Over a month through the new MLB season, many stars are still struggling to find their form. While no season is defined by one month of baseball, these four players are having slow starts worth worrying about.
MLB Slow Starts Worth Worrying About
Dozier is one of the few second baseman with great pop in his bat, and he showed it by hitting over 40 homers last season. However, Dozier is hitting .237 with just five homers to date. What fueled Dozier’s home run binges was an elevated HR/FB% and an extremely high fly ball rate. Last season, Dozier had a 18.4 HR/FB%, which was well above the league average of 12.8%. This year, his rate has gone back down to earth, sitting at 15%.
Further, Dozier was one of the best in the game last year at elevating the ball, as evidenced by his 47.7% fly ball rate. In a relatively new trend, many hitters now are trying for higher fly ball rates in order to hit more home runs. Players like Yonder Alonso, who has 12 homers, are embracing the trend. However, Dozier is moving in the wrong direction for a power hitter, hitting more ground balls than ever and fewer fly balls. His ground ball percentage has leaped to 45.2, which is concerning for a power hitter. While Dozier still hits the ball hard, his fly ball rate has dropped to under 36%, limiting his home run opportunities. Though many are waiting for Dozier to go on a run similar to last year, it may not happen.
Gonzalez, like Dozier, is considered by many as one of the best power bats, but is struggling to elevate the ball. The public opinion of Gonzalez is skewed by his monster 2015 season, which saw him hit 40 homers and 97 RBI. However, that season seems to have been something of a fluke. Gonzalez only had a 36.5 fly ball percentage and was helped by an extremely lucky 25.8 HR/FB%. Gonzalez’s batted ball profile has remained about the same since his 2015 season. However, his luck has balanced out, and CarGo is now a shell of the hitter his counting stats say he used to be. Don’t expect CarGo to continue to hit .214 the whole season, but 30+ home runs seem out of the question.
Villar was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers before the 2016 MLB season, and was viewed as a stopgap at shortstop until top prospect Orlando Arcia was ready for the big league job. However, in 2016, Villar impressed the Brewer brass with his elite speed and impressive power, earning him an everyday job in 2017. However, Villar’s breakout seems have been a fluke, as he has struggled mightily this year. Villar’s counting stats in 2016 don’t paint a complete picture of the player he was.
Villar was helped mightily by an extremely high 21.7% HR/FB rate. Villar will never hit 19 homers again, as long as he continues to hit under 25% of his balls in the air; the best power hitters have a rate of about 45%. Villar was also helped by his .373 BABIP, which was one of the highest in the league. Lady luck has failed Villar this year, as he has regressed to league norms and has had a dreadful season. Villar needs to cut down on his absurd 29.8% strikeout rate and elevate the ball more to fix things. However, it’s difficult to see a world in which he can fix his problems this year, and thus it seems like this season may turn out to be a lost cause.
After spending almost seven years in obscurity, Arrieta finally broke out in 2014 after the he was traded from the Baltimore Orioles to the Chicago Cubs. Arrieta immediately became a workhorse ace and a premier, frontline starter. Arrieta’s first half of last year was all-world, but he faltered in the second half, partly because of flawed mechanics and a decline in velocity. The same issues have plagued him in the 2017 season, as his average fastball velocity has dropped by over two MPH. Further, Arrieta had established himself as one of the best at keeping the ball on the ground, as evidenced by his ground ball rate north of 50%. However, Arrieta has lost his best trait and is now giving up more liners and fly balls than ever. If he can regain his mechanics, he can save his season. However, even if he does, it seems Arrieta’s days of being a top-five starter are over.