TRYING TO FIX THEIR FLAT TIRES; PLAYERS OFF TO BAD STARTS

Anthony Rizzo

I get it. The weather in much of the country in April was more conducive to playing football than baseball. The cold, damp weather can certainly impact offense. It often doesn’t help pitchers, either.

Some players notoriously start slowly. In his major league history, Philadelphia Phillies first baseman Carlos Santana has never set the world on fire. When the weather warms, Santana warms.  The Indians Edwin Encarnacion is another slower starter. The lesson to be learned?  We have to be patient with hitters results. Hot weather in summer months could likely get some of these players out of their April doldrums.

Of course, this list doesn’t include every player experiencing an early season to forget.

But April has now turned to May, and with the flip of the calendar page, we could see better results.

Managers are waiting for these guys to turn it around.  Their families are waiting for these guys to turn it around.  Fantasy players are waiting for these guys to turn it around. Time and time alone will let us know if these guys do, indeed, turn it around.

The guys below have scuffled through April. In most cases, they went to the plate with their entire body covered. All that was exposed was their eyes.  In short, they were freezing while playing.  All except Kole Calhoun. Weather is not an excuse for his miserable start.

All statistics are as of Friday, May 4, 2018.

ANTHONY RIZZO-CHICAGO CUBS

Last March/April, Anthony Rizzo hit .260 with 6 home runs and 17 RBIs. In his seventh season at the time, he was an established power hitter who had earned impact status in his prior six years in major-league baseball. This year has been more nightmare than sweet dreams.

Rizzo has had a miserable March/April, hitting 171 with 3 runs and 11 RBIs.

Rizzo is in the prime of his career at the age of 28.  A left-handed hitter, Rizzo started his career in San Diego.  He was coming off a fantastic 26 home run Pacific Coast League season where he hit .331 and drove in 101 runs.

He hit .141 for the Padres in his 2011 rookie year.  He had 1 homer in his 153 plate appearances.  In January 2012, the Padres traded him along with pitcher Zach Cates to the Chicago Cubs for outfielder Kyung-Min Na and pitcher Andrew Cashner. Not a bad deal for the Cubs, right?

Rizzo has appeared in three All-Star games.  He has won a Silver Slugger award. He has won a Gold Glove. But in March and April this season, Rizzo scuffled.

Weather in the Midwest has been miserable. The Cubs were perplexed they were playing games they felt should have been postponed due to horribly cold weather. That weather has had an impact on the 6-foot-3 inch Rizzo, and on every other guy that had to hit at the tail end of winter.

Other Midwest players have scuffled so far this year, but Rizzo really sticks out in my mind due to how well he hit just a year ago.

KOLE CALHOUN-LOS ANGELES ANGELS

Much of the buzz surrounding Angels outfielder Kole Calhoun centers on his incredible defensive ability.  I was in attendance when the 5-foot-10 Calhoun climbed the right field wall at the “Big A” in Anaheim to catch what would have been a three-run game-changing home run.

Frankly, Calhoun has always been a respectable hitter. Last March/April Calhoun hit .255 with 2 homers and 7 RBIs. It wasn’t spectacular, but it was a credible early showing in the 2017 season. He finished the year at .244/19/71. He helped the offense.

Cold weather is not an excuse for Calhoun. He had played all but three of his games in warm weather Oakland, Texas, Houston or at home in southern California to start the season. Only a series at Kansas City can be deemed anywhere close to those being played by Midwest or eastern based clubs. There really is no obvious reason for Calhoun’s early swoon.

An 8th round pick by the Angels in 2010, the left-handed hitting Calhoun is now in his 7th major-league season. He has a career .257 batting average. He hit 26, 18 and 19 homers in the last three seasons. This year he is hitting .171 with 1 homer and only 10 RBIs.

