When Brett Jackson and Josh Vitters were called up to Chicago last month, the Cubs could not have imagined they would struggle as much as they have.
To a lesser extent, Brett Jackson has not been as much of a disappointment as Josh Vitters.
Even though Jackson's batting average is a paltry .191, his OBP is .309 and SLG is .404, with a BABIP of .333. But while his speed has helped with his OBP and he's grounded into a mere one double play, he has attempted only two stolen bases in 31 games and in both cases was thrown out.
Jackson also seems not to have improved his plate discipline, accumulating a massive 48 strikeouts in those same 31 games; projected through an entire 162-game season, that’s a whopping 250.84 Ks per season. That amount would embarrass anyone outside of Adam Dunn.
Josh Vitters, on the other hand, has been a disappointment across the board.
Well, there has been one aspect of his MLB performance that is close to average. As putrid as his fielding at third had been in the minors, in 17 starts at the hot corner, he has had only two errors and a fielding percentage of .947—only five percentage points below the average for MLB third basemen.
Otherwise, he has thus far been appalling.
Unlike Brett Jackson, whose dreadful BA is offset by better-than-decent OBP and SLG percentages, Josh Vitters’ offensive line is…well…offensive.
In 25 games, Vitters’ BA is also below the Mendoza Line—and a half—at .093. The rest of his line is not much better. His OBP is .148 and SLG a measly .200.
If that is not bad enough for you, he has also amassed 25 strikeouts in 25 games, an easy conversion to a 162-game season.
So why have both of these two struggled at the plate?
Granted, they are seeing a higher caliber of pitching than that found in the minors. But for both of them to struggle as much as they are at the plate is dumbfounding.
Think of this: Before being called up, Josh Vitters was batting .304 at Iowa with a .356 OBP and .513 SLG.
My theory for his early plate struggles concerns his hitting pattern when advancing to higher levels and the amount of time spent at each level of minor league ball.
In the second half of 2009, he moved from Class A to Advanced Class A ball. At Single-A in 2009 before his promotion, his line was .316/.351/.535. Then in Advanced Class A ball, his line fell to .238/.260/.344.
In 2010, he split time between Advanced Class A and Double-A. Again, at Advanced Class A, his line rose to .291/.350/.455 before being promoted to Double-A, when his line dipped to .223/.292/.383.
He spent the entire 2011 season at Double-A Tennessee, where his line once again improved to .283/.322/.448.
When he was promoted to Triple-A Iowa, he somewhat broke this pattern of “beginning a new league slowly, then improving after seeing significant playing time” by posting a line of .304/.356/.513 in only 110 games. At Double-A Tennessee, he played in 192 games.
Triple-A excluded, when promoted, he has at first struggled offensively before finding his hitting rhythm at each level. And the MLB should be no exception.
Vitters needed more time at Triple-A despite his decent batting line before being promoted to the bigs.
Cubs fans shouldn't worry, however. If this cycle continues, then they should expect Vitters’ hitting to improve over time as his plate appearances increase.
Reasons for Brett Jackson’s struggles at the plate are less complex.
Although being the Cubs’ most highly touted prospect pre-Javier Baez, Jackson is simply being overmatched by MLB pitching.
That being said, the last time Jackson had a BA of .300 or better was in 2010 at Advanced Class A Daytona. His OBP and SLG have been high throughout his minor league career, but his average has been slightly just above average.
As Jackson becomes more and more acclimated to MLB pitching, Cubs fans should see his BA tick up in 2013, most likely topping out around the .283 mark.
While both have had their early struggles since their August promotion, those should not be indicative of what their futures hold with the Cubs.