MLB

Ten MLB players not living up to the hype

Trea Turner Nationals
Michael Dixon
Written by Michael Dixon

Entering every season, many MLB players are hyped for various reasons. Some are youngsters finally coming up to the show. Others are stars coming off of an injury or a career year.

Plenty of MLB players entered 2017 with loads of hype, and more than a few are not living up to it.

So, who are those guys?

Which Cubs slugger coming off of an injury isn’t living up to expectations? Which former top-ranked prospects are falling flat at the MLB level? What player whose absence might have swayed the 2016 World Series is coming up short in 2017? What 2016 MVP candidate is not playing to his abilities? Which 2016 Cy Young Award winner falls into the same category?

We’re looking at all of that and more as we dissect the top-10 MLB stars not living up to the hype in 2017.

Kyle Schwarber, left fielder, Chicago Cubs

The 2016 Cubs had a dream season winning 103 regular season games and, of course, ending a 108 year championship drought. Chicago did this despite Schwarber — one of 2015’s biggest contributors — playing in only two regular season games, although he did return for the World Series.

With that, a common question was asked. If the Cubs can be that good without Schwarber, how good could they be with him?

In 2017, Chicago has been pretty darn mediocre, hovering around .500 for most of the year. Schwarber has certainly not helped the cause. He has a respectable (though certainly not spectacular) seven home runs, but is slashing at .186/.306/.365.

Those numbers aren’t good enough for a Gold Glove outfielder, and Schwarber is certainly not that, anyway.

Schwarber is probably never going to be a high average guy. But in 2015, he slashed at .246/.355/.487, a respectable total, especially for someone who hit 16 home runs in only 69 games. Schwarber produced in five World Series games, as well, slashing at .412/.500/.471, despite entering the Fall Classic ice cold.

It’s been a sluggish start for the Cubs. But thanks to a relatively mediocre National League Central, Chicago sits at only one game out of first place. If Schwarber heats up, this is a team to look out for during the summer. If he continues to struggle, though, expect the Cubs to continue to battle it out with inferior teams.

Danny Salazar, starting pitcher, Cleveland Indians

Danny Salazar

We move from 2016’s World Series champ to the team it narrowly defeated.

If you’re a believer that Cleveland would have closed the deal against Chicago with a healthy Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar, we suggest that you frame that rotation around what Carrasco has done in 2017. Salazar’s 2017 is not helping your case.

Over the 2015 and 2016 seasons, Salazar posted a 3.63 ERA, 1.22 WHIP and a simply spectacular 9.9 strikeouts per nine innings. The strikeout total has been there in 2017, with Salazar issuing a staggering 13.2 K’s per nine. Unfortunately, everything else has been a struggle, and a rather significant one, at that.

Salazar has never been above issuing an occasional walk. Still, his 4.4 free passes for nine innings is a career high. That, along with 9.4 hits per nine, gives the Cleveland right-hander a 1.53 WHIP.

He also sports a 5.55 ERA, which has been jacked up by a home run per nine inning rate of 2.1, more than double his 2015-2016 average. Mind you, we haven’t even reached the height of summer, traditionally the busiest home run time of the season.

Now, it should be pointed out that pitching numbers can be wonky. Salazar has had only nine starts, so a bad few outings can be responsible for throwing the numbers out of whack. Unfortunately, that just hasn’t been the case. Salazar has thrown only three quality starts and has yet to go beyond 6.1 innings.

It’s been a pretty rough go, especially considering that Salazar was supposed to be a missing link for a team that very nearly won it all a season ago.

Manny Machado, third baseman, Baltimore Orioles

It’s not that Machado has done nothing right at the plate. In fact, in some respects, he’s on the same pace that we saw in 2015 and 2016 when he was a viable MVP candidate. But in other ways, he’s been nothing close to that hitter.

So, what’s gone wrong?

The easy thing to do is look at the strikeout total. No doubt, Machado would have a better average and/or OBP if a few of those strikeouts were turned into walks. But while a 140 strikeout pace is high, it’s not alarmingly so for a guy on pace to hit nearly 40 home runs. Not in this era, anyway.

No, the problem is everything else. When Machado hits a ball that does not go over the fence, it’s coming off of his bat soft. Per Fangraphs, the Baltimore third baseman has an 11.4-percent line drive rate. That’s well down from 17.8 percent in 2015 and 20 percent in 2016. When Machado makes contact with the ball, fielders are either watching it go over their heads or making a relatively routine play.

