Analyzing Whether Mike Trout, Other Struggling MLB Players Will Bounce Back
Certain players carry certain expectations. For the best of them who struggle, call it being a prisoner of their own success.
But it's always noteworthy when someone we know to be a good player goes a stretch without showing it.
This is bound to happen in the ebb and flow of a 162-game season. Most hitters will go through cold spells at the plate. Pitchers will struggle with command or simply not have it some days.
In this exercise, we'll look at 10 struggling MLB players, with the context of what their respective teams expect from them and their track record for success.
RHP Jose Berrios, Toronto Blue Jays
Nearly one year since the Minnesota Twins dealt their ace to the Blue Jays, Jose Berrios is having his worst season since he was a rookie in 2016.
His last two starts in June were particularly concerning. Berrios, whose ERA at the time was already at 4.65, gave up a combined 14 earned runs, including five home runs, in 6.2 innings against the Chicago White Sox and Milwaukee Brewers.
When the Blue Jays traded for Berrios midway through last season, he largely showed himself to be the pitcher they were trying to acquire. His 3.58 ERA in 12 starts for Toronto last year looked a lot like the 3.48 ERA through 20 starts with the Twins. His strikeout numbers even went up a tick.
But after signing a seven-year, $131 million extension in November, Berrios has posted his highest ERA (5.72) and opposing batting average (.287) since 2016.
He showed some improvement with Friday's win against the Tampa Bay Rays, allowing two runs on eight hits in five innings.
Berrios did not record a single clean inning, but he worked out of jams and will get another shot Wednesday in Oakland, where the Athletics have the worst OPS in baseball. Expect the A's to be the remedy that gets Berrios back on track to become a key component of the Jays' playoff push.
SS J.P. Crawford, Seattle Mariners
J.P. Crawford, a Gold Glove winner in 2020, started the season primed for his first All-Star campaign.
Through 21 games in April, the 27-year-old had a 1.022 OPS and slashed .360/.449/.573. He was always bound to regress to the mean, considering those numbers were nowhere close to his career average.
But the regression from month to month has been steep. The slash line dropped to .247/.340/.326 in May and then .202/.263/.289 in June.
Now that Crawford has completed a four-game suspension stemming from the epic brawl with the Los Angeles Angels, he can put the struggles and distractions behind him.
Crawford isn't quite the hitter he was in April, but he's better than what he's produced recently and should show that going forward.
RHP Carlos Carrasco, New York Mets
With Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom out, Carlos Carrasco has served as a key piece in the Mets rotation this season. Through June 6, Carrasco held a solid 3.52 ERA and seven wins, which tied Dodgers starter Tyler Anderson for the MLB lead.
From there, though, he gave up at least five earned runs in three of his next four starts to close out June.
Those last two outings were against the red-hot Houston Astros lineup, which surged last month from a middling offense to one with a top-five OPS.
Carrasco left that first start against Houston with lower back tightness after allowing five runs on four hits in 2.1 innings pitched. The injury didn't prevent him from making his second start against Houston, in which he gave up six runs on six hits in 4.1 innings.
Scherzer is coming back Tuesday, but with no clear timetable for deGrom's return, the Mets still need Carrasco to get back into a groove. He was much steadier Sunday, giving up just one earned run on six hits with eight strikeouts in 5.2 innings against the Texas Rangers. Maintaining that form against division rivals Miami and Atlanta in upcoming starts will be crucial.
OF Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels
In the seven games leading up to Sunday's series finale in Houston, three-time AL MVP Mike Trout was slashing .160/.250/.360.
It seemed like some sort of mind trick Saturday at Minute Maid Park that light-hitting Astros catcher Martin Maldonado had two home runs, while Trout struck out four times on 13 pitches.
The start of July has not been pretty for Trout. He went 0-for-11 with nine strikeouts in the three games against Houston. He also had a 0-for-26 stretch to end May and start June.
Even with the slump last month, Trout posted his typically excellent numbers. His 1.036 OPS ranked eighth in baseball, and only Kyle Schwarber and Aaron Judge hit more home runs.
Despite the Angels' constant underachieving, whether due to injuries or performance, Trout still makes a case for the best player in baseball, and a slow start to July should do little to shake that notion.
RHP Triston McKenzie, Cleveland Guardians
Triston McKenzie entered Sunday afternoon's game against the Yankees having given up 16 home runs in 13 starts this season.
Ten of those homers came in his five June starts, tied for the most that month. Only four pitchers have given up more homers on the season.
In his seven starts prior to Sunday, McKenzie carried a 4.76 ERA.
But as Guardians manager Terry Francona points out, most of what McKenzie is giving up comes from solo home runs.
