MLB

Ten MLB stars that would love to hit restart button on 2017 season

MLB stars
Michael Dixon
Written by Michael Dixon

The MLB season is still in its infancy stages, so it’s important to not overreact to anything we see. Still, for some MLB stars, things haven’t gone according to plan.

So, who are those guys? Should we really be worried about guys like Anthony Rizzo, Miguel Cabrera, and Yoenis Cespedes? What about former Blue Jay teammates Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista? What pitchers could most use a reset?

The mini-slumps are certainly all different. In some cases, these aren’t much to be concerned with — the kind of speed bumps that wouldn’t even be noticed if they happened in June. In other cases, we’re a bit more concerned.

But regardless of which window they fall into, these 10 MLB stars would jump at the chance to start the 2017 season all over again.

Note: Unless otherwise noted, the stats and records are up to date through play on Monday, April 10. 

Anthony Rizzo, first baseman, Chicago Cubs

MLB stars, Anthony Rizzo

Rizzo sent everyone home happy on Monday with his walk-off single in Chicago’s home opener and seventh overall game of the season.

But what about those first six games? While the Cubs played at a respectable 4-2, their first baseman didn’t do a whole lot to help, especially in comparison to what he did to open 2016.

The 4-for-25 is noticeable (as is his 5-for-29 through Monday). But since Rizzo has never hit more than .292 in a season, we’re not too concerned with that.

The lack of power is what simply can’t be ignored. Rizzo has hit at least 31 home runs in each of his last three seasons. He’s slugged at .512 or better in each of those years.

So, we’d like to know where only one extra base hit, no home runs, and a .200 slugging percentage is coming from. More to the point, we’d like to see that turn around. It can’t happen soon enough, either.

Even though his team has not suffered and he provided a memorable moment to cap off a special opening night in Chicago, Rizzo would be hard pressed to decline the chance to reset the 2017 season.

Dansby Swanson, shortstop, Atlanta Braves

Expectations were high for Swanson entering 2017. But the start to the season has been a giant bump in the road. Swanson opened the year 5-for-28, producing a .179/.207/.321 slash line with seven strikeouts.

He’s both scored and driven in only one run. That’s not the kind of production that Atlanta was hoping for from its Rookie of the Year candidate.

The good news is that the run and RBI were both produced on Sunday. Perhaps Swanson’s first home run of the season is a sign that he’s coming out of a funk.

The bad news is that after the long ball, he was 0-for-4 with a strikeout. So, while he had a great at-bat, he’s not exactly seeing the ball terribly well.

In the long term, we’re not overly worried about Swanson. The former No. 1 overall pick did enough in the minors, as well as his brief Major League cameo in 2016, to show that he’s got the game to play at the MLB level.

But slumps like this are not rare. Opposing pitchers saw what Swanson could do in 2016 and are now adjusting to him. It’s on him to adjust back. Sometimes that takes the better part of a season. The Braves and their fans need to hope that Swanson is a quick study. With Matt Kemp out with an injury, the rest of Atlanta’s hitters need to pick up the slack.

Jose Bautista, right fielder, Toronto Blue Jays

Jose Bautista

Bautista has long been one of the game’s most feared sluggers. In the first week of 2017, he was anything but.

The Toronto right fielder has been painfully ineffective at the plate. Bautista wrapped up the team’s first six games with only three hits in 22 at-bats. In fact, Joey Bats has more strikeouts (9) than hits and walks combined (8).

And unlike the aforementioned Rizzo, Bautista’s struggles are showing in his team’s record. Through its first games of the season, Toronto posted a 1-5 record. Good luck putting a positive spin on that.

Certainly, the numbers are concerning. For years, Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion wreaked havoc on American League pitchers, forming one of baseball’s most formidable 1-2 punches in recent memory.

