We hear it almost every single year about players who are just terrible coming out of the gate. They could tear the cover off the ball during Spring Training, but once Opening Day rolls around they leave their bat back in Florida (or Arizona if you’re on the West Coast) for a month. The Yankees roster is no stranger to these types of players, but luckily the club has some fast starters to help balance it out. Let’s jump into who the Yankees can pretty much count on having a slow start to the season.
Public enemy #1 with regard to slow starts. Over his career he’s recorded a .238/.342/.423 slash line during the month of April (with a few regular season games in March sprinkled in). His wRC+ rating (101) reveals that he’s merely an average hitter during the season’s first month, which is tough to swallow given that he’s in a premium spot in the lineup.
The most intriguing stat is that he actually has a better eye during this month than any other. Throughout his career he’s held a 12.4% walk rate and a 16.4% K-rate, so it’s not as if he’s not getting on base or not making the most of his at-bats. Meanwhile, his .185 ISO compared to his overall career number (.248) shows that he doesn’t find his power stroke until later on.
It might not be fair to lump Sabathia in here, but comparatively to his other months, April is his worst. Pitchers usually take a bit longer to catch up during the season in terms of production, and he’s no exception.
During April, Sabathia holds a 4.10 ERA (3.93 xFIP), along with his highest walk rate (8.5% BB%). Meanwhile, his WHIP (1.31) is second only to his July number (1.36). His Left on Base percentage (LOB%) is among the lowest in any month, while his K/BB ratio (2.39) is the lowest. It takes a little while for the big guy to get into his rhythm, but when he does, he’s a force.
The Yankees resident speedster has a difficult time getting into the season. During April, his slash line tells it all, .253/.325/.357, while his 85 wRC+ rating provides further evidence. Personally, I believe this is why Gardner is so quickly dismissed as a leadoff hitter, because he gives the skipper no choice, but to relegate him to a spot further down in the order with his performance at the plate.
His eye during the first month (9.1% BB%) is noticeably different than in other months (about two percentage points less). It’s not like he’s not making it on base, as his .312 BABIP during April is right in line with his career numbers, but it’s his increased K-rate (19.4% during April vs. 16.7% over entire career) really driving down his value to the lineup.
Would you believe me if I told you that Ichiro is just an average hitter throughout his career during April? He literally hits for a 100 wRC+ rating during the first month of the season. I’m sure any player would take his slash line .297/.349/.391 during the game’s first month, but that’s his worst. What fuels this the most is a noticeable difference in BABIP. During April he has recorded a .318 BABIP, but he usually resides in the .340-.350 range throughout an entire season. Like Gardner, if he doesn’t put the ball in play, he can’t force the defense’s hand, which hurts his value.
What is most odd about his splits is that he actually strikes out less and walks about the same amount as compared to his other months. Which leads me to believe that he’s just making poor contact on the balls he’s hitting in play. His flyball rate during April (24.7%) is higher than any other month, but not enough to really make that much of a difference.
Probably the worst offender on this list. His bad Aprils have stem from poor starts in both 2011 and 2012. He holds a 7.04 ERA (5.07 xFIP) in the game’s first month and his other stats aren’t any prettier. His K-rate and walk rates are bad (17.4 % and 10.4%, respectively) and opponents hit .291/.373/.473 off him. His .331 BABIP is by far the worst of any month, as he usually sits around the .280-.300 range. I can keep throwing stat after stat at you, making you cringe at each number, but I’ll spare you. Just know, once April changes to May, Hughes turns into a normal pitcher again, thankfully.
There you have it, five players who are slow starters coming out of the gate. Luckily, it’s only a month of the season, and outside Hughes and Gardner, it’s not THAT bad. It’s difficult seeing players like Tex and Sabathia struggle since they are two of the most trusted producers in the lineup and rotation (plus they get paid oodles of money), but everyone has a “worst month” throughout their career.
Were there any surprises on this list for you? Let us know in the comments below!
Stats courtesy of FanGraphs