Thursday, May 3, 2012

Three O's struggling mightily to begin season

While Matt Wieters, Nolan Reimold (when able to be on the field), Chris Davis, and Adam Jones have begun the season particularly well at the plate, three Orioles hitters have been awful: Nick Johnson, Endy Chavez, and Mark Reynolds. Sure, it's early, and things will change in the next few months, but let's look briefly at why each of those three has been so bad.

Nick Johnson: .086/.179/.143 in 35 at-bats. Career slash line: .268/.399/.439

After going hitless in April, Johnson is on a mini-roll, collecting three hits (two doubles) in his last two games. Johnson is known for his ability to work the count and draw walks (career 15.7 BB%), but he has just one walk this season (2.6 BB%). Oddly enough, he's been hit by three pitches, so that's been helping his on-base percentage somewhat.

Johnson has played the least of this underachieving trio, but he may take some solace in that his BABIP is only .107, suggesting that he's due for a few more hits to start dropping in. Then again, if he's not walking, not hitting the ball as hard, and chasing more pitches outside of the strike zone -- and he's currently doing all three of those -- his numbers still won't be very good in the near future.

Endy Chavez: .109/.163/.130 in 46 at-bats. Career slash line: .271/.310/.369

Chavez really only plays for three reasons: He's fast, he can play defense, and Reimold can't stay in the lineup. He's never been able to hit all that well, and it's rather obvious that someone with a career .310 on-base percentage should never bat at the top of any team's order. But he's fast, which apparently means he's more than qualified to hit in that spot.

Currently, Chavez has a walk percentage of 3.9 percent, but he's never walked all that much in his career (5.5 BB%). He's also striking out more (15.7 K% vs. 10% for his career). And he's collected exactly one extra-base hit (a double).  Like Johnson, Chavez's BABIP is predictably low (.132), so some of his batted balls should start dropping in for hits a bit more. His plate discipline numbers aren't all that out of whack, though he's not swinging at as many pitches when they are inside the strike zone. Still, the O's (hopefully) didn't sign Chavez for his bat, and they should stop batting him leadoff.

Mark Reynolds: .136/.260/.197 in 66 at-bats. Career slash line: .235/.330/.476

Reynolds has never been and will never be a huge on-base guy, so the obvious thing that jumps out about his struggles is the complete lack of power. Reynolds has yet to hit a home run, though he does have four doubles. But when you're Mark Reynolds, you're expected to hit lots of home runs.

Reynolds's walks are slightly up, but he's striking out a ridiculous 40.3 percent of the time. That's seven percentage points higher than his career mark of 33.3 percent. Unlike Johnson and Chavez, his BABIP of .257 isn't obscenely low, and oddly enough, he's hitting slightly more line drives than he did the last two seasons.

So what's been his main problem? Plate discipline. He's been routinely getting behind in the count, leading to him swinging at more pitches outside the zone (28.8% vs. career 26.5%). He's also making less contact on that pitches outside the zone (26.3% vs. career 44.7%) while swinging at fewer pitches that are in the zone. It's a positive that he's still walking as much as he is, but he's going to have to adjust and start attacking pitches inside the zone when opposing pitchers try to get ahead of him.


With respective fWAR numbers of -0.7, -0.5, and -0.4, Chavez, Reynolds, and Johnson have been very bad. Then again, someone like Albert Pujols shockingly also has a fWAR of -0.7. But he's still Albert Pujols. Chavez, Reynolds, and Johnson are not. Fortunately, none of the three is signed beyond 2012 (Reynolds's $11 million club option has no chance of being exercised), meaning they all could be looking for new teams next season.