These players have the most riding on a standout performance in 2018.
These three players below have something to prove in 2018. Plagued by injury and inconsistency, each of them regressed to the point where their career was brought into question. They’ll need bounce-back seasons to prove they can still be major contributors to their respective teams.
The 2013 NL MVP had an uncharacteristically down year in 2016. He set a career low in OPS and a career high in strikeouts. The former Gold Glover was arguably the worst defensive outfielder that season, with -28 DRS. He was worth about -0.5 WAR, by far the lowest mark of his career. All this from a guy who hadn’t finished outside the top five in MVP voting since 2011.
In 2016 he posted the highest strikeout percentage of his career, striking out 21.2% of the time. He complimented that with walking just 10.2% of the time, the lowest of his career. He had seemingly lost the elite plate discipline that propelled him for years. He ranked in the top six in OBP for four straight seasons, but fell to 76th among qualified hitters in 2016.
But it wouldn’t make sense that one of most consistent players of the last five years wouldn’t shoot for a comeback. After all, a guy in his age 30 season is by no means unable to return to form. The 2017 season started off a bit rocky, with April and May looking a lot like the previous year. Late in May, he was bumped down to sixth in order for the first time in his career. Something seemed to click once that happened.
He exploded in the month of June, nearly doubling his May OPS. The power and consistency started to return; he walked more and struck out less. His defense still wasn’t stellar, but he took a huge step in the right direction.
McCutchen was traded to the San Francisco Giants this offseason, with only a year left on his contract. He has never had the chance to test the free agent market and go for the big payday he deserves, as he signed an extension with the Pirates back in 2012. The 2018 projections have him at similar, if not worse numbers than last year. If he can outplay those numbers and return to form, he can get himself decent payday (maybe with the Giants). He had never really struggled in his career until this point, and it seems he was able to turn it around. The talent never left, just the consistency. He should be able to bounce back like he did in the latter half of 2017. While he may not quite return a MVP-caliber performance, he should be a healthy and productive member of his new team.
From 2014-2015, Betances was worth 7.6 WAR, far and away the best mark among relievers. He had elite, jaw-dropping numbers across the board. His stature, durability, and raw talent made him arguably the best reliever in the league. His curveball-fourseam combination struck out more hitters than any other reliever in the last four years.
His numbers in 2017 don’t look bad at first glance, but his glaring red flag is his walk rate. If you’ve watched him pitch recently, it’s clear he’s developed some major control issues. In 2017 he pitched to a 6.6 BB/9 and walked 16.9% of the batters he faced. Both marks were the worst among qualified pitchers. Conversely, his strikeout rate stood just about even with his career average. He struck out 38.3% of batters faced, good for a 15.1 SO/9.
The curveball has always been his strikeout pitch. More than 75% of the strikeouts in his career have come from his curve. But his fourseam has still been a weapon, averaging 96 MPH with good movement.
The combination is deadly, but in 2017 he took a step back with his fastball.
He couldn’t seem to locate the fourseam, and hitters weren’t being fooled. His swing % on the four seam fell drastically. The curveball seemed to be there, save a slight drop in the whiff rate.
In the postseason, his lack of control was on full display as he had some forgettable outings. In the 12 postseason games the Yankees played, he pitched just four innings while allowing two runs and five walks against six strikeouts. Twice he could not record an out and was pulled after pitching himself into trouble. He would give up the walkoff single in the 13th inning of Game 2 of the ALDS.
The Yankees are a scary team top to bottom. Other than some minor improvements that could be made, they are complete and ready to contend again. If Betances’ struggles continue, he might not be missed that much. The bullpen is already stacked with Aroldis Chapman, David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle, and Chad Green. The last of those four has shown he can handle multiple innings as well, a role Betances once thrived in. He still has the ability to strike guys out at an elite level, he just needs to do so without walking himself into trouble. He’ll likely start the season in low-leverage situations to get back on track. If he can prove he still belongs in late innings and close games, he can return to being one of the best relievers in MLB.
Joc was one of the Dodgers’ top prospects in 2015. He burst onto the scene with a monster April, hitting .298/.461/.596.Then, this happened:
Joc began to show signs of regression in late June 2015, as his stats plummeted and he stopped making contact. Granted his batting average wasn’t stellar to begin with, but he walked a lot and hit for power. Then, he wasn’t doing any of that; he tanked nearly every offensive category.
He was once thought to be an Adam Dunn with a bit of speed, producing a 30-30 season in Triple-A the year before he came up. He hasn’t stolen more than six in a season at the major league level, nor really shown an interest in trying to steal more. The Dunn comparisons hold true, as more than 45% of his plate appearances have ended in a walk, home run, or strikeout.
The Dodgers shortened up his lengthy swing to get him back on track. He certainly improved in 2016, cutting down on strikeouts and making better contact. He realized not every at-bat had to be a battle for a home run. But 2017 was marred by injury and inconsistency, culminating with a demotion to Triple-A in August. He would still make the postseason roster and prove he could perform on the big stage. He likely would have been the World Series MVP if the Dodgers had won.
The Dodgers are one of the deepest organizations in MLB. There are a number of players who could take his spot on the team and contribute. Joc will be on the Opening Day roster, but he’s currently at odds with two other Dodgers for the starting job in left field. The front office still seems to believe in him, and he’s shown he can deliver in the clutch. He is also probably the second best defensive outfielder in the organization, behind only Yasiel Puig. The value is there, and he’s still only 25 years old.
This year might be his last chance to prove he can be an everyday player. If he can’t he’ll likely be a trade piece or bench player. But there is no reason to believe he can’t repeat what he did in 2016. He kept his strikeouts at a reasonable level and was productive enough that a .246 batting average was just fine. If he stays healthy over a full season, and the Dodgers give him a chance to play regularly, he should be able to produce an adequate level of production.
(All statistics courtesy of Baseball-reference, Fangraphs and Brooks Baseball)
Edited by Emily Berman.
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