Biggest Busts of MLB's First Month of the SeasonApril 29, 2021
Biggest Busts of MLB's First Month of the Season
The 2021 MLB season is still in its infancy. But that doesn't mean teams are not expecting more from their additions and impact players.
So let's take a closer look at some of the more notable busts. In this case, a "bust" can entail signees from this past offseason and players on big contracts. It might also include players who appeared ready for star turns in 2021 but instead have had a tough time recapturing success.
An important consideration: We will exclude players who have yet to play or have been severely limited with injuries. Otherwise, it'd be easy to throw the likes of Kirby Yates, Trevor Rosenthal and George Springer (among others) under the bus.
Sound good? Here we go.
A Trio of Mets
Plenty of New York Mets position players have disappointed. But three guys—Francisco Lindor, James McCann and Jeff McNeil—are worth pointing out.
Lindor is providing his usual premium defense. He ranks in the 99th percentile in outs above average (OAA). However, the Mets did not give Mr. Smile that $341 million contract extension merely for his glove. They very likely expect him to be one of the best hitters in the lineup. He hasn't been.
The 27-year-old is slashing .212/.321/.273 with just two extra-base hits. He ranks in the 15th percentile in expected slugging (xSLG) and just the sixth percentile in barrel percentage.
McCann is another offseason acquisition who has disappointed. He was an All-Star in 2019 and posted an .896 OPS in 2020. But he has just a single extra-base hit and ranks in the 15th percentile in expected wOBA (xwOBA). McCann is also among those without a single barrel (min. 25 batted ball events). New York needs more from a guy it signed to a four-year, $40.6 million contract in free agency.
Lastly, Jeff McNeil is going through it to start the season. McNeil was an All-Star in 2019 and hit .311 with an .836 OPS last season. He is hitting just .196 with a .634 OPS in 2021, and his weak contact rate has nearly doubled from 2020.
Marcell Ozuna, Atlanta Braves
The good news is Marcell Ozuna is still drawing his walks. The bad news is he's striking out more and not hitting the ball as hard.
Ozuna ranked in at least the 94th percentile in barrel rate, average exit velocity and hard-hit rate in 2020. Although he ranked in just the 21st percentile in whiff rate, Ozuna ranked closer to league average in strikeout rate. As a result, he led the National League in homers (18) and total bases (145) last summer.
However, like many of his Atlanta Braves teammates, Ozuna has struggled this season. He is slashing .186/.293/.233 with a 43 OPS+ and ranks in the 29th percentile in terms of strikeout rate.
The batted-ball metrics have seen a bit of a decline. Ozuna's average exit velocity is down 3 mph from 2020. His hard-hit rate has fallen from 54.4 percent last season to 39.0 percent this year, and the barrel rate has been more than cut in half.
Two things of note: Ozuna is struggling against the fastball (.167 average) and is hitless against left-handed pitchers (18 at-bats) this season. He hit .400 against the fastball and slugged .867 against lefties in 2020.
Dansby Swanson and Travis d'Arnaud have been disappointing after strong 2020 seasons. Left-handers Max Fried and Drew Smyly have dealt with injuries and ineffectiveness.
But Atlanta signed Ozuna to the fourth-largest contract among position players in terms of guaranteed value at $65 million. The Braves could use a return to 2020 form.
Maybe Ozuna will get it going after homering on Wednesday.
Patrick Corbin, Washington Nationals
Washington Nationals left-hander Patrick Corbin was a vital piece of the 2019 World Series champions. His ability to start and come out of the bullpen for high leverage was huge in October. It almost seemed to validate the entirety of his six-year, $140 million contract.
The past couple of seasons have been nightmarish for Corbin. He allowed an MLB-high 85 hits and had a 4.66 ERA in 2020. Things have been far worse this spring, as Corbin has a 10.47 ERA and 2.02 WHIP. What's happened to him?
The 31-year-old is having a tough time getting whiffs, in part because his slider has not been nearly as dominant as it was in 2019. Corbin's slider generated a 51.4 percent whiff rate and .204 xwOBA that year. But opponents have a .300 xwOBA against the slider in 2021, with the whiff rate falling to 36.2 percent. The spin rate has also decreased.
Moreover, Corbin has dealt with command issues. He has 10 walks in just 16.1 innings. Homers have been another problem, as he has already given up six.
Again, some Nats fans might feel Corbin's role on the 2019 championship team alone practically made signing him to that enormous deal well worth it. But Washington kind of needs him—and Stephen Strasburg—to be a horse, especially with Max Scherzer's impending free agency.
