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5 Biggest MLB Early-Season Disappointments

MLB Early-Season Setbacks - Carl Edwards Jr, Chicago Cubs

Pre-season predictions seem so easy, don’t they?

It doesn’t usually take long for some predictions or expectations to go sideways as every single year teams and players surprise us with either better-than-expected play or much worse than expected play.

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For this piece, I am going to focus on the latter and identify five teams, players or aspects of the game that have disappointed the most in the season’s early going.

Cubs Pitching

If I told you the Cubs would own a .839 team OPS and .362 wOBA through the first 11 games of the season, odds are they should be at or near the top of the NL Central, right?

Well, not so fast.

The Cubs are just 3-8 through the first 11 games as their pitching staff has been absolutely abysmal in the early going. Just how bad have they been? Well, you tell me.

Cubs Early Season Pitching Numbers
Stat Number League Rank
Starter’s ERA 6.52 28th
Bullpen ERA 6.34 25th
BB/9 5.65 30th
HR/9 2.14 29th
Saves 0 T-30th

I mean, this is a group that contains Cole Hamels, Jon Lester (now injured), Kyle Hendricks, Yu Darvish and Jose Quintana, some of the best pitchers in baseball at one time or another.

Let’s have a look at the rotation piece by piece to perhaps see who the problem might be.

Player ERA FIP BB/9 HR/9
Jon Lester 2.57 5.18 3.86 1.93
Cole Hamels 5.73 4.65 2.45 1.64
Kyle Hendricks 6.48 7.30 4.32 3.24
Yu Darvish 7.50 7.69 8.25 2.25
Jose Quintana 10.29 8.10 7.71 3.86

*Numbers are as starters

Man, there are some ghastly walk numbers as well as home run numbers in that table. After missing most of last season, Darvish has been scary-bad this year across three starts while the remainder of the rotation hasn’t been much better. Even Lester is lucky to have a nice ERA figure as evidenced by his FIP of 5.18.

The good news is it’s early, but the bad news is each and every rotation member has been very, very bad. This isn’t a one or two pitcher problem. The problem is staff-wide.

Looking for a bright spot? Jose Quintana has pitched four scoreless innings of relief.

Back to the bad news. The rest of the bullpen has been a disaster. Carl Edwards Jr. showed some serious walk issues in the season’s second half last year, and all he’s done so far this year is walk five hitters in 1.2 innings of work.

Steve Cishek and his 7.36 ERA has walked four in 3.2 frames.

There aren’t many worse combinations for a pitching staff than a walk issue combined with home run issues. That’s how you manage to give up plenty of runs, which is what they have done to squander a hot start on offense.

Should be interesting to see when the panic button is pressed, if it hasn’t been already.

Chris Sale / Red Sox Rotation

Coming off a World Series championship as baseball’s best team wire-to-wire in 2018, the Sox were pegged to compete for another AL East title and World Series this time around.

While that may still hold true, Chris Sale and the Red Sox rotation could not be off to a worse start. He and his rotation mates have actually been the worst group in baseball.

Red Sox Rotation By the Numbers
Stat Number League Rank
ERA 8.78 30th
FIP 6.95 30th
BB/9 4.39 27th
HR/9 2.70 30th

Let’s do the same thing with the Red Sox rotation as we did with the Cubs rotation to show just how bad some of these guys have been.

Player ERA FIP BB/9 HR/9
Chris Sale 9.00 7.26 2.77 2.77
David Price 6.00 4.94 2.25 2.25
Rick Porcello 13.50 9.10 8.59 3.68
Eduardo Rodriguez 12.38 6.85 6.75 2.25
Nathan Eovaldi 8.10 9.20 5.40 3.60

Again, it’s not like these guys have been bitten by bad luck. They’ve just been bad.

Sale’s struggles are the most obvious for a couple of reasons. One, he is the clear-cut ace of this staff and a perennial Cy Young candidate. Second, Sale just signed a five-year, $145M extension just days before Opening Day. If this is anything other than a rough few starts, that extension becomes extremely worrisome for a team that was cost-conscious this summer.

While the excuses should be limited for the Cubs’ rotation struggles, at least some of those arms are aging veterans. The Red Sox should be sporting at least four members of their rotation that are at or very close to their prime in Sale, Porcello, Rodriguez and Eovaldi. Price can be excused as being a year or two past his prime.

The early-season result hasn’t been pretty and it’s a 3-8 record for Boston as well. Meanwhile, the Tampa Bay Rays own baseball’s best pitching staff and are out to a 10-3 start on the season and already own a 6.5-game lead over the rival Red Sox.

Yep, it’s early. However, how long can we say that, especially when the Red Sox starters continue to get rocked night after night?

It’s been a scary start to the season for the defending champs, and luckily they are playing with house money to this point, although the Red Sox faithful won’t allow that for much longer.

