2024’s Under-the-Radar Underperformers

Whose Slipped under the Sonar?

A quarter of the way through the season, a few things are clearthe Los Angeles Dodgers are everything we thought they were, the Colorado Rockies are still Dick Monfort’s pointless plaything, the Kansas City Royals$110 million offseason wasn’t just fool’s gold, and a few would-be contenders are buried in the standings. These things leap off the page.

But what about the less obvious items? What about the players, teams, and units flying under the radar and failing to meet expectations?

Like everything in baseball, these facts are subject to change. Things ebb and flow, players and teams rise and fall. It’s the cyclical nature of the game. But for those underperforming, what’s gone wrong?


Minnesota’s Starting Rotation


At first glance, the Minnesota Twins are right where they should be. Entering Thursday’s play, they’re 21-15, second in the AL Central and 2½ games back of the Cleveland Guardians. They look poised to make another postseason run.

And while that’s true, the circumstances leading the Twins to this moment show the club is treading water. For instance, their recent 12-game winning streak is a thing to celebrate. However, consider this: The White Sox, Angels, and Red Sox are the only teams the Twins played during that stretch. Further cracks appear in their hull when you consider how Minnesota started. When their streak began on April 22, the Twins were 7-13. Only the Astros, Marlins, Rockies, and White Sox had a worse record than them at that point.

So, what’s wrong with the Twins? It’s partly their rotation.

Though the team ranks 17th in team ERA, the splits show tears in the mast. Minnesota’s starting rotation is tied for 19th in runs allowed and 21st in earned runs allowed while ranking 22nd in ERA. The only teams at or above .500 worse than the Twins starters are the 18-18 Mets and the division-leading Guardians. Every other team with a worse starting ERAthe Angels, the Athletics, the Astros, the White Sox, the Marlins, and the Rockiesis below .500 . It’s not the company an AL contender keeps, nor is it what you expect from a team whose starters had the second-best ERA in baseball last season.

There’s a myriad of reasons for Minnesota’s mammoth fall. Sonny Gray and Kenta Maeda combined for a 3.31 ERA before leaving the team in free agency. They were serviceable arms for a rotation that’s lacking them now. Those are the easily understandable, surface-level explanations for what’s happened to Minnesota’s starters. What’s happened to Pablo López is not as easy to understand.

An All-Star just last season, López finished seventh in AL Cy Young voting. He posted career highs in innings pitched, strikeouts, K/9, and looked like a pitcher rounding into his prime after arriving from the Marlins via trade. That is still the case. López is only 28 and signed to the team through the 2027 season. There shouldn’t be an ounce of buyer’s remorse for Minnesota.

But there should be some concern. Through López’s seven starts before Thursday, he had a 4.30 ERA and an 89 ERA+. Both of these would be the second-worst marks of his career. Additionally, López’s increased fastball usage from 34.5% in 2023 to 44.4% in 2024 has corresponded to increases in exit velocity, Barrel%, HR%, and HardHit%. Compared to his career averages before 2024, López is seeing a 1.1% increase in his HR% and an 8.7% increase in his HardHit%. When hitters make contact, it’s like striking flint against a cannonball.

When they don’t, however, López is just as good. His May 4 start against the Red Sox was arguably the best of his season, allowing one run and five hits in six innings. He’s also seeing career bests in K%, BB%, xERA, and LD%. Opposing hitters are posting a .669 OPS and a .278 BABIP against López. He is not getting dominated.

Likewise, López’s 3.48 FIP aligns with his career 3.64 FIP and only reinforces that notion. There is every indication that a great pitcher still exists inside of López. It’s just unlocking it more consistently and waiting to see if his numbers can match where they should be.

Let’s say that happens. Does López getting right alone fix the rotation? No. Chris Paddack has a 4.34 ERA, Bailey Ober has a 4.42 ERA, and Louie Varland had a 9.18 ERA before being demoted to Triple-A St. Paul. Simeon Woods Richardson and Joe Ryan are the only cannons firing and serve as the two starters in the rotation with an above-average ERA+.

