Saturday, May 19, 2012

Slow Starts I'm Not Worried About (NL)

To see the American League edition, go here

Justin Upton (.234/.342/.359)
This slump dates back to September 11th of last year, after which the younger Upton ended the season in an 8-for-48 rut.  Following a sluggish start in 2012 he seemed to be pulling out of it as April drew to a close, but then proceeded to struggle throughout much of May.  He dealt with a sore left thumb early on, an ailment that may have caused him to alter his swing.  His .289 BABiP doesn't look too bad, but it's 45 points below his career rate even though he's managing a career best in line drive rate.  He's taking more walks and chasing fewer pitches outside the zone, encouraging signs for a maturing hitter, and has reached base in each of his last ten games.  June and July are his best months, so a hot streak should be just around the corner. In the meantime at least his running game's improved; with six steals in seven attempts after finishing last year with an unspectacular 70 percent success rate.  Not sure if he winds up with the awesome statistics he put up last year, but he's too talented to keep underperforming much longer. I'd still rather have him than his older brother, B.J. Upton.  Oh, and he's still only 24.

Aramis Ramirez (.218/.289/.366)
Give Ramirez a few more weeks and he'll be
just fine
After inking a three year, $36 million dollar contract with Milwaukee during the winter to replace Casey McGehee at third and help soften the blow of Prince Fielder's impending departure, Ramirez has been a major disappointment thus far.  He's typically a slow starter, as April and May are his two worst months by far in terms of OPS (.779 and .770, respectively--he's the NL version of David Ortiz).  Like most power hitters, he's at his best during the summer months of July and August.  So far he's been following a similar path to 2010, when he had three home runs and an even worse .167/.234/.268 line through the middle of May, then got red hot in July and finished the season with 25 bombs in just 124 games.  He's hitting fly balls at the exact same pace as last year and has fifteen extra base hits, but his HR/FB rate is a measly 3.9 percent.  Expect more of those doubles to start clearing the fences as the weather heats up.  It's reasonable to assume that he's been pressing after switching teams and signing a new contract, but in reality he's not swinging as often at pitches in the strike zone.  If anything, he needs to start being more aggressive.  I think a repeat of 2010 is in order; a batting average in the .250-.260 range but with the standard 20+ home runs and good RBI figures.  Besides, you should have been expecting some regression after he left Wrigley Field, where his OPS is 86 points higher than it is everywhere else.

Brandon Phillips (.252/.290/.358)
Phillips sat out a week of games in April to rest his ailing hamstrings (which have limited him to just one stolen base in the early going), and the time off may have prevented him from getting in a groove.  Everything in his batted ball data checks out except for a middling home run to fly ball ratio and a fluky 20 percent infield fly rate. He's always lacked plate discipline but has been much too aggressive, chasing nearly 41 percent of pitches off the plate to date.  In order to turn it around he will have to be more selective.  To his credit he's been better as of late, though, with a .318 batting average since May 7th.  I think he's miscast as a cleanup hitter (Jay Bruce is the guy) and would probably be better suited batting out of the two hole.  I don't expect him to repeat last year's numbers, but he's better than this.

Rickie Weeks (.159/.297/.297)
It's been a rough year for Weeks and the Brew Crew
The Brewers are really struggling right now, but none are sputtering more than their second baseman.  Weeks has always been a streaky hitter, but he's looked lost at the plate over the past month and a half.  The league leader in strikeouts is whiffing way too much, but in fairness we're talking about a guy who fanned 184 times in 2010, easily the best season of his injury-checkered career.  He's walking more than ever before so he's still getting on base.  Aside from the high strikeout totals it's clear that he's not hitting the ball hard when he does make contact; look no further than his career low line drive rate and inflated infield fly ball rate.  Even more troubling is the fact that he's enjoyed only one multi-hit game since April 8th.  Considering he's averaged 108 games played since 2005, I'm just glad that he's played in 37 of Milwaukee's 39 games.  If he stays healthy, the numbers will bounce back.  I just have a gut feeling.

Danny Espinosa (.209/.293/.309)
Like Weeks, Espinosa whiffs a ton; he's second in the league with just one fewer strikeout than Weeks.  It's no surprise, then, that he's prone to lengthy droughts.  Right now he's stumbling through a sophomore slump primarily because he's just not making enough contact.  When he does he's hitting more line drives and fewer pop ups, if you're a glass half full kind of guy.  Washington's offense is in shambles, so Espinosa has plenty of company when it comes to underpforming hitters wearing Nationals uniforms.  His OPS has jumped almost 100 points in the past ten days, so perhaps he's finally breaking out.  I don't see any reason why he can't threaten 20/20 like he did last year.

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