MLB Handicapping: Players off to Slow Starts
by Trevor Whenham - 5/31/2012
The biggest story in this young baseball season has been the slow starts of several high-profile players. Here’s a look at four of the biggest names with the biggest early-season struggles. Can they turn things around, or are they destined to struggle all year? More importantly, what does that mean for bettors?
Albert Pujols, Los Angeles Angels
The move by Pujols to the American League this offseason was the biggest story of the winter in the sport by a wide margin. It was even a bigger story when it seemed like he had forgotten how to hit as he moved. It took him an eternity to hit his first home run, and by May 15 he was hitting just .212 with one homer and 14 RBI. For the best pure hitter I have ever seen that was obviously concerning.
The common explanation has been that he had to get comfortable with his new surroundings — his teammates, the new league, and the huge demands of his new contract. I don’t really buy that, though. He has been the ultimate pro since joining the league, and he has done very well while playing under the microscope for years. There would be new factors in play here, but not enough to turn him from a mega-star into a Little Leaguer.
We were given a small insight into the problems when, on May 15, the Angels fired hitting coach Mickey Hatcher. There were some big concerns with his relationship with Pujols, and that alone was reason to make the change. Since then Pujols has been much better. He’s still not back to where he needs to be, but his average is up 60 points, he’s swinging with far more authority, and he’s well on the way to recovery.
It’s hard to tell yet whether he can really get things back to a normal level this year, but it’s now not nearly as much of a possibility that the Angels will live to regret their massive deal.
Mark Teixera, New York Yankees
The Yankees first baseman got off to a very slow start, and there was panic amongst some bettors and fantasy baseball players. For the month of April his OPS was a pathetic .685.
There is really no need to panic here, though.
Teixera is consistently so lousy early in the season that the team might be better off giving him the month of April off and only making him play once the weather heats up. The last week really shows that whatever wasn’t working early on is working now. Over that stretch he has hit .500, has a gaudy 1.789 OPS, and has four home runs and 10 RBI.
He’s back, and it’s as if he had never left. I would happily bet that the same story will arise next year after his lethargic April.
Jose Bautista, Toronto Blue Jays
Bautista, the reigning American League king of home runs, is hitting only .223 — and that’s an improvement over where he has been before. In April he was hitting just .181, with a .633 OPS. He had three home runs and just 10 RBI in that time.
May has been much better for him, though — a .262 batting average, a .899 OPS, and nine home runs. That .262 is actually better than his career average and better than the .260 he posted in 2010 when he had 54 home runs.
Critics will point to the fact that Bautista didn’t close very well in the second half of last year. Combined with the slow start this year you could argue that his unlikely rise to prominence as a power hitter could be seeing an equally-rapid decline.
He’s still not striking out much, though, so there is hope that he can get things back on track. The good news for the Jays is that his presence in the lineup has really freed things up for Edwin Encarnacion, and he has responded to the opportunity with 17 home runs already.
Roy Halladay, Philadelphia Phillies
The news regarding Halladay isn’t good right now. He is on the DL with shoulder issues and is expected to miss six to eight weeks. Even before the injury issues, though, something clearly wasn’t right. The problems weren’t obvious, but he was just 4-5, hadn’t had a complete game, and his 3.98 ERA would be fine for many pitchers, but is ridiculously inflated for him.
The interesting story here is how bettors should deal with him when he gets back. He has been the best pitcher in baseball for years, and he has been bet accordingly. He has burnt piles of bettor’s money this year as a result.
Do you believe that his shoulder was the lingering issue, and that he’ll be fine once that gets resolved? Or do you think that the fact he is 35 could be catching up to him? A lot of very good pitchers have lost their edge before that point, and some haven’t endured the workload that Halladay has over the last decade.
I tend to be optimistic, but I could be blinded by the incredible level of performance we have seen from him for so long.
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