10 MLB stars who need to hit restart on 2019 season

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

We’re still early in the 2019 MLB season. But we’re also past the point that we can be dismissive of the struggles that we’ve seen from some of the league’s stars.

A pair of players from 2018’s champs have stumbled hard out of the gate in 2019. Two Cleveland Indians stars have also experienced a tough start to the season. Monday’s nationally televised game between the New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies could have been a classic pitcher’s duel. Instead, it featured two big-name pitchers trying to find their form.

Plenty of time remains to turn things around. That may well happen. But for these MLB stars, the early weeks of the 2019 season have not been kind.

Note: All stats are accurate through play on Monday, April 15.

Aaron Nola, starting pitcher, Philadelphia Phillies

Nola was one of baseball’s best pitchers in 2018, finishing third in NL Cy Young voting. The early part of 2019 has been much different. Four starts in, Nola has a 7.45 ERA and 1.655 WHIP. What’s really troubling are the BB/9 and HR/9 rates of 5.1 and 2.3.

Poor early season pitching stats can sometimes be attributed to either a small sample size or bad luck. But that’s not really the case here. Nola is having a hard time finding the strike zone and when he does, he’s getting hit hard. That’s not bad luck. That’s just bad pitching.

Anthony Rizzo, first baseman, Chicago Cubs

Rizzo sports a .182 batting average and a .348 OBP. Both numbers are below expectations (especially the batting average). But the real problem is that he’s not driving the ball. Rizzo has three homers, one double, and a .364 slugging percentage.

Rizzo’s primary jobs at the plate are to get on base and to drive the ball. He’s been below average at the first job and worse at the second. Rizzo won’t look back at the early part of this season with great fondness. For his sake, let’s hope it’s just a bump in the road.

Chris Sale, starting pitcher, Boston Red Sox

Sale has a 9.00 ERA, 1.538 WHIP, and a 5.5 K/9 rate. While one bad outing can sometimes blow a pitcher’s early season stats up, that hasn’t been the case with Sale. He has taken the mound three times. Over two of those outings, Sale went a combined seven innings and allowed 12 earned runs on 13 hits and two walks. So if anything, his one good outing makes his stats look a little better than how he’s pitched.

Something has clearly been off with Sale this season. For the Red Sox and their fans, he can’t fix the problem soon enough.

Jose Ramirez, third baseman, Cleveland Indians

To say that it’s been a slow start to 2019 for Ramirez would be an understatement. He’s hit .150/.212/.250 and has only four extra-base hits. His his first homer of the year didn’t come until Monday. And this is a man who hit 68 home runs over the 2017 and 2018 seasons.

With Francisco Lindor sidelined for a while, a strong start from Ramirez was important. And given that Ramirez finished third in AL MVP voting in each of the previous two seasons, hoping for a strong start wasn’t too outrageous. It just has not happened.

Noah Syndergaard, starting pitcher, New York Mets

If you’re a Mets fan and looking for good news as it relates to Thor, he is getting deep into games. Unfortunately, he’s had a hard time keeping runs off of the board. Syndergaard has only one quality start and has posted a 5.63 ERA.

There is some silver lining in the fact that Syndergaard’s peripheral stats do bode well for him turning it around. But there’s a lot of speculation involved with that. What’s not speculation is that in the early going, Thor has not been especially effective.

Charlie Blackmon, center fielder, Colorado Rockies

How much has Blackmon struggled this season? Well, his 2019 slugging percentage (.294) is lower than his career batting average (.301). But Blackmon’s struggles can’t just be attributed to a lack of power. Blackmon is doing very little well offensively. Overall, he’s hitting .221/.270/.294 with no home runs and only one steal, and he’s made glaring mistakes on the field, as well.

This has clearly hurt the Rockies, who have been one of MLB’s most disappointing teams in the season’s early weeks. If Colorado is going to shake off this slow start and get back on the winning track, Blackmon getting his bat going is to be is a necessary step.

Walker Buehler, starting pitcher, Los Angeles Dodgers

Buehler has struggled through the early part of the season. He has an 8.25 ERA, 1.500 WHIP, and hasn’t made it past five innings in any of his first three starts — he’s only made it to five once. The excessive walks and lack of strikeouts are a big problem. Last season, he had a 9.9 K/9 rate and a BB/9 rate of 2.4. This season, Buehler’s K/9 rate is 6.8 while his BB/9 is 3.8.

Based on how he finished last season, Buehler looked like a real breakout candidate for 2019. That may still be the case. But the start to this season has been a real grind.

Jesus Aguilar, first baseman, Milwaukee Brewers

Last season was a coming out party for Aguilar. He made the All-Star team, hitting .274/.352/.539 with 35 home runs. But the early part of this year has been a real struggle. Aguilar is hitting .152/.273/.196. Worse is that the hulking slugger has no home runs and only two extra-base hits (both doubles).

If 2018 was a dream, 2019 has been a nightmare. Aguilar could really use a time machine to go back to the start of the season. Since that’s not in the cards, he really needs to break out of this funk and start hitting the ball hard again.

Corey Kluber, starting pitcher, Cleveland Indians

One word that best describes Kluber’s first four starts this year is “inconsistent.” There have been positives. He’s notched two quality starts and in those two outings posted a 2.08 ERA and a 1.000 WHIP. But Kluber has lasted only six combined innings in his other two outings, posting a 15.00 ERA and a 3.667 WHIP.

Obviously anyone’s numbers will look bad if we’re looking at only the bad outings. But in Kluber’s case, the bad outings represent half of his starts. For a man who’s been one of baseball’s best pitchers over the last five years, that’s not good enough.

Mookie Betts, right fielder, Boston Red Sox

Betts himself has described his early season struggles as “unacceptable.” He’s hitting .222/.324/.413 with three home runs and one steal. Worse is that the Red Sox are only 6-11. By contrast, through 17 games in 2018, the Red Sox were 15-2 and Betts was hitting .390/.486/.763 with five home runs and had two steals.

Obviously Betts doesn’t shoulder all of the blame for the team’s struggles. But he’s clearly a catalyst. If he plays well, the team generally plays well. When he struggles, the team generally follows suit. Thus far, 2019 has been too much of the latter.