays. The terrible night at the dish led the usual smiling face of Frankie to fill with frustration and distress, much like fantasy managers. On the year, Lindor is only hitting .232/.296/.404 with four home runs while striking out at a career-high rate and walking at a career-low rate. Pitchers are attacking the former Silver Slugger with more off-speed and breaking pitches this season and thus far he has barreled up zero. Further, the switch hitter is struggling mightily from the left side of the plate, slashing .208/.278./.417 with all-but-one of his strikeouts. Lindor currently ranks in the lower half of the league in hard-hit rate, barrel rate, and xwOBA.
That said, his struggles appear out of character and ultimately I think Lindor has yet to find his timing. If we were in late-April of a normal season, instead of halfway through a pandemic riddled season, we’d likely say he’s off to a slow start. Timing issues along with a steady diet of breaking pitches is leading to an increased swing and miss rate. However, he’s not chasing out of zone and in fact, his chase rate on breaking pitches is better than other pitch groups. Furthermore, another sign his timing is off is that he’s missing fastballs in the zone at nearly twice his career average. Every hitter goes through slumps, and due to the circumstances, Lindor’s struggles may be getting exacerbated. Francisco is too elite of a talent to not figure out his timing issues. If he’s on your roster, calmly decline any trade offers, and wait for his breakout. It’s coming.
Eugenio Suarez, 3B, Reds
Suarez is the 29-year-old, starting third baseman and cleanup hitter for the Reds, and thus far in 2020 he has hit three home runs to go along with a batting average of .141, and a K% of 29.1. Those numbers are really bad (thanks Captain Obvious), and in yearly leagues dropping him has crossed your mind (or has already happened). But you cannot cut him in a Dynasty League. What to do?
Wednesday evening Suarez showed signs of life, hitting a home run and even stealing a base. Looking even more on the bright side: here are his home run totals from 2015-2019: 13, 21, 26, 34, 49. That is what we call a positive trend. This season thus far his BABIP is only .163 (career average over .300) and his walk rate is 16.3% (two prior seasons it was 10.6%), so he is still seeing the ball well. The lineup around him is top-notch so counting stats and opportunities should continue. Suarez can heat up quickly, and if it is possible to hold, that is recommended. Do not trade low.
Paul A :
Jeff McNeil, 3B, Mets
2020 has been the craziest year any of us have seen. We can’t expect it not to affect MLB players. There are many variables that could be causing them to struggle. My long-term outlook isn’t changing for guys because of this season. A slumping player who should rebound sooner rather than later is Jeff McNeil. After hitting 23 home runs last year, McNeil is slugging .333. His launch angle has fallen 7 degrees. He’s seen his pull percentage drop from 46% to 35%. Hitting to the opposite field with a low launch angle is not conducive to power. There’s a reason for it. 39% of his at-bats have come against left-handers compared to 27% in 2019. He’s seen a rise in cutters and sliders thrown to him with a decrease in fastballs. He’s going to the opposite field with off-speed pitches from southpaws. As he faces more righties expect to see the power re-emerge. He’s still the solid contributor you drafted, don’t jump ship just yet.
Khris Davis, DH, Oakland Athletics
It is with my deepest condolences that I am officially throwing in the towel on Khris Davis in fantasy baseball. A true model of consistency, Davis had nearly identical numbers in each season from 2016 through 2018. Most famous for his .247 batting average for four consecutive seasons (2015-2018), Davis also hit at least .247/42/102/85 during the 2016-2018 time frame.
With 56 plate appearances under his belt this season, Khris Davis currently has a .146/.268/.229 slash line with just one home run and one double. Statcast does not suggest that this is a matter of bad luck either. His exit velocity and hard-hit % have dropped significantly paired with having a disastrous 2019 season. The power numbers being down does not bode well for a player known for having a lot of swing and miss in his game to begin with. Most fantasy leagues require players to be placed in set positions with maybe one or two utility spots readily available to plug in other players. Khris Davis does not provide any positional flexibility for fantasy owners and in my opinion, the bat will just not cut it anymore. It may be time to cut bait with ole’ reliable and reminisce on what he once was before Father Time remained undefeated.
