The 2019 MLB regular season is only about seven weeks old in what ends up being a six-month journey. But as Memorial Day approaches, the excuses of “Well, it’s early” and “Don’t worry, it’s just a small sample size” are no longer good enough.
As Hall of Famer Yogi Berra would say, it’s starting to get late early for a number of big-league teams and players who have started slow. The following six players are coming off different kinds of 2018 performances — some were stellar and career-defining while others entered this year with hopes of bouncing back and re-establishing themselves.
The one constant they share with one another at the moment is that 2019 hasn’t started how they hoped. Any player off to a lackluster start wants to turn things around as quickly as possible and those we’ll be highlighting are no different.
If the hope is to avoid making this year one to forget by the time September rolls around, they each have a lot of work to do.
Kyle Freeland, Colorado Rockies
Through 50.2 innings of work, Kyle Freeland has been worth exactly 0.0 fWAR thanks to a 5.68 ERA (4.83 SIERA), 19.6% strikeout rate, and 9.3% walk rate. His strikeout and walk numbers aren’t terribly different from last year (20.5% and 8.3%, respectively, in ’18), but what is dramatically different is his strand rate (82.8% to 65.8%) and his home runs allowed per nine innings (0.76 to 2.13).
Entering Wednesday’s action, only Dylan Bundy?(2.43) had given up more dingers per nine innings among qualified starters.
There are a number of things in his batted-ball profile that don’t look great, as his fly-ball rate (40.1%), pull rate (43.7%), and hard-hit rate allowed (41.8%) are all at career-worst levels.
He’s been allowing homers everywhere he pitches, though (five at home, seven on the road). What’s interesting is that he’s really struggled at home (7.36 ERA in 22.0 innings) when compared to being on the road (4.40 ERA in 28.2 innings). Coors Field isn’t exactly a pitcher’s haven, but Freeland has conquered it in past years (3.72 ERA in ’17, 2.40 ERA in ’18).
Rougned Odor, Texas Rangers
Saying that Odor is struggling at the plate is nothing new — this has happened to some degree in each of the last two years prior to 2019. However, it certainly seems like he’s digging himself into a hole that’ll be tough to emerge from.
Through 109 plate appearances, the second baseman is slashing a woeful .153/.231/.286 with three home runs and 10 RBI. Among players with at least 100 plate appearances, Odor’s 32 wRC+ and -0.5 fWAR are among the worst in baseball.
His 8.3% walk rate is actually on track to be a single-season career high, but he’s unfortunately paired it with a 37.6% strikeout rate, which is the highest in baseball heading into Wednesday’s action. The 25-year-old’s 51.9% fly-ball rate looks healthy when paired with a 34.5% hard-hit rate, but it’s come at the expense of fewer line drives (19.5% in ’18, 13.0% in ’19). Odor has also managed a 17.9% infield-fly rate, which is among the 20 highest in baseball.
He’s actually seeing four-seam fastballs more often than ever but is struggling mightily. So far in ’19, Odor has slashed .140/.229/.209 with a 32 wRC+ and 41.7% strikeout against them. Having a negative wRC+ against sliders (-37) and curveballs (-21) doesn’t help, either.
Cody Allen, Los Angeles Angels
One bad year in 2018 didn’t erase the string of solid performances Allen put together before then, as the Angels scooped him up with a one-year deal to be their closer. It also didn’t take long for him to get removed from that role — having a 5.54 ERA, 1.83 WHIP, and 19.7% walk rate in just 12 innings will do that.
This is obviously an important year for the soon-to-be 31-year-old because he’ll once again be a free agent at the conclusion of this season. It’s imperative for him to prove that what happened last season was more of a blip on the radar than anything else. There’s still plenty of time to turn his performance around, but he shouldn’t exactly take much longer.
Allen has struggled with most aspects when it comes to facing opposing hitters. His 50.8% first-pitch strike rate is well below his career average (57.2%), as is his 34.4% zone percentage (43.2%). He’s specifically had a problem with his four-seamer — that offering has produced a 189 wRC+ off the strength of a 1.056 OPS and 30.6% walk rate from opposing hitters.
Jose Ramirez, Cleveland Indians
Jose Ramirez is a huge piece of the Indians’ offensive puzzle. So that’s why it’s impressive to know that Cleveland is still a few games over .500 despite their All-Star infielder hitting .195/.290/.312 with a 60 wRC+ through 176 plate appearances. His fWAR has increased each year from 2015 to 2018, which culminated with a career-high 8.0 fWAR last season.
So far in 2019, though, Ramirez has been worth a big ol’ 0.0 fWAR. His pull rate has gone down considerably (50.0% to 40.8%), but the rest of his batted-ball profile doesn’t look drastically different from his career year in 2018. In fact, there are a couple spots where it’s improved, like his hard-hit rate (36.1% to 39.2%), yet he’s the owner of just a .206 BABIP.
Ramirez has enjoyed hitting in front of the home crowd at Progressive Field (115 wRC+ in 75 plate appearances), but he’s been a shell of himself on the road (22 wRC+ in 101 plate appearances). The Indians’ offseason plan likely centered on the fact that he and Francisco Lindor?would shoulder most of the offense like they did last season.
It could happen in short order once both these talented players get hot, but Cleveland is still waiting for it to take place.
Zack Godley, Arizona Diamondbacks
Baseball has a way of humbling you. Zack Godley knows what we’re talking about here.
Just two years ago, he was a breakout starter for the D-backs as a 3.4-fWAR performer with a 3.37 ERA in 155 innings pitched. He still produced 2.5 fWAR last year, but it came with a 4.74 ERA, a number that’s inflated to 7.65 through 37.2 innings this season.
The 29-year-old right-hander has even already lost his rotation spot for the time being.
Godley’s fly-ball rate and hard-hit rate allowed have continually increased since that career year in 2017. They’re currently sitting at 35.3% and 43.0%, respectively, in ’19. He’s also used his curveball quite a bit, and more than ever this year. Godley has thrown this offering at a 48.2% clip, which is easily on track to be a new career high. That number also leads the league among hurlers with 30 innings pitched by a wide margin.
Since posting a 28 wRC+ allowed with the pitch in 2017, the effectiveness has decreased in both 2018 (58 wRC+) and so far this year (90 wRC+). That pales in comparison to how badly his sinker her performed, though — opposing hitters are slashing .462/.512/1.103 against it, good for a 302 (!) wRC+.
Travis Shaw, Milwaukee Brewers
Acquiring Travis Shaw from the Boston Red Sox has worked wonders for the Brewers thus far. In his first two years with the organization, Shaw has racked up consecutive performances of 30-plus homers and 3.5-plus fWAR. He’s currently on the Injured List with a wrist injury that’s reportedly been bothering him for a while, and it shows in his numbers.
Through 154 plate appearances, Shaw has slashed just .163/.266/.281 with four home runs and eight RBI. That’s led to a paltry 46 wRC+ and -0.7 fWAR. His injury and placement on the sidelines has led Milwaukee to promote top prospect Keston Hiura. If he hits the ground running in the big leagues, who knows what Shaw’s role will be once he’s healthy enough to return.
Virtually all of Shaw’s homers have come via fly balls since joining the Brewers. He owned a 390 wRC+ for this batted-ball event last season, but that number is down at 57 right now. One would imagine his quality of contact progression is an issue. Shaw’s soft-hit rate on fly balls has gone from 14.6% to 20.6% to 25.6% over the past three seasons, while his hard-hit rate has gone from 45.0% to 40.0% to 33.3% during the same time period.