Minnesota, despite its record, is full of holes. If not for the bullpen’s stellar efforts, they might be underwater. If Minnesota finds consistency from López, Paddack, and Ober, they can row toward greater heights.


Arenado’s Power Bat


Evaluating the Cardinals’ offense is a double-edged sword. For instance, Willson Contreras continues to earn his contract, hitting .280/.398/.551 with a team-leading .950 OPS and 171 OPS+. Among all catchers with at least 50 plate appearances, Contreras ranks second in OBP, OPS, slugging, wRC+, and fWAR. It’s what makes his forearm fracture so crushing for the Cards. He’s gone from a pariah to one of its saviors.

At first glance, Nolan Arenado is yet another savior. The eight-time All-Star leads the Cardinals in RBIs, is second in OPS, and his .287 average, .351 OBP, and 114 OPS+ are around his career averages. Arenado should be on Contreras’ side of the sword. And he would be if he didn’t wield his own. For all his production, Arenado is failing to do one thing he usually excels atpowering the ball.

Arenado isn’t exactly Barry Bonds at the dish, nor is he held in the same regard as today’s premier power hitters. Rightfully so. But Arenado isn’t Michael Bourn, either. From 2015 to 2022, Arenado had more home runs than Mike Trout, Manny Machado, and Bryce Harper. The five-time Silver Slugger’s 271 home runs are the most in baseball during that span.

And yet, Arenado is seeing career worsts in the following power categories this season: Slugging percentage, HR%, ISO, HardHit%, Barrel%, HR/FB, HR/AB, and exit velocity. The player who previously hit at least 30 home runs eight seasons straight is on pace for just nine this season. That would be the fewest in Arenado’s 12-year career.

Compared to his career averages before 2024, Arenado is seeing a 3.7% drop in HR%, a 0.138 drop in ISO, an 11.6% decrease in HardHit%, and a 5.1% decrease in his Barrel%. Compared to his power numbers from 2023, Arenado has the 28th-highest decrease in HardHit% this season and the 29th-highest decrease in HR/FB%.

And it’s not like Arenado is just unlucky. According to Baseball Savant, his xSLG is .367. Even if Lady Luck smiled upon him, that would still be a career-low.


Are You Sure This is Arenado?


Some teams could survive a power outage from a player like Arenado, but not the Cardinals. Partly due to Arenado’s struggles, the Cardinals rank 30th in home runs, 28th in AB/HR, 27th in slugging, and 26th in ISO. They need him to turn around just for this offense to reach average.

The chances of that happening aren’t impossible. By Arenado’s 37th game of 2023, he slugged just four home runs, only two more than he has now. Over the next 107 games, he collected 22 dingers and raised his slugging from .391 to .491, a whole point difference.

Time and age are on his side. He’s 33 years old. Father Time’s tendrils shouldn’t have touched him just yet.

That said, this dampening is a trend. After slugging 41 home runs in 2019, Arenado’s fewer home runs year after year, falling to 34 in 2021, 30 in 2022, 26 in 2023, and now his 2024 low-wattage performance. His AB/HR rate has also decreased, rising from 14.34 in 2019 to 68.00 in 2024. So, while time and age stand beside him, his recent historical output isn’t.

None of this is to say Arenado can’t be a productive hitter. But we may be seeing the end of Arenado’s annual 30-home run seasons and the transition toward a different phase of his career.


Goldschmidt’s Struggles


If we’re digging into the struggles of one Cardinals cornerstone player, let’s dig into another.

While Arenado struggles to drive the ball, Paul Goldschmidt struggles to touch the pedal. The former MVP is off to one of the worst starts of his 14-year career. If Goldschmidt’s numbers maintained throughout the season, he’d see career lows in every offensive stats you can conceive of.