Corbin has had a hard time simply commanding the zone and getting outs, much less being a front-line guy.
Luis Castillo, Cincinnati Reds
Luis Castillo seemed destined to entrench himself among baseball's elite aces heading into 2021.
The Cincinnati Reds right-hander was a force in 2020, posting a 3.21 ERA and a career-high 2.65 fielding independent pitching mark (FIP) in 12 starts. He struck out 11.4 opponents per nine innings, dominating hitters with a tremendous fastball-changeup combination.
However, Castillo has not resembled anything close to an ace in 2021.
The 28-year-old has a 6.29 ERA and 1.60 WHIP in five starts. He is striking out just 7.0 hitters per nine innings. The underlying numbers are not great, either. Castillo ranks in just the 35th percentile in xwOBA and 26th percentile in whiff rate. Castillo's inability to get whiffs is especially notable. His velocity is down about 2 mph on all four of his pitches.
There are some encouraging signs. Castillo's ground-ball rate is still over 55 percent, and the weak contact is actually up slightly from 2020. But the barrel rate has nearly doubled, with the average exit velocity up 4 mph.
Perhaps Castillo will find added life as the weather heats up. He likely needs to in order to ignite his swing-and-miss stuff and rediscover the form that made him one of the NL's best pitchers in 2020.
Amir Garrett has been astoundingly bad for the Reds. Eugenio Suarez has not gotten it going offensively and has not adjusted well to shortstop. But Castillo's struggles are the most befuddling.
Brandon Lowe, Tampa Bay Rays
Tampa Bay Rays second baseman Brandon Lowe was an All-Star in 2019, finishing third in the American League Rookie of the Year voting. He ranked second in FanGraphs WAR (fWAR) among second basemen in 2020.
Yet, Lowe's playoff performances in each of the two seasons pointed to a major pitfall. He struck out in half of his playoff appearances in the 2019 postseason and had 28 punchouts in 74 plate appearances this past October.
The swing-and-miss tendencies were there from the start. But Lowe found ways to work around them by mashing the hard stuff and punishing mistake breaking balls and off-speed pitches. However, he is struggling especially against breaking balls.
The 26-year-old is hitting just .056 with a .083 xwOBA against breaking pitches this year. Additionally, though Lowe is still crushing fastballs (.698 xSLG), his whiff rate on heaters has increased by nearly three percentage points.
Lowe's average exit velocity is down nearly 3 mph. His hard-hit rate is down nearly eight percentage points. That's not good for a guy who needs to slug and hit the ball hard to see results.
Are pitchers simply figuring Lowe out? He has seen substantially more fastballs this season. Hurlers seem willing to challenge him to set up the secondary pitches.
Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Toronto Blue Jays
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is realizing his full potential as the centerpiece of the Toronto Blue Jays' young core. The same cannot be said for outfielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr.
Gurriel looked like a promising piece for Toronto. He hit 31 homers in 567 plate appearances in 2019 and 2020. He posted a 139 OPS+ in 2020. The 27-year-old appeared to be another big-time slugger in the middle of a potentially dangerous lineup.
Instead, Gurriel has been one of the worst hitters in baseball this season. He has the second-worst weighted runs created plus (wRC+) value among qualified hitters, slashing .191/.219/.206 with a 26 percent strikeout rate.
Gurriel ranked in the 80th percentile in average exit velocity and 91st percentile in hard-hit rate in 2020. He's dropped to the mid-30s in both categories this season, also ranking in the 19th percentile in barrel rate.
This could be a real conundrum for the Blue Jays. Gurriel is a minus defensively, ranking in the bottom 5 percent in outs above average. He doesn't draw many walks, making him a liability in the batter's box if he isn't making hard contact and driving in runs.
Toronto needs its youngsters to start producing alongside Guerrero to have a realistic shot of contending in the AL East. Gurriel is chief among that group.
Ian Happ, Chicago Cubs
Ian Happ's advanced hitting stats seem encouraging.
The Chicago Cubs outfielder ranks in the 66th percentile in average exit velocity and 87th percentile in hard-hit rate. He has a walk rate close to 17 percent. Why, then, is he slugging under .200 with a 42 OPS+?
Well, Happ is struggling to get the ball airborne. His ground-ball rate is at a whopping 59.1 percent. The weak contact is up from 2.2 percent in 2020 to 6.8 percent this season.
This might sound familiar to Cubs fans. Former Chicago outfielder Kyle Schwarber ranked in the 95th percentile in average exit velocity in 2020. But his ground-ball rate was 51.2 percent, and he hit .188 with a .701 OPS.
