There are four star players who have looked totally baffled at the plate so far this season. Aside from poor Khris Davis -- who is 0 for 15 -- these are the next four if you sorted for the worst batting average in baseball. You might recognize the names.
OK, so let's get the caveat out of the way immediately. Most teams have played in the range of five games and that's a ridiculously small sample in baseball. Fluky stuff can and does happen. Making a sweeping judgement on a player in five games is incredibly ignorant to how the game works.
See, I said all that stuff. I know it.
We also know the 2020 season is going to look different than any season we've ever seen and small sample flukes could carry the day eventually. The first round of the playoffs is going to pit an eight seed that probably sits below .500 against a one seed in a three-game series. Anything can happen, you see?
Also, five games is the rough equivalent to 14 in a 162-game season. Still small? Absolutely. Wouldn't we be worried if a superstar looked totally lost at the plate for 14 games, though? I think we'd call it a slow start and believe he would come around, but we're still allowed to talk about it. So let's talk.
The 2018 MVP who finished second in voting last year despite missing the last few weeks with a broken kneecap is now 1 for 22 with nine strikeouts on the season.
The eye test might even look worse than the actual numbers. He's not really hitting anything hard, aside from the one home run he destroyed.
Just last night, watch Derek Holland completely miss his spot and serve a 92 mile-per-hour fastball middle-middle to Yelich and still induce a double play from the former MVP.
His pitch recognition seems off. In the last two years, he's been able to stay on breaking balls. Even with lefties, he has stayed on them and driven them the other way, often for home runs.
This year, Holland made him look foolish on this:
The data doesn't look any better. Per Baseball Savant, Yelich is sitting at the 35th percentile for exit velocity and 33rd for hard hit percentage.
Astros leadoff man Springer is 1 for 20 with five strikeouts. Like Yelich, his "one" was also a homer. Also like Yelich, he's not exactly tearing the cover off the ball, sitting at the 35th percentile in exit velocity. The hard hit percentage is at the 55th percentile, though, and he has had a little bad fortune in hitting hard balls right at defenders. Like this one:
Then again, we're popping out on middle-middle hangers?
Overall, though, Springer hasn't looked as bad as Yelich, even if the numbers look the same.
If there's a name people might think doesn't belong here, it's Suarez. That's only because he's underrated and playing on a team that hasn't been to the playoffs in a bit. He hit 49 home runs last season. He's a legitimate star. He also started this season 0 for 16 before finally placing this double in just the right spot.
Not exactly a "oh, he's fixed now!" moment, huh?
Somewhat similar to the two above, it's pretty simple. He's just not hitting the ball hard like he has in the past. Nothing in his profile suggests drastic changes in approach, but the most worrisome thing is that Baseball Savant records "barrels" (which I'm sure we can all figure out what that means and why it's important) and of the 12 balls Suarez has put in play, he has barreled up the ball zero times. That has to be the main culprit, I think we could all agree.
Why hasn't he squared one up yet? It's a question no one really knows the answer to, though the likely answer is simply something like "he just hasn't yet, but he will soon enough."
Per the eye test, Bryant has looked just as bad as Yelich to me. When he swings, that is. He's worked some good plate appearances and seen a ton of pitches, but he can't square anything up. He also has zero barrels and is 1 for 17 with eight strikeouts. He's swinging through far too many hittable pitches. His whiff percentage is up to 43.5 percent from 28.4 last season.
His one hit, similar to Suarez, wasn't exactly a hot shot.
As noted, he's missing pitches he should be crushing. Like this:
The Cubs gave him a day off Tuesday and said he's dealing with a minor elbow issue. Perhaps that's to blame. Perhaps he also just needs to hit better.
Regardless, he's among this dubious foursome of stars that has been awful to start the sprint that is the 2020 season.
For each of these four, they probably just need a big game to get back on track and clear their heads. Take Bryant's teammate Javier Baez. Through two strikeouts in two at-bats on Tuesday, he was hitting .157/.238/.211. A double and two home runs later, he's now sitting .273/.333/.636 with a 171 OPS+. In dealing with these small samples, that's all it's gonna take.
Hell, by the time you read this they might have already broken out of it. The only thing that would be surprising is if these four continue to stink up the joint.