That’s something that has to turn around. Make no mistake, there’s always a place in baseball for guys who hit a lot of home runs but do little else at the plate. But Machado is a superstar. He’s one of the game’s most complete hitters. That needs to start showing up in his numbers.

Hunter Renfroe, right fielder, San Diego Padres

Hunter Renfroe

To say that anyone had high hopes for the Padres in 2017 would be a gross overstatement. But thanks to a young nucleus, there was reason to be excited — to at least think that the team was headed in the right direction.

Renfroe was supposed to be a part of that group. He slashed at .306/.336/.557 with 30 home runs for Triple-A El Paso in 2016. Renfroe kept it going when called up to the majors in September, slashing .371/.389/.800 with four home runs in only 35 at-bats.

Thus far, he’s been nothing close to that in 2017. Renfroe does have eight homers, which is a respectable total for a rookie. But beyond that, his .225 average and .280 OBP suggest that Renfroe is having a very hard time getting on base.

The problem here really boils down to the strikeout rate. Unlike Machado, Renfroe is making loud contact, hitting a line drive 19.2 percent of the time (he was 19.3 in Triple-A in 2016). But Renfroe is also striking out 26.9 percent of the time, up from 20.4 percent in Triple-A a season ago and 13.9 percent in 2016’s brief MLB run.

Renfroe is on pace to strike out 165 times. Even in today’s game, that’s high, especially given that he’s also projected to fall short of 30 homers. Renfroe is doing good things when he makes contact with the ball, but it’s happening too infrequently.

To be a true leader of a potential revival of San Diego baseball, Renfroe will need to bring that K rate down.

Tyler Glasnow, starting pitcher, Pittsburgh Pirates

Tyler Glasnow

Glasnow entered 2016 as MLB’s eighth ranked prospect. Between Double-A Altoona and Triple-A Indianapolis, he posted a 1.93 ERA and 1.17 WHIP while striking out 144 batters in 116.2 innings. His MLB cameo wasn’t great, but with a 4.24 ERA and 1.50 WHIP, it wasn’t terrible, either, especially since it was only 23.1 innings.

The 2017 season has been a much different story.

Over his first nine starts, Glasnow has posted a 1.93 WHIP. Control was never Glasnow’s strength in the minors, but he’s walking 5.8 hitters per nine innings. That’s especially bad given that he’s allowing 11.6 his per nine. If you’re going to allow a lot of hits, you can’t be putting runners on base for free. That’s how we get stats like Glasnow’s 6.69 ERA.

Like Salazar, these numbers aren’t being inflated by a few good starts. Glasnow has recorded only three quality starts. In those outings, he’s put up a 3.92 ERA and 1.47 WHIP. If anything, they’re unduly helping his overall total.

The 2017 season has been a disappointing one for the Pirates. While Glasnow is certainly not the only cause of that, he’s not doing a lot to help the Pirates get out of the cellar, either.

Trea Turner, shortstop, Washington Nationals

We go from a struggling youngster on a struggling team to a struggling youngster on a thriving one.

When Turner gets on base, he’s one of the most dangerous players in the game, capable of turning a walk into a double (or even triple) in a matter of pitches.

The problem is that he’s just not getting on base anywhere near enough. Entering Wednesday’s action, Turner had a .241 average and .270 OBP. Now, some regression was expected after a .342 average and .370 OBP in his rookie year. But by any standard, the current numbers are dismal.

In a way, Turner’s struggles are bad news for the Nationals, as well as their competitors. No team wants to see one of its best young players struggling so much in his second season. That’s certainly not good news for Washington. On the other hand, the Nats have been lethal on offense despite Turner’s struggles. Imagine how good they can be if he gets it going. That’s a scary prospect for their competition.

Vince Velasquez, starting pitcher, Philadelphia Phillies

Courtesy of MiLB.com

Velasquez gave the Philadelphia fans something to be hopeful for in 2016, posting a 4.12 ERA, 1.33 WHIP and striking out 152 hitters in 131 innings. Nobody is ever winning a Cy Young Award with numbers like that, but they’re not bad for a 24-year-old on a rebuilding team.

After a season like that, it was reasonable to expect Velasquez to take a step forward. That has not happened. In fact, Velasquez has gone in the other direction.

As is the case with so many of our struggling pitchers, the strikeout totals (45 in 43.2 innings) have been fine. But the 1.42 WHIP and 5.98 ERA are well below what was expected.

Velasquez walked 3.1 hitters per nine innings in 2016. That’s a respectable total, especially for a high strikeout guy. But in 2017, that number has jumped to 4.1. Walking hitters is always problematic. But when you play in a hitter’s haven like Citizen’s Bank Park, the free passes are even worse.

