Struggling Starts: Is It Time To Lose Hope? (Dexter Fowler & More)

by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)

We are not even two weeks into the season, but that doesn’t make slow starts any less frustrating.  Which of the struggling players are worth holding onto?  Is there anyone we should be willing to cut already?  Let’s take a look at a few of the notable poor starts and try to decide:

 

Anthony Rendon – Washington Nationals
2017 Stats – .133, 0 HR, 1 RBI, 0 R, 0 SB

It’s been a disastrous start for Rendon, which is obviously an understatement.  Everything about him at the plate has been off over his first 32 PA:

  • Line Drive Rate – 9.5%
  • Strikeout Rate – 28.1%
  • Walk Rate – 6.3%

We have to keep things in perspective, though.  He’s still showing a solid command of the strike zone (8.2% SwStr%, 29.7% O-Swing%), though that should continue to improve.  He owns a career 21.4% line drive rate and has never finished a season lower than 20.4%.  The injuries to Trea Turner and Stephen Drew is also going to keep his bat in the lineup, though it would continue to be there anyway.

It’s been a bad start, but don’t make the mistake of losing hope.  A career .271 hitter with 20/10 upside, there’s a scorching hot streak on the horizon.  Stick with him.

 

Dexter Fowler – St. Louis Cardinals
2017 Stats – .171, 0 HR, 0 RBI, 7 R, 1 SB

Obviously Fowler isn’t quite this bad, but has his early season struggles revealed that he was potentially an overhyped player heading into the season?  Perhaps, though he’s continued to draw walks (10.0%) and score runs.  He’s not chasing pitches out of the zone (24.5% O-Swing%), the problem is an inflated groundball rate (52.2%, coming at the expense of his line drive rate) and strikeout issues (30.0%).  Neither are the norm and should correct themselves over time.

Know what you are buying, as he’s not a big-time power/speed option.  Instead he’s a 10/10 player who gets on base and should score 90+ runs.  There’s obviously value in that and if you can buy him on the cheap it makes sense to see the cost.

 

Byron Buxton – Minnesota Twins
2017 Stats – .069, 0 HR, 0 RBI, 0 R, 0 SB

Obviously we can’t do this type of column without mentioning Buxton.  After opening the season hitting third in the lineup, Buxton has consistently been moved down as his strikeout rate has unbelievably ballooned (56.7%) and he’s popped the ball up when he has actually made contact (25.0% IFFB).  No one could’ve predicted him to be this bad, but keep in mind it’s also not a complete surprise.  Here’s what we said about him in our pre-season Draft Guide (where he was ranked as the #88 outfielder):

“Over 331 PA Buxton did 10 HR with 10 SB, but he also continued to adjust to Major League pitching as a 15.0% SwStr% led to a 35.6% strikeout rate and far too many fly balls for a player who isn’t an elite power hitter (43.3%).  Considering his 27.8% strikeout rate over 190 AB at Triple-A and the potential argument that he benefitted from a little bit of luck (.329 BABIP), the picture is fairly bleak.  Until he can adjust and make consistent contact against any pitch (especially breaking balls, with a 21.47% Whiff%, and offspeed pitches, with a 27.52% mark), he’s going to continue to be labeled as a bust.”

He continues to swing and miss at all types of pitches, but it’s been particularly bad against breaking balls (30.56%) and offspeed pitches (43.48%).  Unsurprisingly he’s seeing fewer and fewer fastballs (51.64%) as pitchers continue look to expose him.

Would we flat out drop him?  Maybe, but it’s format dependent.  If you are in a deeper league with a shallow waiver wire there’s too much upside to simply cut bait.  In shallower formats it’s a completely different story.  Things will get better (though a return trip to Triple-A isn’t out of the question), but that doesn’t mean they are going to be “good”.

Sources – Fangraphs, Brooks Baseball

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