2018's MLB Flops Who Will Explode Back to Superstardom in 2019

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistMarch 20, 2019

2018's MLB Flops Who Will Explode Back to Superstardom in 2019

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    There were several superstar sluggers who fell short of expectations during the 2018 season.

    In many cases, it was a result of a nagging injury, which either forced said player to the sidelines or left him performing as a shell of his usual self.

    For those guys, a new season brings the promise of a fresh start with a clean bill of health and the potential for big numbers.

    Ahead we've identified seven hitters ready to rebound in 2019.

    The stipulations for inclusion was as follows:

    • Net OPS+ of -20: In order to identify players who had previously performed at a high level before suddenly dropping off last year, we looked for guys who posted an OPS+ of 115 or higher in 2017 and saw that mark drop by more than 20 in 2018.
    • 300-Plus Plate Appearances: Since we needed a reasonably large sample size for peripheral numbers to carry any weight, we kept the list to players who made at least 300 trips to the plate last season. That notably excluded Josh Donaldson and Corey Seager.

    Simple enough. Now let's take a closer look at some superstar-level performers who look primed for a bounce-back season at the plate.

1B/OF Cody Bellinger, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    2017 OPS+: 143

    2018 OPS+: 120

    OPS+ Net: -23

    Cody Bellinger set the bar awfully high with his rookie season.

    The Los Angeles Dodgers slugger burst onto the scene in 2017 with a National League rookie record 39 home runs, hitting .267/.352/.581 in the process.

    While his batting average (.260) and on-base percentage (.343) were more or less unchanged last season, his slugging percentage plummeted by over 100 points (.470), and he hit just 25 home runs despite playing 30 more games than he did as a rookie.

    So what happened?

    A dip in his fly-ball rate (47.1 to 40.2 percent) and a sharp decline in his home run/fly-ball rate (25.2 to 15.2 percent) look like the obvious culprits.

    Bellinger has plus raw power and a hard-contract rate that was still north of 40 percent last year, so a simple adjustment in launch angle could be all it takes for him to return to his elite power production.

3B Kris Bryant, Chicago Cubs

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    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    2017 OPS+: 142

    2018 OPS+: 118

    Net: -24

    After posting a 141 OPS+ over his first three MLB seasons, which included 2015 NL Rookie of the Year and 2016 NL MVP honors, Kris Bryant struggled to get things going offensively last season.

    The reason: a nagging shoulder injury.

    Bryant played through a sore shoulder for nearly a month before finally going on the disabled list in June. He missed 16 games, returned for 10 games and then missed another 35 before he was activated at the beginning of September.

    He went on to hit .259/.354/.412 with two home runs over the final month of the season, and he was clearly never back to 100 percent.

    With a full offseason to recover and a chip on his shoulder, Bryant could be in for a big 2019 campaign.

C Willson Contreras, Chicago Cubs

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    2017 OPS+: 118

    2018 OPS+: 92

    Net: -26

    On the surface, a 118 OPS+ might not look like superstar production, and it's not at most positions on the diamond.

    However, at the catcher spot, that's elite-level offense. That's what Willson Contreras provided during the 2017 season, when he hit .276/.356/.499 with 21 doubles and 21 home runs.

    Last season was a different story.

    He had a solid first half (.818 OPS, 31 XBH), but his production fell off dramatically after the All-Star break in July (.585 OPS, 11 XBH). And he hit a pitiful .152/.222/.242 in the last month while the team was in the heat of a playoff push.

    The reason was simple: He ran out of gas.

    Contreras led all catchers with 1,109.2 innings behind the plate. A little more time in left field or on the bench and a little more action for backup Victor Caratini might be all it takes to keep him fresh and productive for a full season.

1B/2B Daniel Murphy, Colorado Rockies

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    Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images

    2017 OPS+: 136

    2018 OPS+: 106

    Net: -30

    Daniel Murphy missed the first 64 games of the 2018 season, and he never looked like himself once he finally returned to action.