Now Encarnacion is in Cleveland. Bautista is no longer benefiting from sharing a lineup with a man who hit at least 34 home runs every year between 2012 and 2016. The loss of Encarnacion only compounds another concern regarding Bautista — he’s 36 years old.

A strong start from Bautista would have been huge for the Blue Jays. It would have let the team and its fans know that while Encarnacion is gone, the team will be okay. The slow start, however, has left Toronto and its fans with a wait-and-hope approach.

Edwin Encarnacion, designated hitter, Cleveland Indians

Of course, things aren’t exactly going swimmingly for Bautista’s former running mate in Cleveland, either. While Encarnacion does have a home run and his team isn’t so struggling so mightily, his Indians’ career is off to a slow start.

Encarnacion has scored only two runs and has driven in only one. So, aside from the one home run, he’s done next to nothing to help his team score runs. Encarnacion has recorded only five hits, three walks, and has a .217/.308/.391 slash line to go against eight strikeouts.

It’s safe to say that things have not yet clicked.

Even if it is only six games, that’s not the kind of production the Indians wanted from one of the off-season’s prized signings.

Like the Blue Jays and their fans with Bautista, a mulligan would be a great thing for baseball fans throughout Cleveland.

Felix Hernandez, starting pitcher, Seattle Mariners

Generally, it’s best to be patient with pitchers in April. A bad outing (or even inning) in April will have a significant impact on the numbers, but may not be terribly reflective of how well a pitcher is going.

But with Hernandez, we can’t be so dismissive.

The strikeouts have been there for King Felix. He’s struck out 12 hitters over 11 innings pitched. But he’s also allowed five earned runs and 15 hits over those 11 innings for a 4.09 ERA 1.36 WHIP, and a 4.36 FIP.

It could just be that Hernandez suffered through a few bad starts. Those aren’t at all uncommon in the early portion of the season. But the way things have been going for Hernandez, we can’t just make that assumption.

King Felix’s numbers last year were already pointing to a pitcher in decline. That’s far from uncommon for pitchers in their 30’s, which Hernandez is now.

So, a sluggish start was not what anyone in Seattle wanted to see. He’s only two starts in, but the opportunity to begin 2017 all over again would be a welcome one for King Felix.

Jose Altuve, second baseman, Houston Astros

The man who’s won two of the American League’s last batting titles is hitting .188.  His slash line is rounded off with a .257 OBP and .188 slugging percentage. All six of Altuve’s hits have been singles, and the normally fleet-footed second baseman has stolen only one base.

While those numbers are all troubling, they’re all trumped by another ugly number — eight strikeouts.

All eight of those strikeouts came in Houston’s first five games. Altuve recorded two K’s in his team’s first, third, fourth, and fifth games. Altuve has never struck out more than 85 times in a single season. In 2016, he struck out only 70 and recorded multiple strikeout games only ten times throughout the entire season. So, in just four percent of games played compared to 2016, Altuve is already 40-percent of the way to last year’s multi-strikeout total.

While the high K rate is rare, we wouldn’t be reacting to the strikeouts so strongly if the rest of the numbers were coming in well. But as anyone can clearly see, that hasn’t been the case. Like everyone else on this list, a 2017 mulligan would be awfully inviting for Altuve.

Of course, that’s not an option, so we’ll have to settle for the following piece of good news. Things can’t get much worse than this.

Kenta Maeda, starting pitcher, Los Angeles Dodgers

Kenta Maeda

Unlike the rest of these guys, Maeda’s MLB career is still young. But the Los Angeles right-hander finished third in National League Rookie of the Year voting in 2016 and entered 2017 with high expectations.

Thus far, Maeda has not met them. The second year pitcher has taken the hill twice and thrown only 10 innings, posting a 6.30 ERA and 1.40 WHIP. Now, as we discussed with Hernandez, we normally like to reserve judgment on pitchers until they’ve made at least five or six starts. Given that one of Maeda’s outings came at Coors Field, he may deserve more benefit of the doubt than most.

