On Tuesday, we looked at ten players across baseball that should be able to rebound from 2018 down years in 2019. Today, we’re going to look at ten players who had good, great, or excellent seasons in 2018 that they won’t be able to replicate in 2019. This isn’t saying that the players will be awful, just that they won’t be as good as they were a year ago.
C: Kurt Suzuki, Nationals
Kurt Suzuki, career with Braves: 186 games, 31 HR, .276/.341/.485
Kurt Suzuki, career everywhere else: 1,208 games, 83 HR, .256/.311/.372
I think it’s ridiculous to say that Suzuki will struggle in 2019 just because he’s not with the Braves, but something clearly clicked during his time in Atlanta that it hasn’t elsewhere during his career. Now, Suzuki heads to the Nationals for a second go-around in DC, and his production noticeably dropped off from 2017 to 2018 with the Braves, with his ISO going from .254 to .173, his triple slash falling across the board (including his slugging percentage falling by a whopping 92 points), and his BABIP, walk rate, and strikeout rate actually all *improving*.
Suzuki is now 35, and he’ll be splitting time behind the plate with Yan Gomes in Washington, a much better defender, and could lose even more playing time to Gomes than he did last year to Tyler Flowers, another great defender. I think we’ve seen the best of Suzuki, and he’s not going to approach the highs of his 2017-18 peak again.
1B: Jesus Aguilar, Brewers
The 28-year old Aguilar had a breakout campaign in 2018, slashing .274/.352/.539 with 35 homers. He’s an unquestioned masher at the plate, but 2018 could represent his high water mark. Why? Well, for starters, nearly a quarter of the fly balls he hit last year left the park. His 23.8% HR/FB was 11th in all of baseball, and the major league average is 12.7%. Now, this is a sustainable trait, because someone like Giancarlo Stanton has never been under 20% during his time in the majors, but it does fluctuate somewhat from year to year. Aguilar has shown no signs that he can replicate this year after year, given that he has fewer than 1,000 career plate appearances to his name.
Aguilar also dropped off in the second half, a sign that maybe the league is catching up to him. In the first half of 2018, he slashed .298/.373/.621 with 24 of his homers. In the second half, he homered just 11 times (in 66 fewer plate appearances) and slashed .245/.324/.436. That’s a dramatic dropoff – Aguilar went from one of the best hitters in baseball to a league average one. I don’t think he’s going to approach his overall 2018 stats.
2B: Scooter Gennett, Reds
Scooter Gennett, career with Reds: 295 games, 50 HR, .303/.351/.508
Scooter Gennett, career with Brewers: 456 games, 35 HR, .279/.318/.420
Gennett has turned into a different player in Cincinnati, so much so that the name “Scooter” really doesn’t seem appropriate. His power dropped off over his second year with the Reds, though he was actually a better overall player thanks to improvements in his walk rate, strikeout rate, batting average, OBP, and defense. I actually think Gennett is going to still be a good player in 2019, but I also expect a dropoff for a few reasons.
First, it’s his walk year. He’s going to be pressing to perform at a high level in order to cash in on the free agent market this winter. Second, there’s going to be more pressure on the Reds following their big offseason, with expectations rising to the point where a sub-.500 season is no longer acceptable. Third, I think Gennett’s going to get jerked around in the lineup a bit more this year because of the presence of Matt Kemp and Yasiel Puig – he’s not the unquestioned second or third-best hitter in the lineup after Joey Votto (and Eugenio Suarez, for that matter) anymore. A lot of this isn’t his fault, but the issues are there, and they’re not going away in 2019.
SS: Jurickson Profar, A’s
This is somewhat of a cop out, because Profar is apparently going to be starting at second for the A’s, and last year, he played all around the diamond for the Rangers, but logged the most innings at short. The reason he’s on this list is simple – he couldn’t stay both healthy and productive until 2018. Last year, Profar played in 146 games for the Rangers and slashed .254/.335/.458 with 20 homers. Prior to 2018, he played in a total of 206 major league games (dating back to 2012), slashing .229/.309/.329 with 12 homers. Profar spent nearly all of 2012 in the minors, spent the first month and a half of 2013 in the minors, missed all of 2014, missed nearly all of 2015, spent the first month and a half of 2016 in the minors, was up and down in 2017 and spent more time in the minors than the majors, and finally spent all of 2018 in the majors while avoiding major injury.
Whew. That’s a lot of movement. I hope he stays healthy, but I’d like to see it two years in a row before I bet on it happening. If he can play 140 games for Oakland this year, he can easily replicate his stats from 2018….but I don’t think he will.
3B: Johan Camargo, Braves
Camargo is a victim of circumstance for the Braves in 2019 – they signed Josh Donaldson to man third base every day, relegating Camargo to a bench role. The Braves seem committed to get Camargo playing time this year, but there won’t be consistency in spelling Donaldson, Dansby Swanson, Ozzie Albies, and (hopefully) Nick Markakis every so often. Camargo broke out in 2018 with 19 homers and a .272/.349/.457 slash line, smashing both righties and lefties and hitting pretty consistently across the months of the season.
But again, the circumstances for getting Camargo playing time (and repeating his 2018 performance) require another player to struggle or get hurt, which isn’t impossible, but is completely out of Camargo’s control. If he gets playing time, he can do what he did in 2018 all over again in 2019. If he doesn’t, his season could end up as a disappointment.