    After hitting .334/.387/.569 and averaging 45 doubles and 24 home runs in his first two seasons with the Washington Nationals, he hit a somewhat less impactful .299/.336/.454 with 15 doubles and 12 home runs in 351 plate appearances last year.

    Murphy underwent microfracture surgery in his right knee in last offseason, and he suffered a number of setbacks on the rehab trail before he was finally activated. So it's fair to assume he was never quite back to 100 percent.

    A move to first base, where he's far better suited defensively, should allow the 33-year-old to focus primarily on getting his offensive game back to where it was pre-injury.

    And for what it's worth, Murphy is a .330/.358/.536 career hitter in 120 plate appearances at Coors Field.

C Gary Sanchez, New York Yankees

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    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    2017 OPS+: 126

    2018 OPS+: 86

    Net: -40

    Gary Sanchez hit 33 home runs and posted a 126 OPS+ during the 2017 season to establish himself as the game's premier offensive catcher.

    He then landed squarely on his face last year, hitting a miserable .186/.291/.406 with 18 home runs, while his OPS fell a staggering 179 points.

    There are reasons for optimism, though.

    For one, he was hurt for a good portion of the season. He missed nearly two months with a groin strain and then underwent shoulder surgery in November for a long-standing injury.

    Then there's his hideous .197 BABIP. A decline in his line-drive rate (21.1 to 14.3 percent) and a rise in pop-ups on the infield (10.8 to 19.2 percent) played a part, but that has nowhere to go but up.

    He also, amid his rough batting average, made a nice gain in his walk rate (7.6 to 12.3 percent) while still launching balls out of the yard at a solid 17.9 AB/HR clip.

    If he can get healthy and get back to consistently driving the ball instead of popping it, which should go hand in hand, there's no reason he can't return to his 2017 form.

LF Marcell Ozuna, St. Louis Cardinals

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    Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

    2017 OPS+: 149

    2018 OPS+: 106

    Net: -43

    The St. Louis Cardinals thought they were finally getting a true middle-of-the-order presence when they acquired Marcell Ozuna from the Miami Marlins last offseason.

    After all, he was fresh off a monster campaign in which he hit .312/.376/.548 with 30 doubles and 37 home runs, good for a 149 OPS+ that ranked fifth in the National League.

    Unfortunately, his first season in St. Louis proved to be a roller coaster.

    • March/April/May: 212 PA, .645 OPS, 3 HR
    • June: 110 PA, .951 OPS, 7 HR
    • July/August: 199 PA, .694 OPS, 6 HR
    • September: 107 PA, .906 OPS, 7 HR

    The bottom line was a .758 OPS with 23 home runs. Not a bad season but a far cry from what the Cardinals thought they were getting after his big 2017 campaign.

    Like several others on this list, Ozuna also battled a nagging shoulder injury, which he later revealed bothered him virtually the entire season.

    He underwent surgery in October and should be 100 percent for Opening Day against the Milwaukee Brewers on March 28.

SS Carlos Correa, Houston Astros

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    Mark Brown/Getty Images

    2017 OPS+: 155

    2018 OPS+: 102

    Net: -53

    Despite missing 42 games with a torn ligament in his left thumb, Carlos Correa was absolutely dominant during the 2017 season.

    He hit 25 doubles and 24 home runs in just 109 games, and his 155 OPS+ was tied for eighth among players with at least 450 plate appearances.

    Would 2019 bring similar numbers over a full slate of games and a run at American League MVP honors?

    The answer was no.

    Correa missed 36 games at the end of June and into July with what was deemed "lower back soreness," and he missed four games earlier in June with oblique tightness.

    Upon returning, he hit a lifeless .180/.261/.256 with two home runs in 153 plate appearances.

    After an offseason of rest and rehab, he's back to crushing balls this spring.

    "It just feels good to go through my swing and stay through the baseball," Correa told Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle. "It just feels great to be able to put the barrel on the baseball; my back feels great."

    AL West pitchers, beware.

                       

    All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs, unless otherwise noted.