Offense is at a seemingly unparalleled level in baseball this season: balls are jumping off of bats, folks are debating the juiced-ness of balls, swing paths have been all the rage, and pitchers have resorted to crashing motorbikes to avoid the mound. There are 53 (!) players with 7 or more home runs at the roughly 1/5 mark of the season, despite a few sluggish sluggers dragging everyone else down (Mark Trumbo, Brian Dozier, Jose Bautista, and Edwin Encarnacion to name a few). So, naturally, we’re here today to examine those hitters who missed the bus to wRC+ town and have instead flailed away to no avail. Abandon hope, all ye who enter.
|5||Devon Travis||Blue Jays||28||108||1||11||4||2||5.6||20.4||.088||.190||.157||.204||.245||.200||18||-0.4||-0.7|
- Dansby Swanson paces the undesirables with a .231 OBP, only .89 lower than the current MLB average of .320.
- There are currently 25 players who have as many or more home runs than this group combined.
- The group runs a combined .155/.216/.247 line, or put another way, roughly what one would expect out of Mike Trout if he became a full time left-handed hitter.
- The 26.6 K% and 6.6 BB% might be respectable, were the group not worth -2.5 WAR in a combined 152 games.
Espinosa has always been an enigma. Two 3+ WAR seasons early in his career set the bar that he has yet to reach again, and this year is the most confounding of all. He’s never been considered as necessarily a dangerous bat, but he has generally been able to post league-average offense with a little pop. This season, nothing is doing at all. Like the remainder of guys on this list, his BABIP is ludicrously low, well below his career .288 average. However, a possible explanation of his lower BABIP is an increase in the number of fly balls he’s hitting. Espinosa has seemingly jumped on the fly-ball bandwagon, with a FB% of 46%, well above his career average of 38.4%. That, juxtaposed with his underwhelming average exit velocity of 85.86 mph (league average this year is 87.76 mph) isn’t enough to give him a significant power spike.
Swanson arrived to the big show last year and performed well, getting on base at a .361 clip and being worth 0.8 WAR in essentially a quarter of a season. Expectations were fairly conservative, with ZiPS and Steamer projecting him for 2.4 and 1.7 wins, respectively. That Swanson, however, has not arrived this year. It would be unfair to not mention the .195 BABIP he is running, but there is still cause for concern among Braves fans who were hoping for a franchise cornerstone. Swanson has stopped hitting the ball as hard as he did in 2016, with his hard-hit percentage dropping from 34.7% to 26.6%, and he too is hitting more fly balls than last year. His line-drive rate is down 5% from last season, and his overall contact profile is much more meh than projections expected. On an optimistic note, Swanson is walking in 9.1% of his plate appearances, salvaging his performance to an extent and reflecting a good control of the strike zone.
Escobar does not hit the ball hard. His average exit velocity sits at a paltry 83.44 mph, but given his glove-first profile, that has generally been acceptable to keep him on the field. But Escobar spits in the face of consistency, and he has has, intentionally or not, made a tragic mistake with regards to his ball-in-play profile this year: he has attempted to join the fly-ball revolution. Until this season, 30.2% of his balls in play have been fly balls, with his highest being 34.2% in 2010. But not this new Alcides, no sir. Say hello to the Alcides Escobar who hits 41.8% fly balls, the man whose most comparable ball-in-play profiles this season have been Anthony Rizzo and Nomar Mazara. Not to mention, he’s hitting more balls than ever to center field, and there is perhaps some doubt that Escobar has anything but warning-track power to center field. Needless to say, it isn’t particularly working in Escobar’s favor.
The Grandyman can’t. In this context, ‘can’t’ refers to hit the ball out of the park. Or out of the infield. Or anywhere hard. He’s been a mess. His career hard-hit percentage of 33.3% has dropped to 29.4% this year, and he has also, regretfully, been drawn to the dark side of the fly ball. A former career 44.1% fly-ball hitter, Mr. Granderson now hits 57.1% of his balls in the air, where no amount of slow-motion camerawork can push them over the fence. A staggering 16.7% of his balls in play have been infield flies. There’s not a lot to love about how Granderson is hitting the ball right now, and it unfortunately looks like Father Time is winning another battle.
I like Devon Travis. It may be because he’s a fellow short guy, or it could be because he’s just a fun player to watch. Well, he was a fun player to watch. This year most Blue Jays fans have probably looked away when he steps to the plate. In 2015, his first taste of the bigs, he looked like a potential star, running a 135 wRC+ to 2.3 wins in only 62 games. 2016 was a bit of a reality check for him, but he still managed to rack up 2.5 wins in 101 games. 2017 is going…differently. Travis, of all the players listed here, appears to be hurt by his low BABIP the most, given that his career BABIP entering the year was .354, which has effectively been cut in half this season. In 28 games he has managed to be worth -0.7 wins, with little to no value having been produced at all. His contact profile and batted-ball results are comparable to his career averages, and he hits the ball just as hard as your average major-leaguer, with an average exit velocity of 87.36. Add to that an 8.6% increase in line drives this season, and Travis should, of all the worst hitters, be fine.
There you have it. These guys have all, at one point or another, been excellent major leaguers, but this year have been the absolute worst hitters of all qualified batters. Baseball is a fickle sport, and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if these guys go on to make everything I’ve said seem dumb in retrospect and finish their seasons strong. But for at least a little while, we can horrify ourselves with some scary numbers and dread the thought that our favorite team has an irredeemable scrub on the roster.