Struggling MLB Players Already in Danger of Getting Benched

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistApril 19, 2019

Struggling MLB Players Already in Danger of Getting Benched

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    Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images

    Midway through April, we're still in the early stages of the 2019 MLB season.

    However, for players who are off to particularly terrible starts, it might already be time for teams to start weighing their potential replacement options.

    Whether it's a young player who looks like he might need more time in the minors, an offseason acquisition not playing up to his potential or a veteran coming to the end of the line, a handful of players could soon find themselves benched or demoted.

    Ahead is a look at seven such players and possible alternatives.

Corbin Burnes, SP, Milwaukee Brewers

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    Dylan Buell/Getty Images

    Stats: 4 GS, 0-2, 10.70 ERA, 8 BB, 24 K, 17.2 IP

    Potential Replacement: Adrian Houser

    After working primarily as a starter in the minors, Corbin Burnes joined the Milwaukee Brewers bullpen last year and posted a 2.61 ERA and 1.00 WHIP in 30 relief appearances.

    With Wade Miley and Gio Gonzalez departing in free agency, the Brewers hoped he would make a smooth shift back to starting and fill a slot in the rotation.

    Instead, the transition has been a disaster.

    The 24-year-old has served up an MLB-high 11 home runs in 17.2 innings, and it was more of the same in his most recent start Wednesday when he allowed nine hits and five earned runs in 3.1 innings.

    "I think we're going to have a longer conversation this time and try to figure out what the best way to get him on track is," manager Craig Counsell told reporters when asked if Burnes would stay in the rotation.

    Ultimately, a move back to the pen could be best for him.

    In his place, right-hander Adrian Houser could get a shot at the MLB rotation after posting a 1.10 ERA, 0.74 WHIP and 18 strikeouts in 16.1 innings at Triple-A to kick off 2019.

Brian Dozier, 2B, Washington Nationals

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    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    Stats: 51 PA, .170/.235/.234, 1 XBH, 1 RBI, 3 BB, 14 K

    Potential Replacement: Howie Kendrick

    Brian Dozier looked like an excellent buy-low pickup for the Washington Nationals when they signed him to a one-year, $9 million deal on the heels of a disappointing contract year.

    After posting a 130 OPS+ while averaging 32 doubles, 38 home runs and 5.3 WAR in 2016 and 2017, he struggled to an 89 OPS+ with just 1.0 WAR during the 2018 season.

    Aside from the middling surface-level numbers, Dozier has also posted some troubling peripherals, most notably a 27.3 percent soft-contact rate that is tied for 11th-highest among 193 qualified hitters.

    Meanwhile, fellow veteran Howie Kendrick is off to a torrid start, going 10-for-20 with three doubles and three home runs since returning from a hamstring injury that sidelined him to start the year.

    Since the Nationals have only made a short-term commitment to Dozier, they should go with the hot hand and give Kendrick everyday playing time as long as he's swinging a hot bat.

Erik Gonzalez, SS, Pittsburgh Pirates

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    Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

    Stats: 56 PA, .208/.296/.292, 3 XBH, 2 RBI, 6 BB, 12 K

    Potential Replacement: Cole Tucker

    The Pittsburgh Pirates acquired Erik Gonzalez from the Cleveland Indians during the offseason and handed him the starting shortstop job out of spring training. As a career .263 hitter with a sub-.300 on-base percentage and a 79 OPS+ in 275 big league plate appearances, little was expected from his bat.

    However, his defense was viewed as good enough to take the hit offensively, with the thought being he could still provide positive value with steady glovework at a premium position.

    So far, he's produced zero DRS and a minus-13.9 UZR/150.

    Those below-average defensive metrics, coupled with his offensive ineptitude, have made him a minus-0.2-WAR player in the early going.

    And the peripherals provide little hope his offensive game will turn around. Among 193 qualified hitters leaguewide, he ranks second in soft-contact rate (34.2 percent) and 192nd in hard-contact rate (18.4 percent).

    Meanwhile, shortstop prospect Cole Tucker is hitting .340/.426/.547 with six extra-base hits in 12 games at Triple-A Indianapolis.

    It's only a matter of time.

Josh Harrison, 2B, Detroit Tigers

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    Duane Burleson/Getty Images

    Stats: 69 PA, .129/.203/.161, 2 XBH, 2 RBI, 5 BB, 13 K

    Potential Replacement: Dawel Lugo

    Veteran Josh Harrison looked like an excellent low-cost addition to the Detroit Tigers, both on the field and in the clubhouse when he was signed to a one-year, $2 million deal in February.

