Established MLB stars like Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, Manny Machado, and Justin Verlander have all thrived in 2018. But a number of other big name players have had a hard time over the first two months of the MLB season. There is some good news, though. The future looks a lot brighter.
Guys like Anthony Rizzo and Paul Goldschmidt have struggled so much compared to what we’ve seen that logically, a strong final four months is almost inevitable. Andrew McCutchen is struggling in a new home. But he’s also entering a time of the year that’s been kind to him.
But hitters aren’t the only ones that have a brighter outlook. Pitchers like Ken Giles and Zack Greinke both figure to be much better over the final four months than they were through the first two.
These are 10 struggling stars poised to break out through the rest of 2018.
Note: The stats cited are accurate through play on Sunday, May 27.
Andrew McCutchen, right fielder, San Francisco Giants
McCutchen has not thrived thus far with the Giants. He’s hitting .236/.352/.374 with only three home runs. That’s the bad news. The good news is that history suggests that Cutch’s bat will get hotter with the weather. A season ago, McCutchen entered June hitting .223/.301/.404 with eight home runs. From that point on, he hit .308/.394/.528 with 20 homers. In his career, McCutchen is a .274/.362/.451 hitter before June 1, and a .296/.386/.499 hitter after.
It’s never ideal to struggle early in a new place. Still, there’s plenty of reason to believe that better days are ahead.
Dellin Betances, relief pitcher, New York Yankees
Given that his current ERA (4.50) is more than two points higher than his career mark entering the season (2.29), some concern is natural. Has the 30-year-old reliever lost his stuff? Not really.
Betances’ 1.18 WHIP, 15.5 K/9, and 2.9 BB/9 are all in line with the rest of his career. What’s done Betances in has been his 1.6 HR/9 rate. That’s bad. But we also have to remember that with relievers, stats like that get skewed. He’s allowed only four home runs. We’d be concerned with the home run totals if his other stats showed even the slightest bits of regression. As it is, though, we expect a fantastic final four months from Betances.
Anthony Rizzo, first baseman, Chicago Cubs
This is a matter of simple math. Rizzo currently sits at .215/.323/.361. Entering the year, he was a .268/.368/.487 hitter. Given that he hit .273/.392/.507 in 2017 and is only 28, there’s no reason to believe that such a sharp regression will be permanent.
Now, let’s assume that Rizzo will finish the year at .240/.340/.440, which would be the worst we’ve seen from him in a while. If he gets to 520 at-bats (roughly his current pace), he’ll hit .251/.348/.475 going forward. Particularly as it relates to the average and OBP, that’s a fairly moderate projection. Even still, a .475 slugging percentage is something to look forward to.
Zack Cozart, third baseman, Los Angeles Angels
Nobody ever wants to face Mike Trout with men on base, and for good reason. As such, the man hitting in front of him should expect to see hittable pitches. For most of 2018, that man has been Cozart. Just one year ago, Cozart slashed at .297/.385/.548, hit 24 home runs in only 122 games, and made the All-Star Game.
He may not repeat that. But he’s a very capable hitter. As such, we’re looking at his current .238/.316/.403 line to vastly improve as he continues to get challenged by opposing pitchers.
Zack Greinke, starting pitcher, Arizona Diamondbacks
Greinke’s 3.65 ERA is certainly worse than what we’ve come to expect. He’s allowing home runs and hits in general at a higher clip than he did last year. Given that Greinke is 34, there’s some reason for concern. Fortunately, that’s largely negated by the fact that Greinke’s K/9 rate (9.7) is slightly better than last year’s (9.6) and much better than his career’s (8.2).
If you want to be concerned about the hits, home runs, and ERA, go ahead. But if Greinke was just getting more hittable with age, he wouldn’t be missing bats like that. As such, we expect a turnaround.
Marcell Ozuna, left fielder, St. Louis Cardinals
Ozuna had a .457 slugging percentage and averaged 24 home runs per 162 games entering the year. So, his .344 slugging percentage and three home runs are notable.
As is the case with all of these players, we’re not saying that Ozuna can’t just be in the midst of a bad year. But given that Ozuna actually striking out at a lower rate this year and that he’s 27, the ideal age for power hitters, we’re not expecting him to struggle to hit even 10 home runs. It certainly feels like a nice uptick could be on the horizon.
Ken Giles, relief pitcher, Houston Astros
A 5.06 ERA is always ugly, especially for a closer on a World Series contender. But nearly all of that damage came in two outings, when he went a combined one-third of an inning and allowed seven earned runs. In his other seven outings, Giles has a spectacular 1.15 mark.
So what are you going to use to predict Giles going forward? Two terrible outings, or seven fine ones? We’re going to trust the bigger number and say that Giles will be one of the best relievers in the league going forward.
Josh Bell, first baseman, Pittsburgh Pirates
Something doesn’t quite add up with Bell. His average and OBP (.254/.327) are roughly in line with what he did last year (.255/.334). He’s also not striking out at a similar greater clip. So, why haven’t the power numbers been there?
Whatever the answer, we’re not expecting it to continue. Bell showed great power a season ago, hitting 26 home runs and slugging .466. In 2018, he’s sporting a .392 slugging with three home runs. If he had these seasons in reverse order, we’d be screaming that a regression is coming. We’re going the other way now. He may not reach last season’s totals, but we do expect to see Bell’s power dramatically increase.
Carlos Carrasco, starting pitcher, Cleveland Indians
From 2014-2017, Carrasco posted a 3.24 ERA. In 2018, he has a 3.98 ERA. We’ve got some good news for Cleveland fans. We fully expect his ERA to decrease through the remainder of the season.
Carrasco’s 1.11 WHIP is roughly on par with the 1.08 mark that he put up over the previous four seasons. His strikeout rate has dropped, but he’s also walking fewer hitters. There’s just nothing in the peripheral stats to suggest that such a dramatic increase in ERA will be sustained. Over the next four months, we don’t think it will be.
Paul Goldschmidt, first baseman, Arizona Diamondbacks
Much like it was with Rizzo, it’s just hard to imagine Goldschmidt continuing to struggle so much. A .250/.350/.450 season would easily be Goldschmidt’s worst since becoming a full-time player back in 2012. At his current at-bat pace, finishing at that rate would mean a .273/.364/.485 clip. Even that feels really conservative for a career .294/.395/.524 hitter.
Still, it would be a big upgrade from the .203/.323/.380 mark that we’re seeing. Expect that to look much better as we get deeper into the season.