Playing baseball is hard enough when you’re healthy. It gets that much harder when you’re trying to perform in less-than-ideal circumstances — especially at the game’s highest level.
With spring-training games getting underway, the feeling of having a clean slate is front and center as players begin their trek toward getting into game shape for Opening Day. Baseball fans are starting to get excited and placing bets on NJ sportsbooks for their favorite teams. This is the time of year where many players try different things to see if they could work during the regular season. For others, though, it’s about getting into a good rhythm after not really having one at all the year before.
The following 10 players have likely spent a good amount of time trying to erase the 2018 season from their memory for one reason or another. With 2019 on tap, they’re hoping a strong performance will help everyone else forget about it, too.
Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers
Once he does hang up his spikes, Detroit Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera will go down as one of this generation’s best right-handed hitters. The past couple years haven’t been what we’ve gotten used to seeing from Miggy, though. After playing in at least 145 games on 12 occasions between 2004 and 2016, he’s appeared in just 168 total over the past two years (just 38 in ’18).
His power has also been disappearing, and the man with 11 different seasons of at least 4.0 fWAR has been worth a total of 0.6 fWAR since the start of 2017. This past season was actually going pretty well for Cabrera through 157 plate appearances — he had hit just three homers, but was slashing .299/.395/.448, good for a 128 wRC+. It all came to a screeching halt when he tore his left biceps tendon, prematurely ending his season.
But it’s not like there weren’t concerns on how sustainable that pace was. Miggy did post familiar numbers with regard to line-drive rate (25.0%) and hard-hit rate (46.3%), but his ground-ball rate (54.6%), fly-ball rate (20.4%), and BABIP (.352) didn’t exactly match one another.
As he approaches his age-36 season, we’ll likely never see the Miggy of old again, but he still may have some occasional magic left in that bat.
Yu Darvish, Chicago Cubs
We’ve already mentioned the importance of Yu Darvish’s health to the Cubs once this week, but it bears repeating. Elbow and triceps problems limited the right-hander to 40 very ineffective innings with his new club in 2018. His tossing of live batting practice this week reportedly went well, and after a mostly normal offseason, being on the Opening Day roster is a realistic expectation.
Opposing hitters generated just a 27.1% hard-hit rate against Darvish in his abbreviated debut season in Chicago, but his homers allowed per nine innings went up for the second consecutive year (1.58 this past season). After posting walk rates of 7.5% and 7.6% in ’16 and ’17, respectively, that number settled in at 11.7% in ’18. It’s also worth noting that Darvish’s 55.6% first-pitch strike rate and 26.0% chase rate would’ve been career-low marks if sustained throughout an entire season.
However, it seems like a lot of his control issues came from his sinker and cutter. The three-year progression in walk rate for each offering doesn’t look good (albeit with uneven sample sizes). The righty’s walk rate on his sinker has risen from 3.2% to 10.6% to 14.7%, while his cutter has gone from 0.0% to 5.2% to 15.4% since 2016.
Brandon Drury, Toronto Blue Jays
While the current infield alignment can be shifted at any moment, Brandon Drury is in a tough spot for Toronto. Roster Resource currently has him pegged to play third base, which is the position top prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr. also plays. While Vlad Jr.’s glove may keep him at designated hitter more than he’d like, his eventual promotion will surely impact the playing time for a number of Toronto’s infielders.
The 2018 season didn’t go at all how Drury was hoping it would. After the New York Yankees acquired him, he was anticipated to at the very least, keep some spots on the field warm for Miguel Andujar and Gleyber Torres. Severe migraines landed him on the injured list about a week into the season, and when he was ready to come back a month later, the Yankees actually left him in Triple-A.
Drury eventually got traded to the Blue Jays, but his fresh start only lasted a couple weeks before fracturing his hand. His season in the big leagues ended with just 86 plate appearances to go along with an uninspiring .169/.256/.260 triple slash and 44 wRC+.
This is far too few plate appearances to draw real conclusions from, but it’s not hard to see where he needs to improve. While his ground-ball rate continued decreasing (42.1%), he’ll need to amp up his 26.3% hard-hit rate to take full advantage.
Just making more contact in general would be helpful, too. After posting an 82.1% contact rate as a rookie in 2015, that number has dropped each year, currently bottoming out at least season’s 71.4% clip.
Jeff Samardzija, San Francisco Giants
Remember when the Giants spent a ton of money to bring in Jeff Samardzija and Johnny Cueto and form a big three with Madison Bumgarner? Yea, that hasn’t worked out.
Shark’s 2017 season was actually quite productive despite his 4.42 ERA. He still managed to post 3.8 fWAR during that campaign to go along with a career-high 3.8% walk rate and near-career-high 24.2% strikeout rate. None of that happened last year, and it all started with his health. The 34-year-old right-hander tossed just 44 total innings due to three different stints on the injured list.
His strikeout rate (14.5%) and walk rate (12.6%) both regressed much more than anyone would’ve anticipated, and his 6.25 ERA also wasn’t fun. Shark threw his fastball at a 53.0% clip, which was his highest usage rate since 2014 (55.2%). Although continued shoulder issues could’ve been the culprit, his velocity dropped two full miles per hour compared to the last couple years (94.3 mph in ’17, 92.3 in ’18). Samardzija allowed at least a 140 wRC+ on both his sinker and four-seamer, but this number just seems too whacky to be true: his four-seamer (which he threw 102 times) produced a 28.6% walk rate and 4.6% strikeout rate.
Dustin Pedroia, Boston Red Sox
Clearly, the Red Sox did just fine without Dustin Pedroia — they managed to win 108 regular-season games and dominate everyone en route to yet another World Series title. They accomplished all that despite Pedroia missing all but three games due to setbacks following knee surgery.
The three games he did appear in didn’t go too well, either. The now-35-year-old notched just one hit in 13 trips to the plate. While the knee hampered him during 2017, he just wasn’t himself. His 1.9 fWAR was a career-worst mark, while his .760 OPS and 101 wRC+ were the second-worst marks of his productive career.
Adjusting to offspeed and breaking pitches will be an important piece of the puzzle for Pedroia as he tries to get the latter part of his career back on track. After posting a 139 wRC+ and 154 wRC+ against sliders and changeups in 2016, those numbers dropped to 7 and 54, respectively, in 2017.
The Red Sox have ample depth at second base thanks to the presence of Eduardo Nunez and Brock Holt, but Boston would likely love to see its veteran leader back on the field.