Turnaround Odds for MLB's 15 Most Important Early-Season Slumps

Joel ReuterFeatured ColumnistApril 25, 2014

Turnaround Odds for MLB's 15 Most Important Early-Season Slumps

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    Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

    It's easy to say things like "it's still early" or "there's still a lot of baseball to be played," and just one month into the 2014 MLB season, it's absolutely true.

    However, that doesn't make it any less alarming for fans to look up at the scoreboard and see one of their team's key hitters currently hovering below the Mendoza line.

    What follows is my best guess at whether or not each of the top-15 players currently battling through an early-season slump will turn things around.

    To decide that, I've looked to determine whether or not their numbers are simply the result of bad luck or of something more, and I've done so by looking at some advanced stats from FanGraphs. The following numbers were taken into consideration:

    • BABIP: A players batting average on balls in play is perhaps the best indicator of what kind of luck they have had. A .290-.310 mark is about league average, and anything sitting far from that range (on either side) can be expected to regress back toward the mean at some point.
    • Swing Peripherals: The following article references "swing peripherals" more than once. This refers to the frequency a player hits a ground ball, fly ball or line drive, and it also accounts for things like home-run-to-fly-ball rate.
    • LD%: Line-drive percentage, in particular, was looked at, as it is often a good indication of how often a player is making quality contact and helps to determine whether or not he is barreling the ball on a consistent basis.
    • K% and BB%: A sharp spike or drop in strikeout rate or walk rate is worth paying attention to as well, as they are both good indicators of whether or not a hitter is taking a different approach at the plate.

    After looking at those numbers, each player was then given a 1-5 ranking on how likely I feel they are to turn things around relative to expectations for that player entering the season.

    • 1: Player will never get on track and could lose his job.
    • 2: Player will never quite get on track but will turn things around somewhat.
    • 3: Player will get on track but fall slightly short of expectations.
    • 4: Player will get on track and wind up right in line with expectations.
    • 5: Player will completely turn things around and exceed expectations.

DH Billy Butler, Kansas City Royals

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    Ann Heisenfelt

    2014 Stats

    ABBA/OBP/SLGHXBH (HR)RBIRBB/K
    77.195/.264/.221152 (0)678/16

     

    Player Overview

    After a breakout 2012 campaign, during which he hit .313/.373/.510 with 29 home runs and 107 RBI to earn his first All-Star nod, Billy Butler saw his OPS drop by nearly 100 points last year. While he still hit a solid .289/.374/.412, he managed just 15 home runs and 82 RBI.

    There has been a good amount of bad luck to blame for his struggles this season, as his BABIP is down from his .327 career mark entering the year to .238 so far this year. However, he has been hitting the ball on the ground more, and his line-drive rate is down (15.9 percent compared to 20.5 percent in 2013) considerably.

     

    Odds He Turns it Around: 3/5

SS Zack Cozart, Cincinnati Reds

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    Gene J. Puskar

    2014 Stats

    ABBA/OBP/SLGHXBH (HR)RBIRBB/K
    72.139/.162/.236105 (1)931/11

     

    Player Overview

    Zack Cozart entered the season as the unquestioned everyday shortstop in Cincinnatito the point that unless the team were to turn things over to veteran utility man Ramon Santiago or make a trade, they really have no other options at the position.

    He's off to perhaps the worst start of any everyday player in baseball, and while his .150 BABIP may suggest bad luck, his complete lack of plate discipline (1.3 percent walk rate) makes him awfully easy to pitch to.

     

    Odds He Turns it Around: 1/5

1B Allen Craig, St. Louis Cardinals

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    Gene J. Puskar

    2014 Stats

    ABBA/OBP/SLGHXBH (HR)RBIRBB/K
    84.179/.231/.250154 (1)575/16

     

    Player Overview

    Allen Craig has been an RBI machine for the St. Louis Cardinals since he first became a regular contributor in 2011, and he hit an eye-popping .454 with runners in scoring position last season.

    His GB/FB rate is up from 1.60 to 3.38, and for a guy with very limited speed like Craig, that's not a good thing. His LD% has also dropped considerably from 26.9 percent to 17.4 percent, as he's simply not barreling the ball like he has in the past.

     

    Odds He Turns it Around: 3/5

LF Carl Crawford, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    USA TODAY Sports

    2014 Stats

    ABBA/OBP/SLGHXBH (HR)RBIRBB/K
    63.222/.231/.317145 (0)461/12

     

    Player Overview

    There was a time not too long ago when Carl Crawford was one of the best all-around offensive players in the game. In his final season with the Rays in 2010, he hit .307/.356/.495 with 62 extra-base hits to finish seventh in AL MVP voting.

    He's hit just .267/.303/.409 combined in the four seasons since leaving Tampa Bay, and he's off to a very slow start this season. Luck really has not been to blame, as he has a decent .269 BABIP and his swing peripherals are about in line with last season; he's just simply not the player he used to be.

