Friday, May 24, 2024
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5 MLB players who need to turn it around in May: Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Corbin Carroll, more underperformers

The end of April is approaching and we’re far enough into the season now to have a decent idea of which players and teams are better than expected, which are worse than expected, and which are performing as expected. There is still a lot of baseball to be played, but the samples aren’t that small anymore. Hot starts are becoming breakouts. Slow starts are growing worrisome.

With that in mind, here are five players who’ve had a sluggish April and need to turn their seasons around in May to give their team the best chance at contention.

1. Randy Arozarena, Rays

The Rays got swept by the very bad White Sox this past weekend and twice in Saturday’s win the ChiSox intentionally walked Richie Palacios to get to Arozarena (Arozarena flew out both times). With all due respect to Palacios, my goodness, what an indictment of Arozarena. Handsome Randy owns a .152/.226/.257 slash line this season, and, considering he put up a .700 OPS after the All-Star break last year, there has to be at least a little concern this is more than a tough start to the season. The Rays are in last place in the brutal AL East. Hard to see them making a run at a postseason spot without Arozarena righting the ship. (Yandy Díaz deserves a mention too. The reigning AL batting champ has a .596 OPS.)

2. Corbin Carroll, Diamondbacks

The batting line made me do a double-take: .189/.295/.236. Things have gotten so bad that, in the last four games, Carroll has hit seventh three times and eighth once. The plate discipline numbers are strong. Carroll is taking walks and isn’t swinging and missing or chasing excessively, though his contact quality is dreadful. He’s running an 83.2 mph average exit velocity, down from 90.0 mph last year. That’s a big enough drop that I can’t help but wonder if he’s playing through an injury. The defending NL champs are 13-16 on the season — they are 5-2 against the Rockies and 8-14 against everyone else — and there is no real path to contention with Carroll playing like this. Few players in the game are as important to their team as the reigning NL Rookie of the Year.

3. Paul Goldschmidt, Cardinals

At age 36, Goldschmidt is at a point where it’s fair to wonder if this is a slow start or age-related decline. The .208/.304/.287 slash line is ugly and the career worst (by a lot) 29.9% strikeout rate is particularly worrisome. Right-handers have really shut him down and Goldschmidt’s contact quality (exit velocity, etc.) and performance against fastballs has dipped noticeably. The Cardinals might not be good enough to get to the postseason even with Goldschmidt being his usual self. With the current version, there’s little shot at returning to October. Goldschmidt is one of the generation’s greatest hitters, but Father Time comes for us all. There are red flags all over the place.

4. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Blue Jays

The case can be made that Guerrero is not even the most underperforming Blue Jay — Bo Bichette is hitting a soft .210/.263/.305. That said, Bichette had a great 2023. Vlad Jr. did not. He wasn’t bad in 2023 (.788 OPS), though given the pedigree and prospect hype and incredible 2021, expectations are high, and Guerrero isn’t meeting them. He’s hitting .218/.323/.336 with three home runs and the highest strikeout rate of his career this season. Where’d the power go? The Blue Jays have plateaued as a 90-ish win team that gets swept in the first round the last few years, and there is a direct correlation between Vlad Jr. not getting to the next level and the Blue Jays not getting to the next level.

5. Joe Musgrove, Padres

There are a few Padres we could feature here (Xander Bogaerts, Michael King, etc.) though Musgrove gets the nod. The native San Diegan has had one great start out of seven, and opponents are hitting .326/.405/.565 against him. Even if you throw out his Seoul Series start (five runs in 2 2/3 innings) because no one seemed to pitch well in South Korea, Musgrove still has a 6.12 ERA with nine home runs allowed in 32 1/3 innings in his last six starts. Dylan Cease has been fantastic. The rest of the rotation hasn’t been all that great though, and the 31-year-old Musgrove has been the guy San Diego could count on for a quality performance every fifth day in recent years. That has not been the case in 2024.

Dishonorable mention

Alex Bregman, Astros: Pitching, not offense, has been the biggest issue with the underperforming Astros, though Bregman’s .216/.287/.268 line hasn’t helped. He has yet to hit a homer. This is Bregman’s contract year and it’s safe to say he’s not earning himself any money. The pitching must be better for Houston to climb out of the AL West cellar. Bregman must be better as well.

Nick Castellanos, Phillies: When Castellanos struggles, his at-bats are not pretty, and this year’s .179/.250/.226 performance has been especially ugly. Philadelphia is 19-10 because they’ve gotten superlative starting pitching and enough offense from elsewhere on the roster. They will eventually need Castellanos to hit though.

Aaron Judge, Yankees: Judge is beginning to come around — he went 5 for 8 on Saturday and Sunday and has three home runs in his last five games — though the .211/.346/.431 batting line is decidedly un-Judge-like. Even with Juan Soto, the Yankees have little chance at making a World Series run without Judge being a top-tier hitter.

Francisco Lindor, Mets: There have been some flashes lately, including a two-home run game last Wednesday, though Lindor has yet to put together an extended good stretch at the plate. He’s hitting .202/.290/.376 a month into the season. Lindor’s defense remains excellent. The Mets do need him to hit though. He’s such an impactful power/speed presence when right.

Triston McKenzie, Guardians: The Guardians are atop the AL Central at 19-9 thanks largely to their offense. Shane Bieber is done for the season and Gavin Williams recently had a setback, so Cleveland is running short on pitching. McKenzie has gone four or fewer innings in three of his five starts and has a 4.91 ERA. The Guardians need more from him to stay atop the division.

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