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Five notable hitters who must rebound from early slumps

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Every Monday throughout the 2024 MLB season, Yardbarker will unveil a comprehensive list devoted to a baseball-related topic. This week, we’re ranking the top five most notable hitters who must rebound from slow starts.

For this ranking, we aren’t simply naming the five worst hitters in MLB. Instead, we’re ranking slumping players whose contributions are essential to the success of their respective teams. With that in mind, here is our list. (Statistics and records are through 4/14.)

5. Right fielder Ronald Acuna Jr., Atlanta Braves

The reigning National League MVP isn’t performing as poorly as the other names that will be mentioned on our list, though he’s still underperforming by his standards. In 14 games, the founding member of the 40-HR/70-SB club has a .273 batting average with no home runs, five RBI and seven stolen bases.

The 26-year-old is walking at an encouraging 13.8% clip, which is on pace to be a career high, but Acuna is also striking out in 23.1% of his at-bats, well above last season’s 11.4% strikeout rate. Despite his struggles, Acuna is posting a 104 wRC+, meaning he’s four percent better than the league average hitter, a testament to his capabilities. Nonetheless, Atlanta will need Acuna to hit his stride soon to help compensate for its early season pitching woes. 

4. Center fielder Cody Bellinger, Chicago Cubs

While many believed Bellinger, a member of the “Boras Four,” deserved a more lucrative deal this offseason following his resurgent 2023 season, he hasn’t lived up to his $27.5M annual price tag. Through 13 games, the 2019 NL MVP is slashing .172/.269/.293 with two home runs and 10 RBI and posting a 17.9% strikeout rate. Additionally, Bellinger’s -0.3 fWAR is tied for the eighth-worst mark among hitters. 

The Cubs (9-6) haven’t suffered too much because of Bellinger’s troubles, thanks in large to a recent power surge from rookie Michael Busch. Still, the NL Central is shaping up as one of the more competitive divisions in baseball and Bellinger must start producing to give Chicago a realistic shot at returning to the playoffs this season. 

3. Center fielder Byron Buxton, Minnesota Twins

On a positive note, the oft-injured Buxton is finally fully healthy and back to making incredible plays in the outfield. However, with star infielders Carlos Correa and Royce Lewis having landed on the injured list, Minnesota — which ranks 27th in runs (49) and 30th in batting average (.185) — desperately needs more offensive production from Buxton. 

Across 50 plate appearances this season, Buxton has hit .196 with no home runs and six RBI. He has drawn a walk in just two percent of his at-bats and registered a staggering 36% strikeout rate. In particular, Buxton has had difficulties hitting fastballs, posting a .214 batting average with four strikeouts and no extra base hits against four-seamers. If his bat speed returns to form, Buxton may deliver an offensive breakthrough to help the Twins (6-8) stay afloat in the American League Central race. 

2. Center fielder Julio Rodriguez, Seattle Mariners 

Coming off a fourth-place finish in last season’s AL MVP balloting, Rodriguez was thought by many to be a serious contender for the award in 2024. But he has looked relatively lost at the plate since hitting a walk-off single against Boston on March 31 and is batting .186 with a .441 OPS, no homers and five RBI through 14 games. As pointed out by MLB.com’s Daniel Kramer, the advanced metrics don’t favor Rodriguez either, with his chase, whiff, strikeout and walk rates ranking in the 21st percentile or lower.

Unfortunately for Rodriguez, his struggles haven’t been limited to just in the batter’s box. During Sunday’s 3-2 loss to the Cubs, Rodriguez was used as a pinch runner in the bottom of the ninth inning representing the tying run, only to be picked off at first base to end the game. For a player as young and talented as Rodriguez is, he could turn his season around in a hurry, but he must do it soon or he may continue spiraling.

1. Shortstop Francisco Lindor, New York Mets 

Lindor has been no stranger to slow starts at the plate since being traded to the Mets in 2021, but his struggles have reached a new low this season. The four-time All-Star has produced a slash line of .129/.236/.194 with just one home run and two RBI through 15 games in addition to posting a dismal 32 wRC+, the fifth worst in the majors.

Mets fans gave Lindor a standing ovation during this past weekend’s three-game set against Kansas City to help him snap his slump, similar to the one the Philadelphia faithful extended to Trea Turner last season. Although he didn’t fully break out, Lindor batted .273 and scored three runs against a pitching staff that has the third-best ERA (3.04) so far this season, so perhaps he’s finally turning the corner.

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