by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)
We are only two weeks into the season, and it’s easy to look at a player’s line and get frustrated by a slow start. Obviously it’s the only information we have, so the negatives are magnified and you don’t want to overreact. It’s hard, though, especially when the numbers look really, really bad. With younger players it’s even tougher, because we lack a track record to draw from, though for the savvy owner that also represents a potential buying opportunity. With that in mind, let’s take a look at two young first basemen off to slow starts and try to decide if we should be buying or giving up on them (all stats are through Saturday):
Josh Bell – Pittsburgh Pirates
There was a lot expected of him, considering his minor league success, but he has gotten off to a horrific start and could ultimately be ticketed back to Triple-A. Power was always the biggest question facing him, though we thought he had solved that issue to an extent (17 total HR in ’16). However he is hitting .156 and the problems are significant:
- 9.9% SwStr%
- 37.5% O-Swing%
- 18.2% IFFB
He’s seeing mostly fastballs (77.10%), and he’s hitting just .150 against fourseam fastballs this season. Even when he adjusts there, opposing pitchers can adjust themselves and throw him more breaking balls (15.00% Whiff%) and offspeed pitches (30.00% Whiff%).
Things should get better, though when is the major question. Baseball is a game of adjustments and he may need two before he figures it out. That’s a significant red flag and one that can’t be ignored.
Verdict – Hold in deeper formats, otherwise move on (Don’t Buy)
Gregory Bird – New York Yankees
A spring training darling, now that the season has started Bird’s performance has been abysmal. He’s started 1-26, battled injuries and has struggled mightily to make contact (13 K). It’s not that he’s chasing outside the strike zone (26.0% O-Swing%), but when he swings he’s simply missing (21.6% SwStr%). It hasn’t been one type of pitch that’s been the problem either (Whiff%):
- Hard – 20.75%
- Breaking – 37.50%
- Offspeed – 25.0%
Strikeouts were always part of his game, including a 29.8% strikeout rate in ’15 when he debuted in the Majors. It’s something that we can’t ignore, and while we’d like to say some missed time due to injury is helping that’s a hard claim to make. At the same time he’s simply not this bad. He should hit for power and a hot streak should be coming, before long. The Yankees have reason to be patient, and with Gary Sanchez sidelined when healthy Bird should get a longer leash.
Watch him closely, but don’t panic yet. He showed signs of his breakout last night, going 3-3 with his first home run of the season. It’s likely just a start and obviously is a good sign of things to come.
Verdict – Buy ‘Em if it’s cheap enough (if you own him, don’t sell low)
Sources – Fangraphs, Brooks Baseball