     

    Odds He Turns it Around: 2/5

1B Prince Fielder, Texas Rangers

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    LM Otero

    2014 Stats

    ABBA/OBP/SLGHXBH (HR)RBIRBB/K
    80.200/.333/.338167 (2)71015/12

     

    Player Overview

    After hitting just 55 total home runs over the past two seasons while playing for the Detroit Tigers, many expected Prince Fielder to have a huge year with the move the Texas Rangers and their far more hitter-friendly ballpark.

    His walk rate is up from last season (15.6 percent from 10.5 percent) and his strikeout rate is down (12.5 percent from 16.4 percent), and he has also had some rough luck with a .212 BABIP, so there's a good chance his average bounces back to the norm.

    His power is another story, though, as he has seen his HR/FB rate decline in each of the past three seasons, and it currently sits at an all-time low of 9.5 percent. That could be bad luck, or it could be that he's not driving the ball like he used to in his prime.

    “His timing is off,” manager Ron Washington told Drew Davison of the Star-Telegram. “It’s a matter of just one of these days, one pitcher is going to step on that rubber and [Fielder] is going to be on time. Then we won’t have any more questions about Prince Fielder. Right now, it’s timing.”

     

    Odds He Turns it Around: 3/5

3B David Freese, Los Angeles Angels

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    USA TODAY Sports

    2014 Stats

    ABBA/OBP/SLGHXBH (HR)RBIRBB/K
    62.145/.214/.21092 (1)575/20

     

    Player Overview

    After seeing his OPS fall from .839 in 2012, when he was an All-Star, to .721 last season, the St. Louis Cardinals opted to move David Freese this past offseason, freeing things up for Matt Carpenter to return to his natural position of third base and allowing prospect Kolten Wong to slide into an everyday role at second.

    Freese's .186 BABIP this year does not look good, but it's actually 41 points higher than his batting average, so there is more to blame here than just luck. His strikeout rate has spiked (28.6 percent from 20.3 percent in 2013) and his walk rate is down (7.1 percent from 9.0 percent). He has begun to lose playing time to Ian Stewart as a result of his struggles.

     

    Odds He Turns it Around: 1/5

RF Curtis Granderson, New York Mets

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    Frank Franklin II

    2014 Stats

    ABBA/OBP/SLGHXBH (HR)RBIRBB/K
    73.137/.247/.233105 (1)6510/25

     

    Player Overview

    Capable of hitting for a decent average during his time with the Detroit Tigers, Curtis Granderson essentially turned into an all-or-nothing home-run hitter during his time with the New York Yankees, batting a combined .245 and posting an on-base percentage under .320 in each of the past two seasons.

    His new digs at Citi Field are not quite as home-run friendly as the short porch at Yankee Stadium, and while his 4.8 percent HR/FB rate is partly bad luck, chances are it's not going to return to around 20 percent, either. With a .188 BABIP, it's fair to assume his average is going to climb, but how far remains to be seen given his propensity to strike out.

     

    Odds He Turns it Around: 2/5

2B Jedd Gyorko, San Diego Padres

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    Lenny Ignelzi

    2014 Stats

    ABBA/OBP/SLGHXBH (HR)RBIRBB/K
    79.139/.225/.215113 (1)859/25

     

    Player Overview

    The San Diego Padres saw enough out of Jedd Gyorko as a rookie last season, when he posted a .745 OPS with 26 doubles and 23 home runs, to sign him to a five-year, $35 million extension a couple weeks agodespite his early-season struggles.

    With a .185 BABIP and 4.3 HR/FB, luck has certainly not been on his side so far this year. He has the potential to be one of the best offensive second basemen in the game right now, and the Padres are counting on him to not only get on track but to be one of the core pieces of their rebuilding effort.

     

    Odds He Turns it Around: 5/5

3B Chase Headley, San Diego Padres

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    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    2014 Stats

    ABBA/OBP/SLGHXBH (HR)RBIRBB/K
    79.186/.250/.314135 (2)756/20

     

    Player Overview

    While Jedd Gyorko is a key piece of the San Diego Padres' future, Chase Headley is likely on his way outwhether it is through a July trade or via free agency at the end of the season. And at this point, the Padres are simply looking to cut their losses.

    The team missed their chance to sell high on him after his monster second half in 2012, and now they are just hoping they can net a decent return for him. His swing peripherals are right in line with what he's posted throughout the rest of his career, so it's fair to assume that his .229 BABIP is mostly bad luck.

    Realistically, if he can hit around .260 with some decent pop, he'd probably be of interest to a number of teams come July given the thin market for third basemen.

     

    Odds He Turns it Around: 3/5

RF Jason Heyward, Atlanta Braves

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    2014 Stats

    ABBA/OBP/SLGHXBH (HR)RBIRBB/K
    81.198/.309/.296164 (2)6912/22

     

    Player Overview

    The gap between talent and production has been a big one for Jason Heyward since his terrific 2010 rookie season. That's not to say that he has not been a productive player for the Atlanta Braves, but he has the ceiling to be one of the best in the game, and he has simply not reached that potential to this point.