Also, while Velasquez is allowing fewer hits in 2017 (8.7 per nine) than he did in 2016 (8.9 per nine), he’s not allowing the right kind of hits. In 2016, Velasquez posted a high, but manageable 1.4 home runs per nine innings. In 2017, that has sky rocketed to to 1.9 per nine. When you’re struggling with control, you have to challenge the big part of the plate. When you do that against major league hitters, the ball goes a long way.

Since last winning the National League East in 2011, Philadelphia has been stuck in neutral, or worse. For the Phillies to get back to being a contending team, players like Velasquez will have to improve.

Of course, he’s not the only one.

Maikel Franco, third baseman, Philadelphia Phillies

Franco was another player who gave the Philadelphia faithful reason for hope in 2016. He slugged 25 home runs with a .255/.306/.427 slash line.

Thus far, 2017 has been a step backwards.

Franco is slashing at .221/.281/.377. He has six home runs, which is respectable but nothing more. Six dingers will certainly not make up for such a dismal slash line.

Now, some of this can be attributed to bad luck. Franco has similar strikeout rates, walk rates and line drive rates to what he did in 2017.

But Alex Stumpf of Fangraphs detailed a bigger problem.

“In 2015, he was 2.2 runs above average against the slider,” he wrote of Franco. “Last season, he was worth 0.2 runs. In his first 39 games played, that mark stood at -8.7. That’s the lowest value of any qualified batter against the pitch. It’s the lowest value of any qualified batter against any pitch, actually.”

Opposing pitchers are certainly well aware of this information. Until Franco can do more against the slider, opponents will show him a steady diet of them. So until he shows a marked improvement, the numbers aren’t going to come up in any significant way.

Byron Buxton, center fielder, Minnesota Twins

Byron Buxton

If you’re a fan of college sports, you’ve no doubt encountered a player or two who seems like he’s been in college for the better part of a decade. Buxton is MLB’s version of that. It feels like he’s been around for decades. That’s because while Buxton is only 23, he has consistently been touted as a future star since the Twins drafted him in 2012.

The 2017 season was no different, with Minnesota general manager Thad Levine saying before the season that Buxton had “turned a meaningful corner,” which you can read about here.

So far, he’s only regressed. Regression is never a good thing. But given that Buxton wasn’t exactly coming from a strong place to begin with, this regression has been even worse for him.

Over the 2015 and 2016 seasons, Buxton slashed at .220/.274/.398. Even for a stud defender at a premium position, those numbers are just not MLB caliber. But in 2017, he’s slashing at .178/.271/.271. It’s way too deep into the season to have numbers like that.

Buxton is still young, so he has a long time to improve. But at some point soon, he’s going to have to show that he’s a major league hitter. Nothing like that has happened in 2017.

Rick Porcello, starting pitcher, Boston Red Sox

While his Cy Young win upset some very good looking people, it’s undeniable that Porcello had a stellar season in 2016. Still, it came out of nowhere. Entering the year, he had a career 4.39 ERA and 1.36 WHIP. In 2016, he put up a 3.15 ERA with a 1.01 WHIP to win the Cy Young Award.

So, was he just a nice pitcher who had a great year? Or did Porcello find his stride in 2016?

Ten starts into 2017 and it looks like Door No. 1 is the winner.

Porcello has a 4.35 ERA with a 1.44 WHIP. The main culprit has been Fenway Park, which has eaten Porcello alive in 2017. On Tuesday, Porcello went 6.2 innings, allowing 11 hits and four earned runs. Generally speaking, we’d call that a mediocre start, and that’s being nice. But it actually lowered the totals Porcello had at his home stadium entering the year.

Overall, Porcello is amazingly missing more bats than he ever has before, with 62 strikeouts in 62 innings. If he continues that rate, Porcello will better his career high K/9 by more than a full strikeout. He isn’t being done in by the walk, either. He’s walking only 1.7 hitters per nine innings. That’s slightly worse than his 2016 total (1.3), but that was an outlier. The 2017 BB/9 rate is still extraordinary.

In strange way, it actually may be too good. While Porcello isn’t walking hitters, he is allowing 11.2 hits per nine innings. That’s a sign of a pitcher throwing the ball over the heart of the zone. As the numbers show, those balls are being hit hard.

Until he finds more corners, Porcello will continue to be well off of his 2016 pace. That will make him one of baseball’s most disappointing players in 2017.

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.