Max Muncy, 1B/2B/3B, Los Angeles dodgers
Muncy’s season isn’t going well on paper, putting up a slash line of .176/.303/.396 through 109 PAs so far. We know Muncy as a power hitter, he’s not a good batting average player (.256 between 2018/2019, .239 for his entire career). Looking deeply into his peripherals we can see some… well, pink flags, because I’ll not use the word ‘red flags’ just yet.
The Seven Gods of Fortune aren’t on Muncy’s side so far this season, he has a .175 BABIP, that BABIP is well below his career .270, so, we can expect some inevitable positive regression, although not a .300 hitter, he isn’t a below .200 hitter either. He has reduced his BB% (15.3 to 12.8) and increased his K% (25.3 to 26.6), that’s a thin change which can normalize as the sample size grows. Muncy’s Achilles heel through his career has been breaking balls/offspeed, this year that hasn’t changed but I found a decrease in WIFF% on those pitches compared to last year:
Breaking pitches WIFF% 2019(37.5) 2020(27.8)
Offspeed pitches WIFF% 2019(39.5) 2020(34.4)
And here’s the Pink Flag Alert: As he’s making more contact on breaking balls/offspeed his quality of contact has suffered because he’s making poor contact to those kinds of pitches:
Breaking pitches EV 2019(87.5) 2020(83.1)
offspeed pitches EV 2019(86.3) 2020(84.7)
All this results in an average EV (including fastballs) of 87.2, the lowest mark of his career since The Max fairy tale began in 2016 (84.5). Also, his Hard Hit Rate has decreased gradually from 2018 to 2020 (46.7, 43,4, 41.3). But man, Muncy keeps mashing fastballs; taking launch angle and exit velocity into consideration, his XWOBA on fastballs is .445 and all 6 of his homers this year are on fastballs. So, if Muncy can enhance his contact quality for those pitches not named fastballs, we can expect more of the same we’ve seen this past two years, if not, pitchers will throw fewer and fewer fastballs to him and the pink flag will officially turn red.
Josh Bell, 1B, Pittsburgh Pirates
Josh Bell is having a rough 2020. Not only are his wRC+ and WAR the second-lowest among qualified first basemen, but his team has only won four games. I wonder if those games have coincided with his four extra-base hits? That’s a far cry from his 77 extra-base hits in 143 games last season. Yikes. Still, regardless of team context, I’m worried about Bell’s lack of discipline at the plate. We all know his power is prodigious, but, well, one must hit the ball first to hit it over the fences. And unfortunately, he’s swinging at more pitches out of the zone and making less contact on pitches inside the zone. I guess the silver lining is that his hard-hit rate is up from last year, so at least he’s hurting the ball when he finds it. Bell’s upside is still sky-high, so I’m hesitant to say you should be floating him as a trade candidate based solely on 2020 stats. However, the back half of 2019 was not so kind to Bell either. If you’re not competing and the right prospect comes up in a trade offer, I suggest giving it some serious consideration.
Anonymous McMystery, UTL, Whoville Guess Who’s
One can almost always find some convenient change to explain away a player’s slump, but this is on its own insufficient. A relevant change should do more than just explain away past struggles—it should also be indicative of future struggles, indicative of a true change in a player’s ability.
Take Player A and Player B below:
Hard hit rate (Baseball Savant version): Player A 31.9%; Player B 34.5% (Player A listed first henceforth).
Average exit velocity: 86.8 MPH; 87.3 MPH
Whiff rate (how often a batter whiffs when he swings): 24.2%; 20.8%
Zone swing rate: 64.2%; 66.8%
Chase rate (how often a batter swings at pitches outside the zone): 36%; 30%
Player A has surely been worse this year, lagging a bit behind in each metric: he’s hitting it softer, whiffing more, and swinging at fewer pitches in the zone and more out of the zone. These changes are nonetheless each pretty small. It’s also still early: at this point 2020 metrics are at best generally predictive of 50% of their future selves, leaving 50% of future performance unexplained by 2020 performance–and better explained by past performance.
Finally: Player A is Jose Altuve in 2020, Player B is Jose Altuve in 2019. He’s surely past his prime, but he’s still Steamer’s top projected 2B for the rest of the season, and rightfully so.
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