We’ve officially hit September in the 2020 MLB season, meaning the final stretch is upon us. Despite the fact that teams have yet to play 40 games, there is less than a month remaining in the regular season. For fantasy teams, the time remaining is even less, with fantasy playoffs set to begin in just a week and a half. This means that it is essential to play your best players, and not the players who were supposed to be the best when you drafted your team. With such a bizarre timeline this year, more players than usual have struggled out of the gates, and they unfortunately do not have the luxury of a six month marathon to figure things out.
This brings us to another weekly edition of Patience or Panic, where we take a look at three under-performing players to see if they are likely to turn things around before it’s too late. In this case, we have three guys who likely were all drafted in the first two or three rounds of fantasy drafts, but have been massive disappointments to say the least. With under a month remaining, let’s see if any of them look poised to finish the year on a high note.
.200 AVG, 17 R, 5 HR, 15 RBI, 1 SB
After clubbing 29 homers with 11 steals and a .281 average a season ago, Javier Báez has had an incredibly underwhelming 2020 season thus far. A two-homer game on August 24th created some hope that the shortstop would turn things around in a hurry, but he has since followed that up with a 3-for-25 slump that has brought his season batting average down to the Mendoza line. On top of that, outside of the two-bomb game, Báez hasn’t homered since August 1st.
A lot of his struggles seem to be a result of his sudden inability to hit breaking balls, as he is batting a miserable .102 against the pitch this year with a .265 slugging percentage after putting up a strong .294 average with a .550 slugging percentage in 2019. His sudden problems with breaking balls have also led him to a 35.1% strikeout rate. While Báez has never been averse to strikeouts, this is still his first season with a K% above 30% since his first career stint in the big leagues in 2014.
Things haven’t been all bad for Báez however, as his average exit velocity remains a strong 90.9 mph, good enough for the 87th percentile in the league. In fact, this exit velocity is a tad higher than in 2018, when he finished as the NL MVP runner-up. Additionally, the 27-year-old has logged a 10.1% barrel rate to go with a 39.2% hard-hit rate. With a .270 BABIP this year after consistently posting a BABIP between .336 and .347 in each of the past four seasons, it is also possible that Báez has faced some misfortune when he connects. Still batting third in a potent Cubs offense, it’s seemingly only a matter of time before some of these hard-hit balls start to do some damage once again.
.208 AVG, 14 R, 3 HR, 15 RBI, 0 SB
After batting over .300 in each of the past four seasons while hitting 124 homers in the last three years, a .208 average with just three long balls is not what anyone expected from one of baseball’s most consistent hitters. A big part of why the Red Sox are tied for the worst record in the American League, Martinez has compiled just two hits across his last six games (22 at bats) with just one run and one RBI. After tearing the cover off the ball for five straight seasons with a hard-hit rate of 47.2% or better, Martinez has declined to a pedestrian 37.1% hard-hit rate. His average exit velocity is down to a career-low 88.9 mph, while his still solid 10.1% barrel rate is down 34% from his career norm.
Martinez has been getting under the ball much more than usual, in large part due to an inflated 15.2 degree launch angle, resulting in a 42.7% fly ball rate on balls that are no longer being hit hard enough to leave the park. His timing at the plate hasn’t been up to par either this year, struggling to catch up to fastballs while looking a bit off-balanced on offspeed pitches. Now recovering from a minor wrist ailment as well, this will only further hinder his ability to get around on these pitches. With the Red Sox also completely out of the playoff picture, Martinez may take some more time to rest and recover than if Boston was currently fighting for a spot in the postseason. With such little time remaining in the year, it looks like Martinez might not bounce back until 2021.
.208 AVG, 16 R, 6 HR, 19 RBI, 0 SB
Coming off an incredible 53 home run rookie season, a slight dip in production for Pete Alonso was almost to be expected in 2020. However, a batting average in danger of falling below the Mendoza line and a sub-30 homer full year pace is much more than a slight dip in production. The Polar Bear has just three hits in the Mets’ last ten games, while only hitting one homer in the last two weeks.
Alonso’s launch angle has dropped considerably since last season, going from 14.8 degrees to 10.3 degrees. As a result, his ground ball rate has increased to 46.3%, higher than any other season of Alonso’s career in either the majors or minor leagues. His average exit velocity has also dipped to an unimpressive 88.3 mph, while his 37.8% hard-hit rate is a ways off the 42.7% mark he posted in his terrific 2019.
Opposing teams have taken a new approach to facing Alonso this season, showing him fastballs for 62.9% of pitches he sees. This is an increase from the 57.5% of pitches he saw for fastballs his rookie year. Teams have also elected to use a shift much more frequently this season when dealing with Alonso. After doing this only 16% of the time a season ago, teams have shifted on the 25-year-old 40.3% of the time this year, a whopping two and a half times more often.
Despite being dropped to 6th in the lineup more often than not these days, Alonso still has shown confidence in himself, saying that “I feel like I have taken some real good swings continuously. I just feel like I have been unlucky.” However, the numbers seem to suggest otherwise, as they remind me more of 2017 Chris Carter than anything else. I’m sure he’ll connect for a few more homers here and there, but the lack of overall production doesn’t seem too likely to change over the next few weeks.
Graphic by Michael Packard (@designsbypack on Twitter & IG)