Colorado Rockies

Rather than dissecting a certain area of disappointment on this ball club, we just need to say that the Rockies have been all-round bad to kick off the season.

Colorado hasn’t been able to hit or pitch in the early going and their 3-9 record is evidence of just that.

Both aspects make you ponder. A team that sports a trio such as Charlie Blackmon, Nolan Arenado and Trevor Story should certainly be able to hit. A team with a trio of Kyle Freeland, German Marquez and Jon Gray should be able to pitch. In his defense, Marquez hasn’t been too bad, but the remainder of the rotation has largely struggled.

What’s more is that the Rockies are a cool 0-5 at home this season. Coors Field isn’t yet yielding the long ball like it will once the weather improves, however both teams are still playing on the same field and the Rockies have been outplayed at home.

Fresh off an eight-year, $260 extension, Arenado is slugging just .362 in the early going and is without a home run in 51 plate appearances. He should be just fine, but the supporting cast is questionable outside of Blackmon and Story. David Dahl was primed for everyday playing time and a big season before hitting the IL early.

The starting rotation has been bitten by the home run bug as their 1.53 HR/9 mark ranks 21st, but they aren’t helping themselves with a 3.76 BB/9 clip either, good for 22nd.

The offense will rebound. They aren’t going to sport a .272 wOBA alongside the Tigers and Blue Jays for much longer. They’re too proven and too talented to do so.

That said, things need to turn around soon. The term “it’s early” is thrown around far too much as the Rockies already find themselves 4.5 games back of the Dodgers just 12 games in.

They have time, but they’re not going to want to fall much further back before turning things around.

Chris Davis

Sure, we knew Davis’ best offensive days are likely behind him after posting one of the worst seasons a hitter has had in baseball history last season.

Davis produced a cringe-worthy .168/.243/.296 slash line in 2018 and that production resulted in a -3.1 WAR given his weak glove and zero baserunning contributions.

But hey, he hit 16 homers and suffered from a .237 BABIP, well under his career mark of .303.

Okay, enough with the positivity.

Davis is hitless in 33 plate appearances this season and has struck out in 45.5% of his at-bats on the season. Dating back to last season, Davis is now hitless in his last 50 at-bats and 61 plate appearances. Yep, 0 for 50. That is easily the longest hitless stretch in MLB history. And it’s a long history.

Honestly, the ball must look like a marble to this guy right now. He is no doubt thinking himself out of at-bats and he is being severely humbled by a game that can easily humble even the best players in the world.

But man, what a fall from grace.

There were always holes in his swing with a career 32.6% strikeout rate, but when you hit 40+ homers annually, people tend to forgive the empty at-bats. When you don’t get a hit at all, a 45.5% strikeout clip is a little tougher to swallow.

No matter how disappointing he was last season, the fact he has yet to get a hit across 33 trips to the plate this season is no doubt even more disappointing.

I’m pulling for him, however. That doesn’t look like much fun.

Contenders’ Bullpens

So, who do we think will contend this season.

I would list the Red Sox, Yankees, Rays, Indians, Twins, Astros, A’s, Mariners, Braves, Phillies, Mets, Nationals, Brewers, Cubs, Cardinals, Dodgers and Rockies as the teams that are most likely to win the World Series.

That’s 17 teams. Of those 17 teams, eight have a bullpen ERA in the bottom half of the league and only two are in the top five.

Let’s check out some of the worst bullpens among these contenders so far this season.

  • Nationals (30th) – 7.79 ERA
  • Mets (26th) – 6.51 ERA
  • Cubs (25th) – 6.34 ERA
  • Braves (22nd) – 5.54 ERA
  • Phillies (21st) – 5.36 ERA
  • Brewers (20th) – 5.17 ERA
  • Dodgers (19th) – 5.09 ERA
  • Twins (18th) – 4.78 ERA

Numbers this extreme will even out as the season moves along. For instance, the worst bullpen ERA in baseball last season was the Marlins at 5.34 while only them and the Royals (5.04) posted bullpen ERA north of 5.00.

Still, while a 30-year-old future Hall of Fame closer sits at home without a contract, eight teams with World Series aspirations are watching their bullpens crater early in the season. Sure, the keyword there is early, but can how can none of these teams seriously use Craig Kimbrel?

The Cubs don’t exactly have a sure-fire closer, nor do the Phillies, Brewers, Twins or even the Nationals despite Sean Doolittle sporting notable closing experience. I’m sure he would set up if it meant bringing in Kimbrel and getting everyone closer to a World Series ring.

Nonetheless, it’s been disappointing to see some of baseball’s best teams roll out bullpens that belong at the other end of the spectrum.

I mean, not as disappointing as Chris Davis, but still pretty disappointing nonetheless.