Then, against a Yankees team with by far the most home runs in baseball, McKenzie was brilliant Sunday, giving up one hit, no runs, one walk and seven strikeouts in seven innings.
McKenzie, who still has a top-10 WHIP in the AL, was one of the best pitchers in baseball through the first month of the season, and his stuff plays well enough to suggest he can do that consistently. He's also close with and always bouncing ideas off teammate and 2020 AL Cy Young Award winner Shane Bieber, which can only help him improve.
1B Spencer Torkelson, Detroit Tigers
Spencer Torkelson entered the season as an early favorite to win AL Rookie of the Year but hasn't lived up to the expectations.
Torkelson seemed like he was ready to succeed, as he made the Tigers' Opening Day roster and ensured he could accumulate the counting stats for an impressive campaign. However, through his first 70 big league games, the No. 1 overall pick from two years ago is slashing .194/.285/.302.
Torkelson is not hitting the ball hard, ranking in the 30th percentile of hard-hit percentage, according to Statcast. He's also in the bottom eight percentile in wOBA (.263), which is slightly worse than expected (.319 xwOBA).
It seems past the point for him to break out of the rookie funk. Perhaps a turnaround after the All-Star break is forthcoming. His two-run homer in Sunday's loss to the Kansas City Royals was a good sign.
RHP Lucas Giolito, Chicago White Sox
Lucas Giolito is famous for the commercial that touts the turnaround from being baseball's worst pitcher in 2018 to one of its best in 2019 and beyond.
But 2022 has easily been his worst since that 2018 season. He holds a 4.90 ERA and 1.47 WHIP, and his strikeout percentage is down over 14 starts.
In his seven starts leading up to Sunday, Giolito's ERA was up to 7.17 with a 1.78 WHIP. His 7.67 ERA over five starts in June was the highest among qualified starters. His 1.78 WHIP in the same span was second-highest.
Jordan Lazowski of Sox On 35th covered Giolito's struggle extensively, highlighting his unusually stagnant fastball velocity and its flattening of about an inch.
This is likely a mechanical issue, which he and White Sox pitching coach Ethan Katz are monitoring. Figuring that out should lead to brighter days.
OF/1B Cody Bellinger, Los Angeles Dodgers
It's a credit to the Dodgers' depth that so many of their key players can struggle and they still sit atop the National League standings.
They will probably trade that space with the New York Mets again this season, but the Dodgers' plus-138 run differential leads the NL by a wide margin and trails only the Yankees in MLB.
Cody Bellinger has consistently struggled since his 2019 NL MVP season when he slashed a career-high .305/.406/.629.
This season, his slash line sits at .207/.266/.395. It's better than last year when Bellinger dealt with returning from offseason shoulder surgery before suffering a significant leg injury early in the season. But it's still not good enough for a player of his caliber and on a team with World Series aspirations.
His best stretch of the season came early when he was named NL Player of the Week for April 18-24. Since then, it's been a tailspin.
Bellinger, however, has generally performed well in the postseason (World Series notwithstanding), which is what really matters for the Dodgers. His OPS in last year's NLCS against Atlanta was 1.008, and he hit .412 in the six-game series.
He may not be MVP-level Bellinger anymore, but it's difficult to imagine he'll be as bad as he was in June.
LHP Yusei Kikuchi, Toronto Blue Jays
Yusei Kikuchi had a much-needed get-well game last Thursday against the Tampa Bay Rays, allowing one run on four hits, striking out eight and walking one in six innings.
The outing improved his June numbers to 7.17 ERA and 1.83 WHIP. That's right. Improved.
Prior to that start, Kikuchi was shying away from his fastball and the strike zone. His 5.06 walks per nine innings in June was the third-worst mark of any player who threw at least 20 innings.
But as Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo noted last week, Kikuchi can be special when he's throwing strikes. His last start, while not a cure-all, should be a confidence boost for the Toronto lefty and may improve his results accordingly.
2B Adam Frazier, Seattle Mariners
Adam Frazier was an All-Star second baseman last year for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Twelve days after the All-Star Game and just before the trade deadline, he was dealt to the San Diego Padres, who struggled down the stretch.
Frazier's production dipped with the Padres, who traded him this offseason to the Mariners. He, along with Jesse Winker and Eugenio Suarez, was supposed to be a veteran addition to help get the lineup over the hump.
That has not been the case. Frazier has performed even worse in Seattle than he did in San Diego.
He is slashing .218/.287/.290, and his .577 OPS through 80 games is down significantly from the .836 OPS he posted in 98 games last year for Pittsburgh.
Frazier has shown he's better than he's been for Seattle with years of solid production for the Pirates. Expect his OPS to rise along with the Mariners' place in the AL wild-card standings. Just don't expect the Pittsburgh version to return.