Death By BABIP: 2022’s Early Season Unlucky Hitters List

When a player starts out the year slow, it can be hard to tell what’s unlucky and what are actual struggles. Struggles are worrisome, but these hitters aren’t worth worrying about…yet.

Whether you’re a fan of a team with a struggling player, or you drafted that player in fantasy and aren’t sure just how worried you should be, there are some things you can look at to try and help decide whether to be worried or patient. While some of the early season struggles we’ve seen are very real, there are a handful of guys who are the epitome of unlucky. The reality of the situation is that it is absolutely way too early to be completely worried about anyone, but a bit of skepticism is understandable. Hopefully this serves to put some of that skepticism to rest.

Kyle Tucker – OF / Houston Astros

After a breakout 2021 season where Tucker showed he belonged amongst the best hitters in baseball, 2022 has started vastly different. While some people may be quick to jump the gun and wonder just how repeatable the 30 HR may be, Tucker has a lot going on that points to it not only being repeatable, but potentially beatable.

Through the first 10 games of the season, Tucker is hitting an abysmal .114 with only two HR (his only XBH), four RBI and a 17.1% strikeout rate. Under the surface, though, sits a wildly low .077 BABIP. So low in fact that its actually the third worst in all of baseball. The biggest thing to look at with Tucker’s low BABIP is the fact that his power numbers are still as healthy as ever. His average exit velocity has dipped a tick from 91.4 MPH in 2021 to 90.1 in 2022 but his 10.7% barrel rate isn’t too far off from last season. Not only that, Tucker’s healthy 46.4% hard hit rate he sports this season shows that his biggest issue currently isn’t the fact that he’s struggling, it’s that he seems to have a new found passion for hitting the ball really damn hard right at opposing fielders.

Give him a chance to get over this phase he’s dealing with. He’s well on his way to his dominant former self once again this season.

Luis Robert – OF / Chicago White Sox

Much like Tucker, Robert is trying to show that the success he has had thus far in his short career is the real deal and not an illusion. After an impressive first two seasons which saw him finish second in AL ROY voting in 2020 and then finish his injury shortened 2021 batting .338, the expectations leading up to 2022 were high. Although a quick glance at his counting stats may show he’s having issues to start the season, a quick deep dive shows quite the opposite.

As it sits today, Luis Robert is hitting .194 with two homeruns and three RBI in nine total games. He does also have a league leading five stolen bases though which is pretty impressive. What will be more impressive is the amount of steals he ends the year with once he really starts getting on base.

Despite the lackluster batting average, much of that seems to also be coming from his criminally low .161 BABIP. It is pretty out of the ordinary for guys with his speed to carry such low BABIP numbers, even in short stretches like this. Last season, for example, his BABIP was .394 in his 68 games played. This time around though, Robert seems to be victim to some nasty bad luck. As it sits, Robert has the lowest K% of his career at only 8.1% while also having career highs in average exit velocity (92.2 MPH), Barrel Rate (15.2%) and hard hit rate (39.4%).

If you were to tell me going into this season that he would have career bests in all those numbers and would be hitting this far below the Mendoza line, I may have actually laughed in your face. I am high on Robert as a dark horse MVP candidate this season and i’m not going to be wavering from that stance. Especially now.

Salvador Perez – C / Kansas City Royals

I think it’s fair to state that Perez is the best offensive catcher in baseball. His 48 homeruns last season were the most ever hit by a catcher in a single season, and his 121 RBI paced all of baseball. Couple that with .273 average and Salvy looked to be primed for another elite season in 2022. Fast forward to eight games into the season and that hasn’t quite been the case.

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Currently Salvy is batting .188 with a .182 BABIP, two homeruns (both of which came in the same game) and a strikeout rate a tick lower than last season at 24.2%. Despite that, though, Perez has the 13th best barrel rate in all of baseball at 20.8%. That puts him ahead of guys tearing the cover off the ball this year like Nolan Arenado and Jose Ramirez. He also has a 92.8 MPH average exit velocity which is right on par with last season (93 MPH) and he’s spending less time as strictly a pull hitter (37.5% pull rate compared to his 45.1% career average). Perez also currently has the highest xSLG of his career as well at .646.

Let him get that ridiculous 30.9 degree launch angle flattened out, once he does that should even out his fly ball rate (75%) and line drive rate (0%) and Salvy should be back to being an elite offensive weapon very soon. He’s still making medium and hard contact a combined 87.5% of the time. Have no fear, the real Salvy is still here.

Christian Walker – 1B / Arizona Diamondbacks

Here’s a name you may not have expected to see on the list. While Walker may not be a household name, his unluckiness is very well deserving of this list. In the past, Walker has proven that he can put up excellent numbers. Take his 2019 season for example, Walker hit .259 with 26 doubles, 29 homeruns and 73 RBI in his first full season in the major leagues. He has also carried a BABIP above .300 every year since becoming a starter for the D-Backs. With all that in mind, it makes the numbers he’s put up so far in 2022 quite unexpectedly bad.

In his nine games so far this season, Walker is batting .129 with two homeruns and two RBI. Much of that lowly batting average has to do with the fact that Walker has the fourth worst BABIP in all of baseball at .095. One thing that should be mentioned, though, is the fact that much of Walker’s other advanced stat numbers are at a career high. His current average exit velocity of 94.3 MPH is well above his career average of 90.1 MPH and is the ninth best in all of baseball, his barrel rate of 17.4% is the highest of his career by a mile and 22nd in all of baseball, his 47.8% hard hit rate is a career high, 13% soft contact is a career low, his .624 xSLG is a career high as well as his xwOBA of .381. Walker is also walking at a career best clip of 13.9%.

Walker may not end the year putting up the astronomical offensive numbers that someone like Salvador Perez will, but what a lot of these numbers show is that if Walker keeps on hitting the way hes hitting, he could be in line for a lot of new career bests. He fits the mold of an excellent under the radar player to keep an eye on going forward.

Honorable Mentions:

Mitch Haniger – OF / Seattle Mariners

Bobby Dalbec – 1B / Boston Red Sox

Cedric Mullins – OF / Baltimore Orioles

Kyle Schwarber – OF / Philadelphia Phillies

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