Batting average? Yep. OPS? Well, his 2024 OPS is .258 points lower than his next closest career low, so suffice to say. OPS+? Considering this would be Goldschmidt’s first sub-100 season, you can check that off your bingo card.

There’s no need to prattle off the obvious when it can be said: Goldschmidt’s playing like tin.

There’s also no way to sugarcoat or hide it, either. Even if his expected numbers were his actual stats, his .235 xBA and .360 xSLG would still be career worsts on his ledger. That sentiment extends to his other advanced metrics, with Goldschmidt’s 2024 readings toward the bottom, if not at it, in HardHit%, ISO, Barrel%, and exit velocity. Goldschmidt’s bat, a virtual metronome of consistency, can’t touch, let alone demolish a ball the way it used to.

The only caveat is this isn’t his first slow start to a season. Through the first month of the 2021 season, he slashed .214/.257/.340 in 2021 with a .597 OPS.  Over the next 137 games, he fixed his issues, hit .310/.386/.550 with a .936 OPS, and finished sixth in NL MVP voting. What’s to say Goldschmidt can’t do it again?

The difference between then and now is Goldschmidt snapped out of his 2021 slump immediately in May. In his first 10 games that month, he hit .325 with a .957 OPS. Contrast that immediate success to the fact that Goldschmidt is hitless in May 2024. He is 0-23 with three walks, 10 strikeouts, and a .115 OBP. So, what’s to say he can fan the flames when there’s not even an ember in the pit?

The other discrepancy between then and now is Goldschmidt’s plate discipline. During that sluggish start in 2021, Goldschmidt struck out 28 times for a 25.7 SO%. While higher than his then-career average SO%, Goldschmidt shaved that percentage down to 20.0% by season’s end. He’s eclipsed these numbers in 2024 with a career-worst 30.9% SO%. You’d have to go to Goldschmidt’s rookie 2011 season to find a number even close to that mark.

Accompanying that rise is a 27.7 Chase%, his highest since 2019, and a 32.4 Whiff%, the highest of his career by a healthy margin. He’s chasing pitches like a dog does a mailman and whiffing through them like a dog trying to bite the air.

Saying Goldschmidt is underperforming is an understatement. His .255 wOBA is 160th, his 550 OPS is 162nd, and his 65 wRC+ is 158th. As unfortunate as it is, there’s a chance that Goldschmidt’s best days are behind him.


Concern For Seager


Let’s state one thing for the record first: Corey Seager is one of the best players in baseball. Since signing with the Rangers in 2022, he’s a two-time All-Star, an AL MVP runner-up, a World Series champion, and a World Series MVP. There shouldn’t be any debate about what type of player he is or any doubt about his abilities.

Despite that word of warning, it’s fair to wonder what in the world is happening to Seager.

In his 35 games, Seager is slashing .230/.303/.309 with three home runs and 13 RBIs. In context with his teammates, Seager’s .613 OPS, 76 OPS+, .266 BABIP, and .275 wOBA are last among all qualified active players. If they lasted for the entire season, those numbers would all be career worsts.

In brief, he’s the worst offensive player on the team amid the worst start of his career.

Now, there’s a glass-half-full viewpoint to all of this. Seager underwent hernia surgery in the offseason and played just three games in spring training. It’s no wonder he’s started slow.

His injury has not killed the Rangers offense, either. Adolis García, Josh H. Smith, Jonah Heim, and Marcus Semien have the team ahead of the pack, even without Seager pulling his weight. They’re second in runs scored and ninth in team OPS. Why panic when Seager is privileged enough to play in a situation that’ll let him come at his own pace?

Likewise, this isn’t the same Rangers offense from a year ago. All-Star third baseman Josh Jung is still recovering from a broken wrist, and catcher-DH Mitch Garver took his 2023 .870 OPS and slipped away to Seattle in the offseason. Youngsters like Wyatt Langford and Evan Carter, who were supposed to replace Garver’s production, are failing to do so, hitting .224 and .218, respectively.