    "He's a positive person, a leader who has proven himself at this level. He's another guy who can help improve our situation this year and maybe beyond," manager Ron Gardenhire told reporters during spring training. "He helps us not only as a player on the field, but he's a teacher. If we're going to have some young players on the field, he can help them, too."

    Unfortunately, the early returns have been less than encouraging, as his .364 OPS ranks last among 193 qualified hitters.

    For a rebuilding Tigers team, keeping Harrison around in a utility role makes sense, as his value stretches beyond his on-field production.

    However, it might now be worth it to consider giving someone else the bulk of the playing time.

    Prospect Dawel Lugo has a chance to be the long-term answer at second base, and the 24-year-old is off to a hot start at Triple-A, hitting .333/.412/.533 with six extra-base hits in 12 games.

Matt Harvey, SP, Los Angeles Angels

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    Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

    Stats: 4 GS, 0-2, 9.64 ERA, 26 H, 8 BB, 14 K, 18.2 IP

    Potential Replacement: Dillon Peters

    How many chances does an $11 million investment buy someone?

    The Los Angeles Angels gave Matt Harvey that much on a one-year deal this offseason in an effort to shore up the starting rotation. He's essentially been pitching batting practice to this point, though, with little reason for optimism.

    Here's a quick rundown of how his four starts have played out:

    • March 29 at OAK: 6.0 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 3 BB, 1 K
    • April 4 vs. TEX: 4.0 IP, 10 H, 8 ER, 2 BB, 5 K
    • April 9 vs. MIL: 4.1 IP, 7 H, 6 ER, 2 BB, 5 K
    • April 17 at TEX: 4.1 IP, 5 H, 4 ER, 1 BB, 3 K

    All of that adds up to a 9.64 ERA that is the worst in the majors among 92 qualified starting pitchers.

    Left-hander Dillon Peters was recently promoted from Triple-A to serve as a long reliever out of the bullpen. With one more rough start from Harvey, he could find himself in the rotation. 

Cedric Mullins, CF, Baltimore Orioles

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    Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

    Stats: 61 PA, .098/.203/.176, 2 XBH, 4 RBI, 4 BB, 13 K

    Potential Replacement: Denard Span

    The Baltimore Orioles are thin on potential franchise cornerstones in the early stages of a full-scale rebuilding effort. Center fielder Cedric Mullins was viewed as one of the few promising young players on the MLB roster at the start of the season, but he's looked completely overmatched in the early going.

    After hitting .235/.312/.359 with nine doubles and four home runs in 191 plate appearances last season in his first big league action, Mullins has managed just five hits and four walks in 61 trips to the plate this year.

    "It's been the longest two weeks of my life," Mullins told reporters Wednesday. "But I'm just slowing everything down and remembering that it is the first two weeks and that there are guys that are struggling as well out there, but they've turned it around within a few days."

    The 24-year-old also has the sixth-highest soft-contact rate at 29.3 percent, and he's turned in below-average defensive metrics in center field (minus-1 DRS, minus-5.9 UZR/150) despite a reputation as a strong defender.

    With no clear replacement in-house, the Orioles should consider signing veteran free agent Denard Span to serve as a stopgap.

    The 35-year-old hit .261/.341/.419 with 40 extra-base hits and nine steals in a 1.9-WAR 2018 season split between the Tampa Bay Rays and Seattle Mariners.

Jose Peraza, 2B, Cincinnati Reds

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    Stats: 53 PA, .154/.170/.231, 2 XBH, 1 RBI, 0 BB, 14 K

    Potential Replacement: Derek Dietrich

    Speedster Jose Peraza had a terrific 2018 season, hitting .288/.326/.416 with 31 doubles, 14 home runs and 23 steals during a 2.3-WAR season to seemingly solidify his place as the everyday shortstop.

    With Scooter Gennett on the injured list, he's since shifted to second base while veteran Jose Iglesias takes over at short.

    Another move, this time to the bench, could be coming soon if he doesn't get his act together offensively.

    The 24-year-old has always been an extreme contact hitter, posting a 4.2 percent walk rate and 11.0 percent strikeout rate last season. This season, he's yet to draw a walk and his strikeout rate has more than doubled to 26.4 percent.

    When Peraza is putting the bat on the ball, his soft-contact rate is up (18.8 to 21.1 percent) and his hard-contact rate is down (29.5 to 23.7 percent).

    All of that adds up to a dreadful start offensively, and as Derek Dietrich makes a case for more playing time with a 131 OPS+ and four home runs in 40 plate appearances, Peraza could be headed for a reduced role.


    All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted and accurate through April 17.