Slumping Studs: Why They Suck, and Who Will and Won’t Turn it Around (Part 3)

Here we go again! Today is Part 3 of Baseball and Brews’s Slumping Studs series, and I’m going to dive into the numbers behind 4 (supposedly) great players having terrible seasons. In this edition, I’ll be diagnosing Carlos Santana, Edwin Encarnacion, Rougned Odor, and Jonathan Villar and providing a recommendation on whether you should expect them to turn things around (buy!!) or to stay in their slump (sell!!). As always, I’ll end with a craft beer review and recommendation for your imbibing pleasure.

Carlos “Not Ervin or Domingo” Santana, 1B/DH, (CLE)

santana carlos.jpg

Santana pictured here begging the baseball gods for mercy. We’re doing the same thing, buddy.

The synopsis: Carlos Santana is a 31-year-old first baseman for the Cleveland Indians. He broke into baseball with the Dodgers in 2006 before being traded to the Indians in 2008, making his MLB debut in 2010 for roughly 1/3 of Cleveland’s season. Now a first baseman, Santana started his career as a catcher before the arrival of Yan Gomes forced Carlos to switch positions.

Santana owns a career slashline of .246/.362/.439 with 160 Home Runs. He’s coming off his finest offensive season: 2016 saw Santana post a .498 SLG with 34 HR, 89 R, and 87 RBI, all of which represented career highs to go along with a solid .259 BA and .366 OBP. He was an integral part of the Indians World Series run, and his continued success at the plate earned him an average draft position of 76th overall in 2017 fantasy drafts. He was expected to post similar numbers to 2016 at just 31 years old batting in a potent AL Pennant-winning offense.

Thus far, Santana has failed to meet those lofty expectations, posting a meager .225/.328/.384 slashline through 78 games, with just 9 Home Runs. His 46 Runs scored and 41 RBI are actually right on target to hit his preseason predictions, but his dreadful BA, middling OBP, and career-worst SLG have made him no better than waiver-wire fodder so far in 2017.

The diagnosis: The batting average is obviously ugly (.225), but it’s not actually drastically different than his career BA (.246), or his 2014 and 2015 seasons, which saw him post identical .231 BA’s over full seasons with 27 and 19 Home Runs, respectively. The obvious problem here is that he’s not hitting for power, as demonstrated by his aforementioned career-worst SLG (.384) and ISO (.158). The question is why?

I’ll admit right off the bat (heh) that this is a tough one to diagnose. Santana’s peripherals are generally in line with his career stats, with very little jumping off the page to indicate what the problem is:

Year ISO SLG BABIP K-rate BB-rate Hard Hit %
2015 (worst year) 0.164 0.395 0.261 18.3% 16.2% 29.8%
2016 (best year) 0.239 0.498 0.258 14.4% 14.4% 36.3%
2017 (current) 0.158 0.383 0.241 14.2% 13.0% 32.8%
Career Average 0.193 0.439 0.266 16.2% 15.3% 33.0%

The BABIP is down, but not drastically. The K-rate is actually a career-best, and although the BB-rate dropped with it, it hardly plummeted. The Hard Hit Percentage is right in line with his career average, and is actually higher than in 2011 (31.2%) when he crushed 27 HR over 155 games.

Is it his plate discipline? That, too, seems unlikely:

Year O-Swing Z-Swing O-Contact Z-Contact Swng. Strk
2015 (worst season) 21.1% 57.9% 69.9% 89.5% 6.2%
2016 (best season) 19.8% 64.0% 66.5% 87.8% 7.2%
2017 (current) 21.2% 62.3% 74.2% 86.7% 6.7%
Career Average 21.7% 60.1% 68.8% 86.6% 7.3%

(a quick refresher: O-swing measures pitches swung at outside of the zone, aka bad pitches. You want that number to be low. Z-swing represents pitches swung at inside the zone, aka strikes, or good pitches. O-contact measures how often the batter is able to make contact at “bad” pitches swung at outside the zone, ditto for Z-contact on “good” pitches swung at inside the zone. Swinging Strike Percentage measures how often a batter misses the ball completely when he swings, which you obviously want to be low)

So Santana is swinging at a few more pitches out of zone, but he’s also making career-best contact on those pitches. His Z-swing rate is down a hair from last year, but still better than his career numbers, and the same can be said for his Z-contact rate, as well. His swinging strike rate is also lower than his career average and better than last year.