Calhoun is in a lineup that includes Ian Kinsler, Zack Cozart, Justin Upton, Albert Pujols, Andrelton Simmons and the All-World Mike Trout. There is plenty of lineup protection for Calhoun.  So far, he, however, hasn’t been protecting those teammates.

While I love to watch Calhoun play defense, I’m skeptical about his ability to turn things around and become an impactful hitter for the rest of the season. While I don’t think the next months will be as bad as the first, I’m not sure he’ll be hitting .250 again this year. I do hope he proves me wrong.

LOGAN MORRISON-MINNESOTA TWINS

Logan Morrison lingered as a free agent this past offseason. He was a player at a position of little demand for most teams. In general, first basemen have been available in free agency in recent seasons, and their overall financial value has decreased.  But the 30-year-old Morrison found a home with the Minnesota Twins.

While Target Field isn’t the best playground for left-handed power hitters, if a guy hits the ball on the screws, it goes out.  Morrison has not done that very often this season. Last year, however, Morrison smoked a whopping 38 home runs playing for the Tampa Bay Rays. He drove in 85 runs in 601 plate appearances.

Playing mostly in frigid weather this year, the former Florida Marlins 22nd round draft pick in 2005 has really scuffled so far. Consider that last March/April Morrison powered 5 home runs and 14 RBIs.  While he hit only .244, he showed his power.

Morrison has not produced yet for his new Twins team.  He has a long way to go in the remaining five months to come close to his home run output from last year.

Morrison hits in a lineup that should offer him some good pitches to hit. He is surrounded by hitters like Brian Dozier, Miguel Sano, Joe Mauer, Eddie Rosario and Byron Buxton when he returns to health. There should be plenty of men on base for Morrison to drive in. But so far, he really hasn’t caught fire with his new team.

Even though Morrison is beginning to heat up a bit with some recent home runs, he is still off to a tough start. He is hitting only .184 with 3 home runs and 9 RBIs. He should be a core player for the Twins as the season moves along in warmer weather.

MATT CARPENTER-ST. LOUIS CARDINALS

Matt Carpenter can hit, right? I mean the Matt Carpenter who hit only .241 last year, or 30 points lower than the year before isn’t at the end of his career, is he?  Can a 32 year-old player with Carpenter’s history be finished?  His new season struggles make the question relevant.

So far in 2018, Matt Carpenter is hitting .167 with 3 homers and 11 RBIs. And that is far from pretty.

A good athlete, the left-handed hitting Carpenter is 6-3, 205 pounds. He gets the luxury of hitting against mostly right-handed pitchers, a true luxury for those hitting from the right side.

Carpenter was a 13th round draft pick of the Cardinals in 2009 out of Texas Christian University.  He made it to the Cardinals in 2011 at the age of 25. Interestingly, Carpenter hit .272, 272 and .271 in 2014, 2015, and 2015.  His consistency and power were very evident in those three very good years.

Then, last year the roof seemed to cave in on Carpenter. His power and RBIs remained consistent with the year before, but the batting average and contact rates declined.

How long the Cardinals choose to wait for Carpenter is a good and valid question.

I’m not certain he can make it all the way back to his .270 years. Perhaps the team will be satisfied if Carpenter finishes at .250 with at least 15 home runs. But if that happens, it’ll be a serious decline over two years.

RYAN ZIMMERMAN-WASHINGTON NATIONALS

Few bad starts this year may be as troubling as that of Ryan Zimmerman. Why? Because Zimmerman showed signs of good health that resulted in improvement at the plate last season.  He hit .303 with 36 homers and 108 RBIs in a year after he turned in a .218/15/46 performance.

Now, we have a new season. Great things were expected of Zimmerman. Last year was to be just the beginning of a huge transition to becoming a consistent power hitter and impact player.

So far, nothing could be further than that projection.  Zimmerman is at .190 with 5 home runs and 15 RBIs. It is the lack of clutch hitting and the poor batting average that has become most troubling. Especially since teammates Anthony Rendon, Daniel Murphy, Adam Eaton and Brian Goodwin are out with injuries. He was expected to pick up some of the lost offense.

