A Deep Dive into the Mariners Top of the Lineup Struggles

Fifteen games into the season, the Mariner's offense has been off to a sluggish start. That’s been mostly due to the five guys who were hitting 1-5 on Opening Day. JP Crawford, Julio Rodriguez, Jorge Polanco, Mitch Garver, & Cal Raleigh are all hitting below the Mendoza line, and all have an OPS below .600. There’s no way to sugarcoat it: that’s bad. Today, let’s break down the advanced metrics on each player, and discover why they have each been struggling at such a high clip. 
Julio prepares for his at-bat
Julio prepares for his at-bat / Mark Blinch/GettyImages
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Julio Rodríguez
Julio, frustrated after a strikeout against the Blue Jays / Kevin Sousa/GettyImages

Julio Rodriguez

Slashline: .186/.238/.203 (.441 OPS) 35 wrc+, 34 ops+, -0.3 bWAR, -0.2 fWAR

It’s true that Julio Rodriguez always struggles in April. His career April splits? .216/.281/.331 with a 76 wrc+. This year is on pace to be his worst April yet, however, and for the 23-year old finished fourth in MVP voting last year despite an overall decline in offensive production from his insane rookie season, it is causing a lot of fans to question if he is ever going to reach his MVP potential.

There is good news for the doubters, however. Jrod looks like he will be just fine. He rocks an xBA of .251 (65 points higher than his current average), and an xSLG of .361 (158 points higher than his current slugging %). That’s because his average exit velo (91.2 MPH) isn’t bad at all. Jrod ranks 74th percentile in exit velo, and while it is 1.5 MPH lower than his career norm, it's nothing to worry about yet. His hard hit % is 42.1% (60th percentile), and his sweet spot % is 36.8 (61st percentile). Again, lower than his career averages, but nothing looks super shocking. He is hitting the ball just fine, and making good contact. Part of this early-season slump could be chalked up to the marine layer and bad luck. 

However, there is a strikeout problem. And it has been a glaring problem. JRod is striking 33.3% of the time, whiffing 33.1% of pitches, and chasing 33.8% of the time. All of those marks rank in the bottom fifth of the league. He also isn’t walking, with a 4.8% rate that places him in the 17th percentile. Julio has a career strikeout rate of 25.5% so his 33.3% rate is remarkably higher than the career average. That is certainly something to be fixed. Even last April, Julio was only striking out 27% of the time, although in his career, April is easily his worst month of striking out (31.8%). 

Similar to Crawford, Julio has been seeing a huge increase in the amount of breaking balls being thrown to him (40.3%, a 7.4% increase!!!) and he is hitting .200 against them, with a whiff rate of 46.5%. He’s been even worse against offspeed pitches, which cause him to whiff a whopping 58.3% of the time. Until Julio shows he can lay off breaking balls and start to walk more (even just getting to his career average of 6.5% would be huge), pitches are going to keep pounding him with breaking balls. And he is going to have to be better at recognizing and waiting, on offspeed pitches, because so far this season, he has been getting fooled. 

Jrod should bounce back, and hopefully soon. When he is making contact, it’s been mostly good contact, and we’ve seen him go through April slumps before. He just needs to cut back on strikeouts and be more patient at the plate, and I’m guessing the batting average will begin to improve.