So what gives? He’s more or less the same hitter in terms of luck (BABIP), plate discipline and pitch selection, batter’s eye (K-rate/BB-rate), and strength (Hard Hit Percentage). He’s just 31 and has no significant injury history, so he’s not declining yet. Furthermore, nothing stands out about where he hits the ball, as his Pull, Center, and Opposite field hitting breakdowns are also right in line with career averages.

I even tried to see if there was any difference in his swing between last year (first GIF) and this year (second GIF). Both are Home Runs on 91-92 MPH fastballs that are pulled to right field:

giphy10

2016 Santana HR to right field

Notice his stance in the above GIF from 2016: he’s a little more crouched and compact before the swing, but not by much. Below is the 2017 HR:

giphy11

2017 Santana HR to right field

The swings are virtually identical. Again, you can see a slight difference in his posture, as he’s more crouched and compact in the 2016 swing, but if you watch this video of his 2016 highlights, you can see that he did not have that compact/crouched stance in all of his Home Run swings. So I doubt that’s the culprit.

The only number that truly stood out to me was this: Santana’s HR/FB ratio, which measures the percentage of a hitter’s Fly Balls that turn into Home Runs. The higher the ratio, the better. Santana’s career HR/FB ratio is 13.9%, and his three best seasons for Home Runs (2011, 2014, 2016) saw him post HR/FB’s of 16.0%, 16.1%, and 16.9%, respectively.

This year? He’s posting a career worst 9.8% HR/FB rate. He’s never dipped below 11% in his 7 prior MLB seasons, and this year he’s in single digits. Yet he’s rocking an 89.42 MPH Average Exit Velocity, which is a full 2 MPH better than the league average. His Hard Hit Percentage is exactly in line with his career average. All signs point to positive regression coming for Santana; by all rights he should be having another solid year.

If that’s not enough to convince you, consider this: Santana also plays better in the second half of the season. Santana hits at a .236 clip during the first half, and .258 during the second half of the year. His Home Run Rate is also significantly higher in the second half: .039% (1890 PA/73 HR) versus a first half HR rate of .034% (2571 PA/87 HR). His HR/FB rate improves from a career average of 13.6% in the first half to 14.2% in the second half. Look for Santana to heat up and see his HR increase as he regresses to career averages.

The Verdict: Buy Santana if you need an upgrade at 1B, and hold him patiently (and tenderly) if he’s on your team. Santana’s peripherals have dipped in many areas, but not by much. His career trends towards a stronger second half than first, and we’re right at the All-Star Break, so expect positive regression to come sooner rather than later.

The Reason: He’s hitting the ball hard and seeing it well, and has not changed anything about his approach at the plate or what part of the field he hits the ball to. Basically he’s just not having much luck getting his Fly Balls to turn into HR…for now. His second half stats, while not exactly mind-blowing, are solidly better than his first half, and he should be poised to finish the season strong. I would predict 25-30 HR with a .250/.350/.450 slashline to end the season. Remember that he already is on pace to hit or exceed last years RBI and R totals, as he has already collected 46 R (projects to finish with 96 R at that pace) and 41 RBI (projects for 85 RBI at that pace). Basically, you’ve already got 2016 Santana in R and RBI, and you should expect his AVG, OBP, and most importantly, his HR to rise as the season progresses.

Edwin Encarnacion, 1B/DH (CLE)

Edwin_Encarnación_2017_vs._Orioles.jpg

He runs like a nerd. Photo Credit: Wikipedia

The synopsis: Encarnacion is a 34-year-old slugger for the defending AL Champion Indians. He’s got a career slashline of .266/.353/.498, and has mashed 34 or more Home Runs in each of his last 5 seasons, including tying a career high 42 bombs last year. E5 is doing his best to shed the nickname on the field, as he has not recorded a season with double-digit errors since 2011, and has committed just one error all season with half of 2017 in the books (but seriously, no one cares about defense in fantasy).

Owners drafted Edwin at an average position of 25th overall this year, with expectations of 35-40 HR and 100+ RBI and R totals. So far, he’s slashing .263/.376/.486 with 17 HR, 42 RBI, and 47 R to go with 1 lonely stolen base. Those numbers don’t look bad at all on the surface, and seem to fall in line with his career averages, but they fall below expectations in the power department. E5’s .486 SLG in 2017 is bolstered by a fantastic June in which he’s put up a .611 SLG, but the season total falls far short of the outstanding .527, .557, and .547 SLG that he’s posted over the last three years, respectively.

Basically, dude, where’s my power? And is the June version of Encarnacion the real one? Or the April/May version?