    His BABIP is down from .281 last year to .246 so far this season, and tacking on those 40 points to his line this season would put him roughly in line with the same numbers he posted last season. He's hitting the ball in the air a bit more this year (39.7 FB% compared to 35.0 FB% in 2013), but he's not finding the seats nearly as often as last year (8.7 HR/FB this year compared to 13.0 HR/FB in 2013).

     

    Odds He Turns it Around: 4/5

3B Mike Moustakas, Kansas City Royals

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    Charlie Riedel

    2014 Stats

    ABBA/OBP/SLGHXBH (HR)RBIRBB/K
    72.153/.215/.361117 (4)1176/14

     

    Player Overview

    A big spring training performance from Mike Moustakas last season had many projecting him as a breakout candidate, but instead he hit just .233/.287/.364 with 12 home runs in 472 at-bats. Another big spring this year raised hopes once more, but again he's stumbled out of the box.

    He has managed a double and three home runs over his past seven games, but he has done little to improve his batting average over that span, with just one other hit. A .127 BABIP suggests some positive regression is in order, but his line-drive rate is way down (10.2 percent from 18 percent in 2013), and it looks like he could be in for a long season once again.

     

    Odds He Turns it Around: 1/5

SS Jhonny Peralta, St. Louis Cardinals

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    Gene J. Puskar

    2014 Stats

    ABBA/OBP/SLGHXBH (HR)RBIRBB/K
    73.151/.244/.356117 (4)899/15

     

    Player Overview

    After seeing their shortstops hit a combined .222/.280/.303 in 2013, the St. Louis Cardinals shelled out a four-year, $53 million deal in the offseason to add free agent Jhonny Peralta to what was already a loaded offensive attack.

    He's been as big a victim of bad luck as anyone this season, as his .130 BABIP is among the lowest in all of baseball. His walk rate is up (11 percent from 7.8 percent in 2013), but his strikeout rate is down (18.3 percent from 21.9 percent), and once his luck evens out he should be just fine.

     

    Odds He Turns it Around: 4/5

3B Pablo Sandoval, San Francisco Giants

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    USA TODAY Sports

    2014 Stats

    ABBA/OBP/SLGHXBH (HR)RBIRBB/K
    79.165/.258/.278135 (2)6810/18

     

    Player Overview

    Down 42 pounds from last season and entering a contract year, Pablo Sandoval looked like a prime candidate for a monster season. At the very least, a bounce back from the subpar .758 OPS and 14 home runs he managed in 525 at-bats last season was expected.

    This season, his swing peripherals are in line with the rest of his career, and his .186 BABIP certainly points to bad luck here in the early going. However, it's worth noting that his strikeout rate has spiked considerably (20.2 percent from 13.5 percent), and for a guy who has never struck out more than 83 times in a season and is known for making consistent contact, that is significant.

     

    Odds He Turns it Around: 3/5

3B Carlos Santana, Cleveland Indians

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    USA TODAY Sports

    2014 Stats

    ABBA/OBP/SLGHXBH (HR)RBIRBB/K
    73.137/.308/.219104 (1)3918/18

     

    Player Overview

    Carlos Santana moving to third base certainly gives the Cleveland Indians more versatility, but one has to wonder if his focus on defense this offseason has hurt his offensive game in the early going. After all, he got off to a red-hot start at the plate last year, hitting .389/.476/.722 and looking like an early AL MVP candidate.

    He continues to have some of the best plate discipline in the game, and his walk rate has allowed him to still carry an on-base percentage over .300 despite his low average. With a .167 BABIP, down from .301 last season, he looks like a fairly safe bet to rebound. His line-drive rate is down significantly, though, (13 percent from 21.8 percent), so that's worth keeping an eye on.

     

    Odds He Turns it Around: 4/5

3B Kyle Seager, Seattle Mariners

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    Jae C. Hong

    2014 Stats

    ABBA/OBP/SLGHXBH (HR)RBIRBB/K
    67.179/.304/.328126 (2)7711/17

     

    Player Overview

    Kyle Seager has been one of the game's most underrated players over the past two seasons, hitting a combined .260/.327/.424 and averaging 21 home runs and 78 RBI per year as one of the few bright spots in an anemic Seattle Mariners offense.

    His line-drive rate has plummeted this season (10 percent from 20.8 percent), and he's hitting the ball on the ground much more frequently (46 percent compared to 34.3 percent in 2013). However, his walk rate is up (13.9 percent from 9.8 percent), and his .208 BABIP certainly suggests he is in line for some positive regression.

     

    Odds He Turns it Around: 3/5

     

    All standard and advanced stats courtesy of FanGraphs.

     

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