MLB's Most Wanted: Stars the Fans Have Already Turned On
The calendar has yet to close on April; the 2018 MLB season is young.
Still, some stars are already serving as lightning rods for fans' ire because of sluggish starts. There's time to turn it around, but for the moment the boo birds are chirping.
Let's examine seven of baseball's most wanted (in a bad way), including a fallen superhero in Queens, a struggling right-hander in the Windy City and a certain strikeout-prone slugger in the Bronx.
Hunter Pence, LF, San Francisco Giants
Hunter Pence will always have a place in San Francisco Giants lore. He was there for two of the team's three even-year title runs, in 2012 and 2014.
Yet, in the end, performance trumps nostalgia. Pence slashed a mediocre .260/.315/.385 last season. So far this year, he's slashing .172/.197/.190. He turned 35 on April 13.
The Giants placed the three-time All-Star on the disabled list on April 20 with a sprained thumb and called up Mac Williamson.
In his first game of 2018 with the big club, Williamson blasted a two-run homer with an exit velocity of 114.2 mph, the hardest-hit ball by any Giants player this season, per Andrew Baggarly of The Athletic. The 27-year-old appears ready to assume duties in left field after showing flashes in parts of three seasons between 2015 and 2017 and revamping his swing.
San Francisco fans will cheer Pence again someday when he comes back for a retrospective of the glory days. For now, they'll willingly cast him aside for a younger model with more upside.
Matt Harvey, RHP, New York Mets
In his first start of the season on April 3, New York Mets right-hander Matt Harvey tossed five shutout innings with five strikeouts.
It was an auspicious kickoff for the Dark Knight, who has battled injury and inconsistency since finishing fourth in National League Cy Young Award balloting in 2013.
Since that initial '18 outing, Harvey's ERA has ballooned to 6.00. He's coughed up 26 hits and 14 earned runs in 21 innings. His average fastball has clocked in at 92.7 mph compared to a career peak of 97 mph in 2013. On Saturday, the Mets demoted him to the bullpen.
"On a scale of one to 10, obviously I'm at a 10 with being pissed off, but my performance hasn't been there, and I just have to do whatever I have to do to get back in the starting rotation," Harvey said, per ESPN.com.
Overall, the Mets are off to a solid start at 14-6, good for first place in the NL East. Other pitchers who've battled injuries—including ace Noah Syndergaard and righty Zack Wheeler—are back on track.
As for Harvey and his diminished stuff? He's at risk of going from superhero to sidekick to the sidelines.
Eric Hosmer, 1B, San Diego Padres
The rebuilding San Diego Padres threw full-blown tanking to the wind this winter when they signed first baseman Eric Hosmer to a franchise-record eight-year, $144 million deal.
The early returns aren't stellar.
Hosmer went 2-for-2 with four walks Monday but has also struck out 26 times in 22 games with the Friars while tallying just four RBI. He tied a career high with 25 home runs last season in his contract year with the Kansas City Royals, but prior to 2016 he'd never hit as many as 20 homers.
Now, he plays half his games at Petco Park, the second-least friendly field for dingers, according to ESPN's Park Factors statistic.
Pads fans aren't the harshest bunch. They're used to losing, seeing as they haven't tasted the playoffs since 2006, and the weather's always nice.
Hosmer, however, is testing their patience by producing like a role player for superstar money.
Yasiel Puig, RF, Los Angeles Dodgers
Yasiel Puig has defined "mercurial" during his time with the Los Angeles Dodgers, from the moment he burst on the scene in 2013 to the unceremonious 2016 demotion that almost spelled the end of his L.A. career.
The talented Cuban came surging back in 2017, hitting 28 homers with an .833 OPS and mostly avoiding controversy. So far in 2018, he's been an offensive dud.
Through 21 games, Puig is hitting .205 with a .256 slugging percentage and zero home runs. Manager Dave Roberts initially stuck him in the three-hole in place of injured third baseman Justin Turner but has since slid him as low as seventh.
Roberts suggested Puig's troubles stem from hacking at pitches out of the strike zone.
"With Yasiel, for me, when he's at his best and he's most consistent, he's staying out over in the strike zone. And when he's not, he's chasing balls in and off," Roberts said, per Bill Plunkett of the Orange County Register. "For him, I think it's more approach-based and being diligent and stubborn in that approach. Sometimes he gets out of it."
If the struggles continue, Puig could be headed for the bench and (again) fall out of favor with the SoCal faithful.
Chris Davis, 1B, Baltimore Orioles
The Baltimore Orioles are paying first baseman Chris Davis $23 million this season. They'll pay him the same amount every season through 2022.
What are they getting for their money? A .169 average, .273 on-base percentage and some discontented fans.
Davis has struck out 28 times in 22 games. After one of his whiffs in front of a sparse contingent at Oriole Park on April 11, the crowd sounded its disapproval.
"I don't like the boos, but I understand their frustration," Davis said at the time, per Rich Dubroff of PressBox.
It's not only this season. Since he paced MLB with 47 home runs in 2015, Davis' numbers have been trending downward. He hit .215 last year and has gone from one of the game's most fearsome sluggers to a payroll drag for the last-place O's.
Yu Darvish, RHP, Chicago Cubs
Yu Darvish ended his 2017 season on a decidedly down note. Pitching for the Los Angeles Dodgers, the right-hander was shelled in Game 7 of the World Series and watched the Houston Astros hoist the Commissioner's Trophy.
Unfortunately for Darvish and his new employer, the Chicago Cubs, he's picked up where he left off.
In four starts with the Cubbies, the 31-year-old sports a 6.86 ERA. He's yielded 21 hits, 11 walks and 15 earned runs in 19.2 innings.
After he surrendered five runs in 4.2 innings against the Colorado Rockies on Saturday, his catcher took him to task.
"It looks like he got too comfortable when he got the second out," Cubs backstop Willson Contreras said after Darvish walked Rockies pitcher Tyler Anderson with two down, per Rick Morrissey of the Chicago Sun-Times. "In the big leagues, no matter how many outs there are, you have to keep attacking the hitters. I hope we learn from that."
Darvish is a four-time All-Star and two-time top-10 Cy Young Award finisher. Contreras is 25 years old and has played more than 100 big league games in a season only once.
The harsh words are surprising. They also may be indicative of the way the Cubs and their fans will treat Darvish—who signed a six-year, $126 million contract this winter—until and unless he produces ace-level results.
Giancarlo Stanton, DH, New York Yankees
First, the good news: Giancarlo Stanton went 4-for-4 with a home run Monday as the New York Yankees rolled to a 14-1 win over the Minnesota Twins.
Now, the bad news: Even after that outburst, Stanton is hitting .224 with 32 strikeouts in 21 games.
The Yanks' big offseason prize has been boom-or-bust since arriving in the Bronx, and too often it's been "bust."
He's heard the boos from impatient patrons at Yankee Stadium. He's felt the heat of a notoriously tough media corps. The reigning NL MVP and former Miami Marlin isn't in South Beach anymore.
"The good times will be magnified, and so will the bad," Stanton said, per Mike Lupica of MLB.com. "The fans expect a lot. I expect a lot, too."
Stanton is a generational slugger. He plays in a park that's conducive to slugging. He should be fine.
His Bronx tenure, however, is off to a bumpy start.