The diagnosis: Encarnacion got off to a slow start, despite posting his highest BABIP (.299) in ten years and a career-best 14.3% walk rate. His ISO sits at a respectable .219, yet it’s the lowest ISO he’s posted since 2011. His SLG and OPS are down significantly from the past five years. Despite the solid stats, E5 has failed the eye test this season, looking lost at the plate while also struggling to hit for power, with career-worst 10.8% Swinging Strike and 22.9% Strikeout rates (career avg Swg Strk 8.5%, K-rate 16.5%). He’s also Pulling the ball slightly less than usual; sitting at a 47.3% Pull rate with a career 50.4% rate and Pulling at 52.2% last year when he matched his career high in HR.

He’s struggling to make contact, as demonstrated by his aforementioned career-worst 10.8% Swinging Strike rate. Here his other contact peripherals:

Year O-Contact Z-Contact Contact
2016 (best season) 62.6% 85.0% 77.9%
2017 (current season) 59.3% 81.1% 74.6%
Career Average 66.0% 87.5% 80.9%

More concerning, still, is the fact that since those three stats peaked in 2013, they have decreased every year since. Basically, Encarnacion is making less contact each season for the past 5 consecutive seasons. He’s also increased his Strikeout Rate every year since that point.

Despite those worrying numbers, Edwin managed to post his best season of the majors last year, while also besting his career-average Hard Hit Percentage in every season since 2011, with a career-best 38.8% Hard Hit Percent this year. He could very well be sacrificing contact for power these past few years.

The good news for E5 owners is that just about everything else screams positive regression, and he’s already started to bust out in June with 7 HR and an outstanding .322/.431/.611 slashline. I noted that his Hard Hit Percentage is at a career high, but his BB-rate also sits at a career-high 14.3%, his BB/K rate and AVG are identical to 2016, and his OBP is even better. Encarnacion’s HR/FB ratio is also at a career-high of 22.1% (previous best of 21.5% in 2016 and career-avg of 15.8%), so when he lifts the ball that sucker goes out.

Even the aforementioned “scary” contact stat numbers are not as bad as they seem; he’s clearly selling out more for power (less contact but better Hard Hit % and HR/FB rate) and the dips are noticeable but not dramatic.

The Verdict: Hold him if you got him, buy him if you can, but good luck prying him out of patient owner’s hands who were rewarded by his stellar June. E5 is already turning things around, and projects to continue his slump-busting ways as the season crosses the midway point. Encarnacion should finish the year with 35+ HR, 100+ R, and 90+ RBI with a .265ish/.350ish/.500ish slashline.

The Reason: Despite what the counting stats say, Edwin’s peripherals show us that his power-hitting is better than ever, as he appears to be continuing his 5-season trend of selling out contact for power. His counting stats are finally showing positive regression to his great peripherals in June, and similar to teammate Carlos Santana, Encarnacion boasts a much higher 2nd half career batting average and Home Run rate. In short, he’s still mashing the ball at an elite level, and he only gets better in the 2nd half of the season. Hold him or buy him with confidence.

Rougned Odor, 2B (TEX)

odor clocks joey bats.jpg

Not a photo from this season, but still one of my all-time favorites. I have a framed version hanging above my bed. Photo Credit: Richard Rodriguez/AP

The synopsis: Rougned Odor is a 23-year-old second baseman playing in just his second full season as a pro, though he did play 114 and 120 games in 2014 and 2015, respectively. A Ranger’s farm system product, Odor sparkled in the Minor Leagues despite being younger than his opponents at virtually every level he played at as he streaked from A-ball to MLB in just three short years.

Odor is an aggressive, all-around hitter who has above-average speed, a powerful bat, and the ability to hit lefty and righty pitching equally well (career .246 AVG vs. LHP and .257 AVG vs. RHP). His aggression doesn’t do his OBP any favors, as he’s averaged just .292 over his young career to go along with a dismal 3.8% BB-rate. But his upside was flashed last year when Odor broke out to the tune of a .271/.296/.502 with 33 HR, 89 R, and 88 RBI to go with 14 steals (albeit in 21 tries).

This season, Odor has been….odorous, and the smell is not pleasant. He’s hitting right at the Mendoza-line with a hideous .207/.245/.369 slashline and 12 HR. While that puts him on pace for roughly 24 HR on the year, it’s certainly disappointing for fantasy owners who drafted him at an average position of 53rd overall.