Happ is similar to Schwarber in that he makes hard contact and walks a lot. He also strikes out quite a bit. The 26-year-old ranks in the seventh percentile in whiff rate and 12th percentile in strikeout rate.
Happ ranked 24th in the majors in fWAR last season. He hit line drives all over the place, blasting 12 homers in 57 games and posting a career-high 134 OPS+. He can clearly be a premier power hitter. But he's got to elevate the ball.
It also wouldn't hurt if Happ could start doing damage in key situations, either. He had just one hit (.259 OPS) in 17 plate appearances with runners in scoring position.
Clint Frazier, New York Yankees
Multiple New York Yankees hitters probably have a case for this list, including Gleyber Torres. That said, Frazier's woeful start has been quite disappointing after a strong showing in 2019 and a breakout season in 2020.
He is slashing .132/.292/.170 with just two extra-base hits (zero homers) and one RBI. He has an 18.5 percent walk rate, but the strikeout rate is near 30 percent. He ranks in the bottom 2 percent in outs above average.
Meanwhile, the advanced hitting numbers are brutal. The 26-year-old has an average exit velocity of just 80.2 mph. He ranks in the bottom 2 percent in xSLG, just one season after slugging .511 with eight homers and a 150 OPS+.
Frazier isn't getting beaten by fastballs. But he's not doing any damage, either. The Yankee outfielder is hitting just .139 with a mere 78.9 mph exit velocity against heaters so far this season.
There is simply no way Frazier will have success if he cannot start punishing fastballs. He has mixed results (a lot of swing-and-miss) against breaking balls and struggles against off-speed pitches.
This was supposed to be the year Frazier became an everyday outfielder and potential cornerstone player. But it's been a frighteningly bad start.
New York will likely hop Frazier's 2-for-4 night Wednesday is a sign he is ready to break out.
Jackie Bradley Jr., Milwaukee Brewers
Jackie Bradley Jr.'s struggles might be due in part to having somewhat of a shortened spring training.
Bradley signed a two-year, $24 million contract with the Brewers in March. He got 10 spring training games. It was enough to get a feel for things heading into the regular season, but he did not have quite as much time to get comfortable.
Still, the Brewers have needed Bradley to be productive with Lorenzo Cain missing time to a quad injury. He hasn't gotten it going.
Bradley is slashing .190/.256/.304 with a 31.4 percent strikeout rate. The rise in strikeouts has been a major detriment.
Bradley made gains in 2020 in part because he cut his strikeout rate and had a 10.6 percent walk rate. He ranked in the 49th percentile in whiff rate after place in the bottom 8 percent in that category in 2019. But the swing-and-miss tendencies have returned, as Bradley again ranks in the bottom 8 percent in that category.
The lack of walks is quite puzzling. Bradley is not exactly renowned for his plate discipline, but he ranked in the 50th percentile or higher in walk rate in each season since 2016, including the 70th percentile in 2020.
Bradley's Gold Glove-caliber defense should always be there. Still, Milwaukee needs him to start seeing the ball better and getting on base to help galvanize what has been an inept offense.
Alex Colome, Minnesota Twins
Alex Colome's one-year, $6.3 million pact with the Minnesota Twins might look somewhat inconsequential at first glance.
However, Colome was the offseason's seventh-most expensive reliever in terms of annual average value, per Spotrac. The Twins were also paying him to hold down the ninth inning as the team's new closer. It has not gone well. At all.
Colome had a 6.75 ERA in his first eight appearances and had already blown three of five save opportunities entering Tuesday night's game against Cleveland, resulting in his move to lower-leverage spots. The 32-year-old then walked three and gave up two runs on Tuesday. The outing raised his ERA to 8.31 in 8.2 innings.
Hard contact has come in droves. Colome ranks in the bottom 2 percent in barrel rate and average exit velocity while also ranking in just the 31st percentile in whiff rate. He had success using his cutter to keep opponents on the ground last season. But hitters are jumping on it this year, and the four-seam fastball has been flat.
Colome's location has been atrocious. Look at this middle-middle cookie he served up to Cleveland outfielder Jordan Luplow on Monday. The target is down and away. The ball catches the entirety of the plate.
It has to be painful for the Twins to see 2021 free agents like Jake McGee and Mark Melancon thrive while Colome continues to struggle immensely.
All stats obtained via Baseball Reference, Baseball Savant or FanGraphs, unless otherwise noted. Stats are accurate prior to the start of play on April 28.