OF: Brandon Nimmo, Mets
Nimmo finally got regular playing time in 2018 with the Mets and shined, hitting .263/.404/.483 with 17 dingers. He bounced around the Mets outfield at all three positions due to injuries, but New York could run into a glut of outfielders at some point, with Yoenis Cespedes eventually expected to return after heel surgery, Michael Conforto entrenched in a position, Keon Broxton and Juan Lagares both serving as better defensive outfielders than Nimmo, and first basemen Peter Alonso and Dominic Smith still waiting for their shot at every day jobs (and since they both can’t play first base every day, a corner outfield spot could be a landing point).
Nimmo’s playing time could also take a hit because of his platoon splits. Against lefties, Nimmo is slashing .226/.338/.350 in his major league career. Against righties, those numbers soar to .277/.408./484. The Mets did a good job at limiting Nimmo’s plate appearances against lefties last year (151 over 80 games), and given the lack of top-tier lefty starters in the NL East (Patrick Corbin and um…Sean Newcomb?), he shouldn’t be restrained too much in those all-too-important divisional games. Out of everyone on this list, I think Nimmo is the one who could defy my expectations the most and put together a season most similar to his 2018.
OF: Nick Markakis, Braves
Nick Markakis really wasn’t good in his first three years as a Brave, with minimal power, an empty batting average, and mediocre. Then all of a sudden in 2018, he drags his slugging percentage over .400 for the first time since 2012, delivers a strong batting average and OBP, and looks like a legitimate starting corner outfielder! What the hell is this?
Well, it’s a hot start to the season, and not much else. Markakis had a .701 OPS in the second half of 2018, and .673 OPS over the final two months of the season (with just two homers in those last two months). His power surge came early in the year, with half of those seven homers coming in the first six weeks of the season. He did not sustain it, and at age 35, I wouldn’t expect him to suddenly rediscover the six week power stroke that made his 2018 look palatable.
OF: Matt Kemp, Reds
During Matt Kemp’s 13 year career, he’s played with the Dodgers, Padres, Braves, and now, the Reds. With the Padres and Braves over three seasons, he slashed .269/.310/.470. With the Dodgers over ten years, including most of his prime, he slashed .292/.348/.494, including .290/.338/.481. After three pretty mediocre years with the Padres and Braves, Kemp found the fountain of youth wearing Dodger blue again last year, only for LA to ship him off to Cincinnati in a massive movement of salaries on both sides of the equation. But Kemp’s strong 2018 was bolstered by a great start to the season – he hit .310/.352/.522 with 15 homers in the first half, and .255/.313/.406 with just six homers in the second half. In the first half, he was Prime Dodger Great Matt Kemp. In the second half, he was…overpaid Padre and Brave Matt Kemp.
In reality, Kemp has been the latter version of himself for most of the last four years. The Matt Kemp that fell one homer shy of a 40/40 season is gone. Hell, the Matt Kemp that played center field every day has been gone for years, and probably never actually existed. He doesn’t bring much of anything to the Reds lineup aside from power, and Cincinnati has that in spades. Reds fans shouldn’t look towards the 2018 Matt Kemp for their expectations about him going into 2019. That guy is a mirage.
SP: Jon Lester, Cubs
Jon Lester was a worse pitcher in 2018 than he was in 2017, and he won five more games while lowering his ERA by a full run. That’s fun. He’s now 35, coming off a season with his lowest strikeout rate since 2012, highest walk rate since 2011, and his lowest ground ball rate and average fastball velocity since 2007. That’s not a good combination!
Lester also got somewhat lucky last year with an 80.3% strand rate (second-highest of his career) and a .290 BABIP. If he simply performs like he did last year and both the strand rate and BABIP approach the league average, his ERA is going to rise and he’s going to win fewer games. If his performance continues to degrade *and* the strand rate and BABIP approach the league average, his ERA could soar even higher. Given that the NL Central is tougher this year, thanks to the Reds actually trying this offseason and the Brewers, Cardinals, and Pirates all coming off above .500 season, success within the division could be more difficult for Lester to find.
RP: Jeremy Jeffress, Brewers
2018 was a career year for Jeffress, who had a 1.29 ERA over 76 2/3 innings for the Brewers while striking out 89 and walking 27. It was an incredible year for him, but also one that he probably won’t repeat in 2019. Jeffress was somewhat lucky this past season, allowing a .249 BABIP despite a worrying 37.4% hard hit rate (to be fair, you do expect a higher hard hit rate from relievers, due to the increased velocity of their pitches). Jeffress also stranded 92.9% of baserunners allowed, which was the highest among all relievers with at least 50 innings pitched on the season and nearly 20 percentage points higher than the MLB average for all pitchers.
Jeffress also relies on ground balls (56.4%, just outside the top ten for qualified relievers) quite a bit, and the Brewers shaky defense seems like it’s going to get shakier this year with Mike Moustakas, who has never played at second base, taking over at second base. Craig Counsell will likely bring on a defensive sub late in the game for Moustakas, but if not, that could result in Jeffress allowing more hits. And like I said yesterday about Ken Giles, relievers can have outings snowball on them pretty quickly. Jeffress avoided those snowball outings in 2018, allowing just one run from the start of the year until Memorial Day, zero runs from Labor Day until the end of the season, runs on back to back appearances just once all year, and more than one run in an outing during one game. He got very lucky last year, and I think it’s very unlikely he remains that lucky this year.