Except there’s a lingering problem.

If not for an impossibly deep group of senior circuit starting pitchers, Maeda would have been an All-Star. The 18 starts he made over 2016’s first half were just that good. If we include the postseason, Maeda has made 19 starts since then. The difference has been night-and-day.

Maeda entered 2017 with a chance to show that 2016’s first half was the more realistic version of what we can expect. But now, he’s started more games since the 2016 All-Star Game than he did before. It’s hard to say that 18 games is a better indication than 19.

The Dodgers are a strong team and can absolutely win the World Series. But a deep playoff run will be challenging if Los Angeles does not have a solid No. 2 starter. Realistically, Maeda should be that guy. Through two outings (plus the 17 before them), he’s been anything but.

If he could hop in a time machine and go back to his first start of the season, Maeda wouldn’t even think twice.

Carlos Gonzalez, right fielder, Colorado Rockies

While Gonzalez is 31 and has a history of injuries, we believe that his stats will be there at season’s end. Still, we’d like to know just what in the heck has gone wrong so far.

Gonzalez is 5-for-28 on the young season with a .179/.200/.250 slash line. He’s struck out eight times, walked only once, driven in a single run, and has failed to hit one home run. Heck, he hasn’t scored a run of any kind.

Now, if Colorado’s early season included trips to Dodger Stadium and AT&T Park to play the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants, those numbers would be more expected. But the Rockies’ actual first week of action has been much different.

Colorado opened the season against the Milwaukee Brewers with four games at Miller Park and has subsequently played four games at Coors Field (of which Cargo has played three). So, Gonzalez has been in the lineup for seven games at two of baseball’s best hitter’s parks. Looking at the early schedule before the year, we wouldn’t have been surprised to see Gonzalez have a few home runs already, while hitting around .400.

Obviously, it has not worked out that way. Instead, Cargo’s production has left him scrambling for the reset button.

Andrew McCutchen, right fielder, Pittsburgh Pirates

MLB stars

The early going of 2017 has been tough sledding for the face of the Pirates’ franchise. McCutchen’s bat has just not been there.

Through the first six games of the season, Cutch has failed to generate a single extra-base hit, has struck out seven times, scored only one run, driven in only one run and is slashing at .167/.231/.167. Even scarier is that those numbers are actually deceptively good.

In Pittsburgh’s third game of the season, McCutchen went 3-for-4 with an RBI. Where is he without that game? Slashing at .050/.095/.050 with only one hit, one walk, and one run scored. So, while his overall numbers have been bad, they’ve been even worse in five of six games.

To a degree, it’s understandable. Anyone can have a bad week. Given that McCutchen dealt with a slew of trade rumors in the off-season, it’s fair to think that his off-season routine might have been different than normal.

But at the same time, McCutchen is coming off of the worst season of his career. A good start would have been a sign to the Pirates and their fans that 2016 was just a bad year and not a sign of things to come. But he’s yet to do anything to show that. McCutchen obviously has plenty of time to do that, but an opportunity to start 2017 over would be a welcome one for the Pittsburgh outfielder.

Miguel Cabrera, first baseman, Detroit Tigers

Courtesy of USA Today Images

The Tigers sit at 4-2 though six games, which is something to be encouraged about. Cabrera’s contributions, however, have been minimal.

In fact, Cabrera’s only two hits came in the same game, which was one of Detroit’s two losses.

This slow start creates a fair amount of long-term worry as well. Cabrera is far from a baby. He turns 34 in April.

Power hitters can be effective into their mid-late 30s, but it’s not something that we can take for granted. A quick hot streak from the two-time MVP would do a lot to ease nerves throughout the Motor City.

The longer this slump goes, the more the anxiety will grow.

About the author

Michael Dixon

Michael Dixon

Bay Area born and raised, I have extensive experience in both the print and online worlds. There are few things in this world I love doing more than talking sports.