The diagnosis: Just look at that batting average and tell me that Wade Boggs isn’t rolling in his grave.

wade boggs

“He lives in Tampa, Florida!”

What hasn’t been going wrong with Odor this year? He’s posted career-worst numbers in the following categories, with career averages in parenthesis: K-rate 23.3% (19.6%), ISO .162 (.192), BABIP .235 (.282), O-Contact 62.4% (68.4%), Z-Contact 87.5% (89.6%), total Contact 76.4% (80.4%), and Swinging-Strike 12.7% (10.1%). Yikes.

Essentially, Odor can’t make contact with the ball to save his life, and it’s destroying his average and hurting his chances to add to his power numbers.

Looking deeper, Odor is riding the struggle-bus even when he does manage to make contact. On the surface, his 13% HR/FB rate lines up nicely with his 13.1% career average. However, Odor did not begin his power-breakout until last season, when he slugged .502 and garnered an impressive 17% HR/FB rate. So if we’re expecting progression, or at least stability, from his 2016 numbers (which I would argue was expected of him being drafted at 53rd overall), then those are the power-hitting stats we need to use as our baseline. So his HR/FB rate has dropped a full 4 points, and his slugging has crashed and burned by over 130 points, despite his Hard Hit Percentage staying the same.

So is there any hope?

A bit, but not much. First and foremost, his Hard Hit Percentage and Average Exit Velocity are very good. He’s still hitting the ball hard, yet he’s seen his BABIP top out at a career-low .235 (career avg .282), indicating some positive regression could be coming there. Odor is also walking a hair more than last year at a (still pathetic) 3.6% clip, up over 2016’s 3.0% mark. We have to also keep in mind that he is only 23 years old, and has plenty of room left to grow. Lastly, his 2nd half numbers are significantly better than his first half: he bats .245 in the first half of the year with .033 HR’s per PA, and .266 AVG with .044 HR/PA.

What appears to be happening is that pitchers are adjusting to Odor, and he is completely lost at the plate, seemingly unable to make adjustments of his own. The discouraging thing is that this has been a trend in his career: his aforementioned career-worst marks in O-Contact, Z-Contact, and overall Contact have fallen every year since his profesisonal debut in 2014, meaning that each year he is making less and less contact at plate when you would expect a young player to be improving. He’s also seeing less fastballs and more off-speed pitches/breaking balls than any other time in his career, and he is clearly struggling to make the adjustment.

The Verdict: Sell, drop, and avoid in trades. Deep dynasty and keeper leagues can consider hanging on to him, but Odor is not on track to have a good 2017 (duh). I believe that the 23-year-old slugger has talent and power, but his batter’s eye is absolute trash at this point in time, and his peripherals offer slim hope at best. I have hopes that he can make adjustments and return to some semblance of his 2016 All-Star form in the future, but I have almost no hope that those adjustments can be made in time for Odor to be fantasy relevant in 2017. The thin ray of hope comes in his Hard Hit Percentage and his historically stronger 2nd half play (including a far better HR rate), but don’t bank on that trend continuing if he can’t get his head right at the plate.

The Reason: Odor’s plate discipline has gotten worse every year since his MLB debut, so there’s no reason to think it will improve now. He’s unable to translate his Fly Balls into Home Runs, and his Pull/Center/Opposite field numbers as well as his Line Drive/Ground Ball/Fly Ball numbers are not significantly different from last year, giving little insight into his severe regression. His .235 BABIP offers a wee bit of hope that things can turn around in the AVG department…..but he’s currently batting .207. Ouch. Avoid him like Wade Boggs avoided sobriety.

Jonathan Villar, SS/2B/3B (MIL)

villar.jpg

Pointing is rude, Jonathan. But so is hitting .220  Photo Credit: AP/John Minchillo

The synopsis: I hate Jonathan Villar. So much. Alright, that’s not fair, he seems like a nice guy and all, but I’m not happy with him right now, as is everyone else who drafted him an average spot of 38th overall this year. I was tired of watching him rake Home Runs and rack up an insane 62 stolen bases in 2016 for my opponents so I drafted him to get that sweet, sweet, speed/power combo on my roster. Villar is just 26 years old, and has only had one full MLB season (2016) to complement 50-odd game seasons in 2013 & 2015 and an 80-odd game MLB stint in 2014 as he bounced between pro-level and Minor League play.

