Welcome to May, the month that is supposed to bring us flowers and warmer weather. Hopefully, for some fantasy notables, it brings some warmer stats as many players missed the memo stating the season began April 5. Let's put together a lineup of awful Aprils and see what is ailing the players and if they can turn things around.
Mike Zunino - This is a tough position because, surprise, there are a lot of catchers hurt. It is just a tough position because of the injury risk, and we already have guys like Yan Gomes, Jonathan Lucroy and John Jaso on the disabled list. For catcher one, I'll go with everyone's "sleeper" -- Mike Zunino. He is hitting .129/.214/.242 this season with two homers in 70 plate appearances while striking out 39 percent of the time. Entering the season, I was down on him because he had shown no ability to hit anything with a wrinkle in it as he owned a .130/.155/.292 line against breaking balls from 2013 through 2014, showing no ability to lay off them. This season, he is laying off them, and a .167/.250/.389 line should certainly be considered an improvement for him in putting breaking balls into play. In fact, he went from swinging and missing 47 percent of the time against breaking balls to 40 percent. The issue for Zunino has been the fastball.
Heading into 2015, Zunino swung and missed at 34 percent of the fastballs he faced with a swinging strike rate of 18 percent. This season, those numbers are 43 and 22 percent, respectively. In terms of putting fastballs in play, Zunino had a .199/.262/.392 line against those pitches prior to this season and now has a .130/.226/.204 line against fastballs. In short, this has been a disastrous start for Zunino -- one I don't see much of a rebound from. Sure, he can become another Ron Karkovice type as he is a solid defender, but he's heading down the J.P. Arencibia career path at the plate, and that's a hell of a way to go through life, son.
Chris Carter - Man, does this one pain me. I've been on this guy since 2012, and the only reason I don't own him in every league is because I'm in a few leagues with Jeff Erickson, who shares my affection for him. If you've owned Carter, you know he is a slow starter. Last season, he batted .153/.270/.329 with a 37-percent strikeout rate in April. This April he batted .160/.267/.253 with a 36-percent strikeout rate. Once Carter put April 2014 behind him, he went on to bat .227/.308/.491 with a 32-percent strikeout rate and hit 37 bombs.
Carter's swing-and-miss rate is up from 37 to 40 percent this season, this despite the fact he is chasing a fewer percentage of pitches out of the zone. In the past, Carter had issues covering the outer third of the plate because he was too far from the plate. He corrected that, but now, he's once again being beaten on stuff low and away as well as stuff up. He's maintained his nitro zone low and in, but as long as pitchers don't make mistakes there, they are getting him out. Carter has always been a streaky player who can heat up as quickly as he cools off. It is rather amazing the Astros are doing so well as a team in the standings with Carter doing next to nothing in the middle of that lineup. You own Carter for the power numbers and nothing else and that power will return. If you didn't want to pay the money for him on draft day, trade for him at a bargain now. Stop reading this piece and go make an offer for him. I will wait ...
Chase Utley - This one is easy. Say what you will about his age and the fact he rarely avoids the DL. The one thing Utley has always been able to do it hit. That is not happening in 2015. Despite his stable plate discipline, Utley has a .122/.200/.243 line 85 plate appearances into the season with a .097 BABIP. There is bad luck, and then there is a sub .100 BABIP. How does that even happen? The biggest problem for him is the lack of line drives as he has a career-low 16-percent line drive rate this season. Line drives fuel batting average; without them, you need a lot of speed to turn groundballs into hits above the league-average rate. Utley lacks the speed, so the career-low groundball rate is a problem, and he is batting a nice .069 on groundballs this season and an ice-cold .107 to anything to his pull side. The line drives that Utley is hitting are mostly going the other way, where historically they've been mostly to his pull side. He had an ankle injury and missed a bit of time in spring training due to it, but this looks a lot like bat speed waning than anything else.
He's always had a balky knee and while Ruin Tomorrow Junior should be applauded for his handling of the Cole Hamels and Jonathan Papelbon situations, he botched this one with Utley. He is paying Utley $15M this season to look like a shell of his former self, and Utley is still on pace to kick in another $15M option for 2016 as he simply needs to reach 500 plate appearances. I'm willing to let someone else take a chance on Utley's odds of rebounding.
Alexei Ramirez - Ramirez isn't a sexy fantasy player to own. He rarely walks, but he also rarely strikes out. He first came up hitting homers while occasionally stealing bases, and then flipped the script to become a sneaky source of steals. In 2014, he combined both for the first time since 2010 and batted a respectable .273. In 2015, he is doing nothing across the board. He is batting .197 this season, and the counting category contributor has as many home runs and steals as you and I do today.
Looking at his plate discipline, he is not chasing pitches out of the zone, but he is swinging more frequently at pitches in the zone. The issue there is he is coming up empty within the zone (Z-Contact%) at a career-low rate. When we see that kind of thing, we need to look into the pitch types he is seeing. Look at the growth in the percentage of sliders he is facing. Ramirez is swinging for fastballs, but ends up swinging over the top of sliders. The three straight seasons of 20-plus steals at age 30-32 were a surprise for Ramirez, but a lot needs to change for him to get there for a fourth consecutive season because he's far behind the eight-ball at this point. I will take a run at him being a double-double player the rest of the way, but he's not going to reach the 15/20 plateau in 2015.
Josh Harrison - I said Harrison was being overdrafted during the offseason when his ADP was in the top 100. Thus far, Harrison has posted a .202/.239/.345 line with his walk rate and strikeout rate heading in the wrong direction. He is batting 113 points worse than in 2014 as his batting average on balls in play has dropped from .353 to .227. Harrison's discipline at the plate has held up well, but despite the decreased walk rate, he is swinging at fewer pitches both in (Z-Swing%) and out (O-Swing%) of the strike zone. The problem is, he is seeing a higher percentage of pitches in the zone (Zone%) and is falling behind in counts taking a lot of first strikes (F-Strike%).
It is tough to say that Harrison is due for any kind of strong BABIP regression since his rates in 2012 and 2013 are very much in line where he is in 2015. In my humble opinion, he needs time away from the leadoff spot to get back in gear. Despite the low walk rate and high strikeout rate, I would prefer to see him be even more aggressive. In basketball, we encourage shooters to shoot their way out of slumps. In this case, I think Harrison needs to swing his way out of his. I still do not see him coming within 85 percent of what he did last season, but I am kicking the tires on him in my leagues if I do not own him.
There are many disappointing starts to point at here, but let's look at three in particular -- Marlon Byrd, Shin-Soo Choo and Adam Eaton.
Marlon Byrd - Byrd went for $15 in NL Tout Wars coming off back-to-back 20-homer and 80-RBI seasons with a new grip-it-and-rip-it approach. The problem with that kind of approach is that it can quickly fall apart. On April 3, I tweeted a fear I had for Byrd this season: