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Which players' slow starts should scare you, and why

Adam Hunger/USA Today Sports

"It's still early!" is the motto of April baseball. Everyone knows in their hearts that the guy on pace for 324 home runs after Opening Day and the slugger hitting .090 are not going to finish the season anywhere near those figures. But as April turns into May and a sixth of the season goes into the books, it gets harder and harder to argue that those rough starts aren't cause for concern, worry or sometimes straight-out run-through-the-streets-warning-about-end-times panic.

To steal a delightful, old Baseball Prospectus term I was recently informed of for the time to start being concerned about players with poor starts, Cinco do Samplo is almost upon us, and individual performances need to be taken seriously.

Avisail Garcia, Chicago White Sox: A lot of times, with starts this poor (.233/.250/.315 with one home run), an unusually low BABIP is a likely source of the fluky start, as it was with Carlos Santana a few years ago. That's not the problem here. While Avi's .286 BABIP is a bit lower than you'd expect from him, it's not a dramatically low number that is unsustainable; you sometimes see players with poor starts having that number under .200.

The larger problem is that Garcia's contributions require him to have a crazy-high number. A lot of his 2017 success was due to his simply having a .392 BABIP, a freakishly high number that almost no player could maintain year in and year out. Only eight hitters in history with more than 3,000 plate appearances have a career BABIP above .360, and the most recent one to step on the field was Rogers Hornsby in 1937.

Plate discipline numbers tend to stabilize very quickly, which isn't good news for Avi, who has swung at 48 percent of out-of-zone pitches, the worst in baseball among players with 30 or more plate appearances. And being a bad-ball hitter isn't an excuse; the other 29 hitters in the top 30 in out-of-zone swing rate have averaged a 64 percent contact rate there. Combine a worse approach than ever before with the abandonment by Lady Luck and Garcia is now at radioactive levels of hands-off.