The Rangers’ offense is good; Great, even. How much concern can we have over Seager when it’s only A, May, and B, a few players around him aren’t playing how we expected despite the team’s record and overall performance?

It’s a fair question that requires the glass-half-empty viewpoint. As mentioned, Seager is off to the worst start of his career. How much worse should probably be emphasized.


Do You Sea-ger What I See?


We’re seeing sizable decreases between Seager’s 2024 and career averages. Where we see drastic differences, however, is between 2024 and 2023. There’s either a whole point difference or close to it between his batting average and OBP, a .400-point difference between his OPS, and a 15.7% decrease in his HardHit%, the second-highest drop in baseball.

The root cause could be multiple things, all of which would push the word count of this article to its limit, so let’s focus on how pitchers attack Seager.

In 2023, pitchers used their fastballs 48.3% of the time against the All-Star, their breaking balls 32.6%, and their offspeed pitches 19.2%. Those numbers mostly align with Seager’s 2024 Pitch% with two minuscule differences: A 1.9% decrease in fastballs seen and a 3.4% increase in breaking balls.

Despite this menial difference, Seager has suffered. He’s hitting .217 against fastballs with a .194 xBA and .185 with a .258 xBA against breaking balls. These numbers are a far cry from Seager’s stats a year ago, where he hit .316 against fastballs and .349 against breaking balls.

What’s fascinating is Seager isn’t missing either pitch more than he had previously. His 19% Whiff% against fastballs this season matches nicely with his 20.1% total from a year ago. Additionally, his 29.9% Whiff% against breaking balls is lower than his 30.9% Whiff% from 2023. The whole situation is a strange cocktail that brings us back to the central question: What in the world is happening to Seager?

It’s right to be concerned about Seager. He’s a pale imitation of his 2023 self. If he can’t find the man in the mirror, it’s doubtful the Rangers will find themselves alone on the mountaintop again.

Luckily, a reflection is starting to take shape. From May 3 to May 7, Seager carried a five-game hitting streak and hit .318 with a .759 OPS. Though he went hitless the next day, there are signs of life. For now, let’s trust one of the baseball players in the game.


Giants’ Big-Name Signings


On paper, the San Francisco Giants were one of the offseason winners. Long-starved for difference makers, the Giants found several, signing All-Star third baseman Matt Chapman, reigning NL Cy Young winner Blake Snell, All-Star DH Jorge Soler, and 2022 KBO MVP outfielder Jung Hoo Lee.

Reality, however, is a different story. Over a quarter way through the season, the Giants and their 17-21 record are far from winners, and their free-agent signings aren’t the difference-makers the team needed. 

Let’s start with Lee, the first of the four to land in the Bay Area. The 25-year-old started his MLB career like a house on fire. During his first 22 games, Lee slashed .284/.343/.386 with two home runs and seven RBIs. He stood second among all position players in fWAR, third in OPS and wRC+, and looked every bit the KBO star the Giants signed.

Over the next eight games, Lee slumped and looked more like a Double-A hitter, slashing .143/.200/.143 with a .343 OPS. His burning house was nothing but cinders until recently. Lee is currently riding a six-game hitting streak with a .310 average during that time. He has evaded whatever slump captured him just a week ago.

An increase in run production would help Lee, who is up to just two home runs and eight RBIs through 36 games. But considering he has batted leadoff in 30 games this season for San Francisco’s slumping offense, Lee’s output is understandable.

Soler’s situation is not as understandable. Coming off a 36-homer season and an All-Star appearance, Soler made perfect sense for a Giants team needing a shot in the arm after finishing 19th in home runs and 23rd in home runs hit at home in 2023. If anyone on the market could bridge the gap, it’d be Soler.

