When a team is playing as poorly as the Miami Marlins have been, things tend to get magnified. It is easy to fall into the trap of getting concerned about players or teams when the overall struggles are so evident and it is the start of the year. For example, take a look at these two players:
Player 1, as the title probably suggests, is Christian Yelich in his first 11 games of the 2015 season. Player 2 is Christian Yelich, from games 41 to 51 last season. One run prompted articles such as this one from MLB.com's Joe Frisaro, asking questions about how Yelich is working to beat his early season slump. The other run? Well, a Google search for "Christian Yelich" from May 20 to May 30 of 2014 reveals a lot of recaps of his walk-off base hit and not a lot about his recent struggles.
What does that mean? Are Yelich's struggles meaningless, just a blip on the radar? Probably yes, maybe no. As you can see in the two samples, they are not exactly equivalent despite pretty similar batting lines. Yelich whiffed 13 times this year, which is a huge number even for a guy who strikes out more than 20 percent of the time in his career. For his part, he certainly feels bad about the situation.
"Terrible," Yelich said. "I mean, I don't know. I'm trying to remember a time when I felt this terrible out there, but I really can't. I don't know what's going on.
A player can say that and it can still be a pretty random occurrence or a natural ebb and flow of numbers as a season progresses. However, there is no denying that Yelich has made less contact this year thus far than he did last year. And in terms of early swing rates, Yelich has swung at a few more pitches this year than last season, and a good deal more outside the strike zone, at least percentage-wise.
However, there is at least a plausible reason for his struggles versus the Mets. By April 12, Yelich had been hitting a cool .304/.407/.348 with four strikeouts and four walks in 27 plate appearances. No one was clamoring for a quick fix at that point, but Yelich then injured his back at some point during the April 13 game and sat out the rest of the Atlanta Braves series. That means, at some point, the Marlins were concerned about his back enough to let him rest. Then he comes back and struggles, whiffing seven times in two games.
Splitting the data around the injury may just as easily be cherry-picking, but even if it is, we come back to the same point as before. We are 13 games into the season, and the complaints have really only come up in the last four games. Would any of us be writing articles or raising a fuss about this if it occurred in late June rather than early April? It seems unlikely that this would be a concern once the season was well under way and the numbers would take lesser hits as a result of an 11-game slide in hitting. However, the microcosm of the start of the year lends itself to storylines, and unfortunately Yelich's early-season success has now given way to failure, especially in light of him having done something highly unexpected of him.
To his credit, Yelich appears to understand that this sort of sensation and rut can happen at any time, injury or otherwise.
"That's not the problem," he said. "Just work on things to get that feel back. I just don't feel right right now. That happens over the course of a season. Usually you'd rather not have it happen right out the gate when we're already scuffling. That's how it's been. Like I said earlier, I've got to be better. These guys expect me to be better, and I will be."
Having it happen early in the year only leads to a narrative being built about a player and his season. If Yelich turns it around shortly, he can change that narrative towards the positive side. However, the fact that he is struggling right now may have no bearing at all with regards to a true change in or loss of skill from last year to this year. Most of the things on which we are judging Yelich right now can easily shift from week to week, month to month. Given that we also have an injury, minor as it may be, confounding our early season numbers, it seems unnecessary for anyone to make claims about how these 11 games may inform us of Yelich's future.
As with all things in April baseball, Marlins fans should give Yelich the benefit of more time. With the team struggling as a group, you want your best players playing well. However, that does not mean that anyone, whether it be analysts like me or coaches like Frank Menechino, should be trying to find flaws and fixes where there may not be any.