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Star Hitters Are Struggling, But Should You Be Worried?

Image: Twitter

In a shortened season, there is an increased urgency for teams to maximize every single game. That means an early season slump, especially for a star player, can’t easily go unnoticed. Though small sample size caveats always apply in cases like these, many teams have already played 10% of their season.

Some of the biggest stars in the game have been a massive disappointment so far, and while some of their teams still have been able to win games, others are desperately in need of a quick recovery from their stars. Names like Christian Yelich, Ronald Acuña Jr, and Cody Bellinger are all among the worst hitters thus far in 2020, while the current OPS+ leaders include the likes of JaCoby Jones and Kyle Lewis.

Player

OPS+

Christian Yelich

-39

Kris Bryant

-12

George Springer

11

Eugenio Suárez

30

Shohei Ohtani

42

Ronald Acuña Jr.

45

Cody Bellinger

48

Mookie Betts

49

Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

55

Alex Bregman and Jose Altuve

89

What does it mean that all of these stars are struggling? The short answer is that it’s incredibly difficult to know with this small of a sample size. However, there is one explanation that seems fairly likely. Hitters generally require a longer time to ramp up than their pitcher counterparts do, in part because it’s easier for pitchers to work on their pitches in a bullpen session, while there’s no real replacement for facing live pitching as a hitter. This can be seen league-wide, as the league average OPS so far in 2020 is just .706, compared to .758 in 2019 and .728 in 2018.

It’s even easier to see this looking at the league batting average, as the league is collectively batting just .229 compared to .252 and .248 in each of the past two years. Somewhat notably though, the league batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is .275 so far in 2020, after hovering between .295 and .300 in every year since at least 2010, so we can expect some positive regression with a larger sample size. Strikeout rate has also continued to rise league-wide, to 24.0% in 2020.

So should you be concerned about the struggling stars yet? The short answer is no. Though teams are going to be more significantly impacted by a slump than they would in a normal season, it’s still too early to accurately judge a player’s performance. A single good game can significantly impact a player’s numbers this early in a season. Mike Trout, for example, raised his OPS from .673 to .816 by going 3 for 5 with a double yesterday. Nick Castellanos raised his OPS from .769 to 1.040 on Tuesday, going 2 for 4 with a home run and a double.

It’s wise to not overreact to early struggles for star players, as it’s likely that most will still turn it around. The 60 game season just makes it more critical that they turn it around quickly before it’s too late to salvage their season.

Kyle Berger

Reds contributor for Max’s Sporting Studio. Follow on Twitter @KB_48