Unfortunately, that gap is about as long as the Golden Gate Bridge. Though Soler is posting an identical SO% and a similar BB%s as he did a year ago, he’s seen significant decreases in power. His HR% dropped from 6.2% to 3.7%, his HardHit% is down to a career-low 37.9%, and his ISO has declined from .262 to .160, over a whole point.

The more condemning decline might be the 9.3% drop between Soler’s 2023 Barrel% and his 2024 Barrel%. It’s the sixth-biggest year-to-year decrease, according to Baseball Savant.

Maybe all could be forgiven if Soler at least helped fix San Francisco’s woes at Oracle Park. That has yet to happen. In 16 home games, Soler’s racked up a .140/.222/.263 with two home runs, a double, and a .485 OPS. Contrast those numbers to his 18 road games, where he’s hitting .258/.356/.452 with three home runs, three doubles, and a .808 OPS.

To summarize, the Giants signed Soler to do three things: Mash, mash some more, and oh, please mash at home. He hasn’t done any of the above. That said, like Seager, Soler is going through health struggles. The Giants placed him on the 10-day injured list this week with a shoulder strain. The Giants need a healthy and productive Soler, or else why’d they sign the DH to a $42 million, three-year deal?


San Francisco’s ‘Stars’


San Francisco’s buyer’s remorse continues onto Chapman. Now, there’s a chance the 31-year-old turns things on and starts to resemble the $54 million man the Giants signed just two months ago. He’s historically prone to fits and starts. But so far, Chapman is idle. Through 38 games, the third baseman has one of his worst slash lines of his career, hitting .211/.261/.340. Of 173 qualified hitters, Chapman’s 0.0 fWAR is 144th, his .602 OPS is 149th, and his .261 OBP is 160th

He’s not hitting, walking, or showing any signs of life on the whole or lately. Over his last 10 games, he’s slashing .184/.244/.184 with a .428 OPS.

If Chapman’s situation started and ended there, some rose-colored glasses could supply some optimism. It’s early. He had an abbreviated spring training. Give him some time. Even with the 5% dip in his BB%, he isn’t a different hitter. He’s just playing like the worst version of himself. 

Nowhere is that more true when examining Chapman in the field. His six errors this season are already half his 2024 total despite playing 102 fewer games. His defensive fWAR has also nosedived, falling from 3.2 in 2023 to -1.9 in 2024. According to the metric, Chapman, a two-time Platinum Glove winner, went from the second-most valuable defensive third baseman from 2017 to 2023 to the fifth-least valuable in 2024.

That’s not all. Chapman leads all third basemen in ErrR at 2.7, is tied for the least amount of runs prevented at -3, and is tied for the second-worst OAA at -4.

So to recap, the Giants signed Chapman, a streaky hitter with one of the best gloves in the game. Yet, 40 games into the season, Chapman remains locked in a cold streak and mired in a slump that’s turned him into one of the worst defensive third basemen. But other than that, what else can go wrong?

That brings us to Snell, arguably the bell of the ball last offseason. On the one hand, it’s hard to judge Snell’s 2024. He debuted on April 8 and has only made three starts. On the other, those three starts were abject disasters.

While it’s a small sample size, Snell is 0-3, with an 11.57 ERA and 35 ERA+. The Nationals notched three runs against him in three innings, the Rays racked up seven against him in four innings, and the Diamondbacks dished out five against him in four and two-thirds innings. It’s a terrible start made worse by the strained abductor injury that’s sidelined Snell since April 19.

The only sliver of hope for Snell is he’s used to starting slow. Historically, his worst three months of the season are March-April, May, and June. His career July ERA is 2.67, August’s is 2.60, and September-October’s is 2.25. The more Snell pitches, the better he gets. Hopefully, 2024 doesn’t prove an exception to that rule.


Josh Shaw

Josh Shaw graduated from the University of New Hampshire in 2022 with a Journalism degree. He's written for The New Hampshire, Pro Sports Fanatics, and PitcherList.

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