Now 33, Zimmerman has had an inconsistent few years, going from up to down and then up and down again in his career for the Nationals. A 1st round pick in 2005, Zimmerman was picked 4th overall by the Nationals.  Only Justin Upton (Diamondbacks) Alex Gordon (Royals) and Jeff Clement (Mariners) were drafted ahead of Zimmerman.  It wasn’t a great draft year, but Ryan Braun, Troy Tulowitzki, Andrew McCutchen, and Jacoby Ellsbury were picked behind him.

Zimmerman has had serious health issues that have cost him playing time. For example, he played in only 61 games in 2014 and in 95 games the following year. In 2015 his participation increased to 115 before he played in 144 games last year.

Father Time is moving right along and Zimmerman may find himself in the clutches of poor results based upon a slower bat and overall diminished skills.

LUIS CASTILLO-CINCINNATI REDS

I have never been very bullish on Luis Castillo. I had concerns that he couldn’t repeat his delivery, didn’t get enough movement on his pitches and would scuffle in hitter-friendly Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati.  So far, his season looks pretty bleak.

Castillo has been viewed by many as an excellent young pitcher with big-time upside. He is in his second full season with the parent Reds after having been signed out of the Dominican Republic.  He made his debut in June 2017.

Now 25, the 6-2, 190 pound Castillo finished last season with a 3-7 record and a 3.12 ERA. He had a superb 1.07 WHIP. Castillo struck out an average of 9.9 hitters per nine innings while walking 3.2 per nine.

Castillo has a big arm. He can throw his four-seam fastball at 97 miles per hour.  He also throws a sinking two-seamer at the same speed. Castillo uses a changeup and a slider to complete his repertoire. Overall, he basically relies on his sinker and changeup.

Pitching in Cincinnati doesn’t help any of their rotation starters, but they really have to have a healthy, confident and competent Castillo to lead their mediocre pitching staff.  Right now, however, Castillo is having his problems throwing strikes and keeping runners off the bases.

Castillo currently has a record of 1-4 with a 7.01 ERA and a WHIP of 1.67. While I’m pretty certain he won’t end with those type of statistics, I’m not certain there is much good in store for him as the season progresses.

CHRIS ARCHER-TAMPA BAY RAYS

Clearly, Chris Archer is not a name one would expect to see on a list of struggling early season pitchers. Isn’t Archer the guy every team would love to trade for?  Maybe not so fast.

Maybe not quite yet. Maybe not this year.

Archer was a 5th round pick of the Cleveland Indians in June 2006.  He was drafted out of high school in North Carolina.

Surprisingly, the Indians didn’t spend much time trying to develop Archer. They sent him to the Chicago Cubs in 2008 for Mark DeRosa.  But the Cubs moved him to Tampa Bay in a huge deal in 2011.

Archer has appeared in two All-Star Games. He has pitched in the postseason.  He has been viewed as a quality starting pitcher with upside remaining.

So far this season Archer is having his problems.  He has started seven games as of this writing. With a 2-2 record, Archer has a very high 6.05 ERA. He ended last year with a 4.07 ERA, that is not great, but certainly not as bad as his start to this year.  His WHIP is 1.52 which is among the league’s worst for the number of starts. In his 38.2 innings pitched, he has yielded 47 walks.  Couple that with almost two strikeouts less per game this year than last and it explains some of his problems.

The Rays pitching staff is a problem for the team. Archer is the guy that has to show the way.

MARCUS STROMAN-TORONTO BLUE JAYS

So what’s wrong with Marcus Stroman? I don’t see the crispness on his breaking balls. I don’t see the ground balls that used to be his trademark. He’s scuffling to make his pitches. His last start was clearly his best.  He threw 7 solid innings against the Twins at Minnesota and yielded only 6 hits and 2 earned runs.  But as of March 4 he lowered his ERA to 7.52 and his WHIP came down to 1.64. Those are not the statistics of a pitcher that is counted upon by the Blue Jays to give keep them in games and give them the victories they need.

