A first-time MLB All-Star selection is a big deal for most players and Garrett Cooper is no exception. He got the news on July 12 that he had made the cut as an injury replacement, thanks to the support he had received on the player’s ballot. Speaking about the recognition that same day on Miami Mic’d Up with Jeremy Taché, Cooper described it as being one of the key “personal objectives of mine throughout my whole career.”
An All-Star selection is supposed to validate what a player has accomplished during their current season, serving as positive reinforcement to continue what they’ve been doing in the second half.
For Garrett Cooper, unfortunately, everything has been different since then. The announcement was an inflection point in his 2022 campaign. Since July 12, he shows up on the short list of MLB’s worst hitters. His .081 batting average during that span is dead last among 377 hitters who have had semi-regular playing time.
If you have followed Cooper’s career closely, you’re aware of the other prolonged slumps he’s had. During approximately the same stretch of the 2019 calendar, his bat went ice cold, and through the first quarter of the 2021 season, he was arguably the least valuable player on the Marlins roster. But the 31-year-old is taking his struggles to a new extreme right now. It’s been so bad that his overall offensive numbers have dipped below the standards he set in each of his three previous years as a bonafide major leaguer.
I reject the notion that Cooper’s demise can be explained by a simple lack of motivation. When his season began taking a wrong turn, the Marlins were still within striking distance of a postseason berth (five games back of the last National League Wild Card spot and only three back in the loss column). He is also in the midst of his arbitration years—compiling individual stats directly boosts his 2023 salary, strongly incentivizing him to keep grinding even while the team plummeted in the standings.
Should the Marlins tender a contract to Cooper for next year, who grades out as a slightly above-average hitter this season with only slightly more than replacement-level value when factoring in his defense and baserunning? The fact that the question doesn’t have an obvious answer speaks to how ugly this slump has been.
During his slump, Cooper is striking out far more than usual. It has happened in 34.1% of his plate appearances for somebody who ordinarily hovers in the mid-20s.
However, the most noticeable difference has been Cooper’s results on balls in play. From 2019-2021, he quietly ranked among baseball’s best at finding the holes in opposing defenses. That held true through three-plus months of this season. He posted a .379 BABIP entering July 12.
The numbers on their own cannot sufficiently express how astonishing the drop-off has been lately. It’s such a stark departure from any other stretch of Cooper’s career.
A player can compensate for bad batted ball luck by drawing a lot of walks or mashing balls over the wall occasionally. Alas, Cooper is homerless during this period.
What made Cooper successful particularly during his red-hot month of June was his right-center approach, as he explained to Jordan McPherson of the Miami Herald:
“Early on the year, I think I was trying to do a little bit too much, rolling over a lot of balls to third and short. Just staying staying through the ball is a big thing for me. To get my arms extended, even on pitches down and in, I can still keep the hands through the ball to drive to right-center. I’m at my best when I’m hitting the ball to center and right.”
Indeed, Cooper in late April/early May was uncharacteristically sending the majority of batted balls to the pull side. He is trending in that undesirable direction again. Paired with a lack of hard contact and being overly aggressive on pitches outside the strike zone, it’s a recipe for failure.
Unless there are lingering effects from his recent concussion scare that we are unaware of, I would expect Cooper to troubleshoot his approach like he has in the past, and if nothing else, boost his batting average in the coming weeks. He is far from the Marlins’ biggest concern offensively, which speaks to how dire the franchise’s outlook is.
During Cooper’s slump, the Marlins rank 30th among MLB teams in runs scored (109) and wRC+ (67) as well as each of the triple-slash categories. They are tied for last with 26 homers. Cooper has continued to bat in the heart of the lineup because all of the alternatives stink.
As discussed at length on Friday’s episode of Fish Stripes LIVE, the roadmap to revamping the Marlins offense for 2023 given their limited resources and underwhelming in-house solutions is murky.