After his breakout last year, he’s been a steaming pile of disappointment in 2017 (can you hear my disappointment bias dripping through?), slashing just .220/.287/.371 (slashed .285/.369/.457 last year) with 8 HR, 28 RBI, 30 R, and 14 SB in 18 tries. Keep in mind that two of those HR were cranked yesterday, and that before then he had just one dinger between May 15th and June 29th. To be fair, he was sidelined for 16 games with a back injury, but still, not what we were hoping for from a young, multiple-position-eligible speedster.

The diagnosis: Villar has a whole mess of problems right now: he’s not making contact, he’s not getting on base, he’s striking out a ton, he’s swinging at bad pitches, and he’s not hitting the ball hard. Villar is having an all-around shitty year at the plate.

Villar is not walking or taking pitches: he’s got an 8.6% walk rate against a career 9.7% rate and a career-high 11.6% set last year.

He’s striking out at a horrific 30.2% this year, which is of course a career-worst.

Villar is swinging the bat more (career highs in ALL swinging categories) but making contact less than ever (career lows in contact categories). Worst of all, he’s seeing a career-high number of pitches inside the strike zone (47.2%), so it’s not like he isn’t getting any pitches to hit. He just can’t hit them.

The Brewer’s keystone player is also struggle to elevate the ball: he’s currently hitting more Ground Balls than ever at a horrific 61.8% clip (last year 55.6%) with a career-low in Line Drives at 16.4% (last year 20.3%). His Fly Ball rate is also down from last year’s mark of 24.1% to just 21.7% this season.

So should we just burn him at the stake already?

Here’s your hope: Villar currently sports a .293 BABIP, by far his career low (career avg. .339) and nearly 100 points under his 2016 high-watermark of .373. Now, last year’s BABIP may seem high, but it was supported by his outstanding speed and career-high Hard Hit Percentage (35.1%). This season, he’s rocking an almost-as-good 33.3% Hard Hit Percentage, though his 26.9% Soft Contact represents a career-worst. Additionally, his HR/FB ratio is actually at a career best 24.2%, up from last year’s (at the time) career best of 19.6%. If only he could hit the ball in the air more…

Villar is too fast, too young, and too talented to keep a .293 BABIP. He may not end the season with a .373 BABIP like last year, but I would expect him to positively regress to his career average BABIP of .339, which would see his AVG rise greatly, and thus his SB and R scored.

Like many other guys on this list, Villar is also traditionally a better 2nd half player; his career splits in AVG are .248 1st half and .263 2nd half. Last season, he also hit 13 of his 19 HR in the second half of the season, so let’s hope for a repeat of that feat.

The Verdict: Hold him if you have him, look to buy him low off of frustrated owners (like me), but don’t expect 2016-value-Villar. Hopefully yesterday’s 2 HR effort was a sign that he’s waking up at the plate, but take it with a grain of salt as the Brewers absolutely murdered Homer Bailey and the Red’s pitching staff to the tune of 6(!!!) Home Runs. I would expect Villar to finish the year with a .255ish/.320ish/.400ish slashline, around 16 HR, and 85+ R and RBI.

The Reason: He might be flailing at the plate, but he’s still fast, he’s still strong, and his (young) career has shown he trends upwards in the 2nd half of the season. His recent DL stint may have been just what the doctor ordered to get him out of his funk, and his Hard Hit Percentage and low BABIP suggest that positive regression is coming. I’m still happy to have traded him for Greinke (thanks Jeff), but he’s already making me look foolish after his 2 HR outing yesterday.

The Beer

Today I’ll be reviewing one of my all-time favorite beers: The Corruption, an IPA by DC Brau out of (duh) the District of Columbia.

corruption.jpg

Just a classic IPA right here. It clocks in at a healthy 6.5% ABV and 80 IBU (international bitterness units, for the unitiated).

It pours a hazy, dark amber color with a nice, big, foamy head. It smells strongly of pine, citrus, and earthy hoppyness, with a bit of spice and maybe even a hint of mint.

The taste is bold and balanced: a beautiful mix of malty and hoppy, with a fresh, strong bitterness that is always the mark of a good, high-quality IPA. I get a nice resinous, dank pineyness on the tongue with bitterness throughout and earthy hop flavors on the back end. The citrus and pine are nicely present without being too assertive.

All in all, a fantastic beer from DC’s first and oldest craft brewery. If you’re ever in the area, be sure you don’t miss it!

Cheers!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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One thought on “Slumping Studs: Why They Suck, and Who Will and Won’t Turn it Around (Part 3)

  1. Pingback: Buy or Sell, Add or Drop: Hot Takes and Analysis after the Trade Deadline | Baseball and Brews

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