The Blue Jays selected Stroman in the 1st round of the 2012 First-Year Player Draft out of Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.  Now 27, he is in the prime of his career.

Stroman has always been with the Blue Jays. He is in his fifth season. He has a 37-29 record.  His ERA over his career is a very sharp 3.83 with a WHIP of 1.27. That’s why his season so far is such a surprise. Marcus Stroman has always been talked about as a very promising pitcher that could give his team a chance to win every time he took the ball.  So far, not so good.

At 5-8, 180 pounds, Stroman defies the prototypical frame of today’s pitcher. He has a strong, quick arm. That’s what counts. When he’s healthy and in rhythm, Marcus Stroman can help lead the Blue Jays to a good place. But only time will tell if that happens.

Can Stroman turn this around? Based upon his last outing I would guess he can. However, everything has to be just right for him to win and win big. He isn’t overpowering. He has really good stuff, but if ever there was a pitcher who needed to repeat a good delivery, it’s Stroman.

Stroman enters the end of the first week of May with a record of 0-4 and a 7.52 ERA. His WHIP is at 1.63. But better outings are probably in his future.

DRIBBLERS

The lack of starting pitching depth is beginning to show up on many major league clubs. The Arizona Diamondbacks have lost Taijuan Walker and Robbie Ray to serious injuries. Both will miss considerable time, Walker the entire season after having Tommy John surgery. Ray has an oblique injury, a serious issue for a pitcher. It could be weeks until he pitches again.  The Diamondbacks traded lefty Anthony Banda at the beginning of the season. He was probably their best starting pitching prospect. Now they have Matt Koch and Chris Medlen taking the Walker and Ray starts. Believe me, that is a huge drop-off. What was a promising season may go up in flames unless the Diamondbacks shore up their starting pitching via trade.

The Mets Matt Harvey’s decline is a sad, sad story. He had faced shoulder and arm surgeries and was never the same. He has some personal issues as well. When asked to go the minor leagues to work out his pitching issues, Harvey declined. The result? The Mets designated him for assignment.

The Cleveland Indians faced quite a dilemma with both their utility infielders out of options. Giovanny Urshela and Erik Gonzalez were in a battle for that utility role.  Urshela was injured and went for a rehab assignment while Gonzalez remained on the 25-man roster and played very well for the parent Indians. Gonzalez won the job. Urshela was designated for assignment.

Jose Bautista is back in major-league baseball playing third base for the Atlanta Braves. The Braves? Third base? I don’t know how long that marriage will last.

We are in May and Clayton Kershaw has won 1 game. And he’s lost 4. Is the world alright?

I got to see the swing of Shohei Ohtani. He’s an amazing athlete. Look for him to put up huge numbers as a hitter/pitcher or pitcher/hitter.  He’s that good. But he has to stay healthy. I clocked him at 4.1 seconds going home to first while I was in Anaheim. That’s plenty fast since the major-league average is 4.5 seconds. I saw Ichiro do it in 3.5 seconds. No, that’s not a typo.

Gerrit Cole is showing us how good he can be. He was wasting away in Pittsburgh. In Houston, he isn’t facing the opposition’s top pitcher every week.  He has great control, a wide repertoire and a bit of a mean streak. I love watching him dissect hitters. Because of Cole and a full year of Justin Verlander, I think this edition of the Astors is even better than the World Championship club.

Follow me on Twitter @BerniePleskoff and feel free to interact with me there.

About The Author

Bernie Pleskoff is a former professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. Bernie's work has been featured on MLB Pipeline, MLB.com and FanRag Sports, among others. You can follow Bernie Pleskoff on Twitter @BerniePleskoff