The return of the 162-game schedule, compared to last year’s 60-game sprint, gives slow starters quite a bit more breathing room. The first month no longer amounts to half of the entire season.
Still, even in a normal year, slumping out of the gates is tough. It magnifies failure. A rough two weeks in April splashes ugly numbers across video boards and box scores in a way that a rough two weeks in July would not.
But Major Leaguers wouldn’t be Major Leaguers in the first place if they gave up easily. These seven hitters didn’t and have turned things around after slow starts. As we approach the two-month mark of the 2021 season, here's how things are looking up for them.
Players are listed with their wRC+, a park-adjusted measure of overall offensive production for which 100 is league average. All numbers are entering Friday’s games.
José Abreu, 1B, White Sox
Slow start (27 G):.202/.302/.374 (93 wRC+)
Rebound (18 G): .338/.408/.662 (192 wRC+)
There’s a lot of expectations that come with being a reigning MVP, especially on a team with World Series dreams. But while Abreu did have some early-season moments -- including a pair of grand slams -- his overall offensive production wasn’t up to his standards. That didn’t last long, however. While Abreu missed a few games with an ankle problem, that didn't slow him down, and he drove in 21 runs over his past 18 games. While the Sox are missing Eloy Jiménez and Luis Robert, getting Abreu, Yoán Moncada and Andrew Vaughn going offensively has helped put them atop the AL Central.
Andrew Benintendi, LF, Royals
Slow start (16 G): .180/.254/.230 (39 wRC+)
Rebound (29 G): .346/.400/.481 (147 wRC+)
Benintendi’s start was all the more alarming because it came on the heels of a lost 2020 season (.103 average in just 14 games) and a mediocre 2019. Would Benintendi get back to the player he was for the champion 2018 Red Sox? The Royals thought so and swung an offseason trade for him. It took a few weeks of adjustments, with Benintendi tweaking his stance and making an effort to use the whole field at spacious Kauffman Stadium. The 26-year-old has been making more and harder contact over the past month, and he's looking more like the player who at times seemed like a future star in Boston.
Gavin Lux, 2B/SS, Dodgers
Slow start (18 G): .169/.203/.237 (38 wRC+)
Rebound (22 G): .321/.384/.487 (144 wRC+)
A first-round pick and top-five prospect, Lux crushed Minor League pitching in 2018-19, but his transformation into the Dodgers’ latest star hit some snags once he got to the Majors. That continued into 2021, including a short stint on the injured list for a wrist ailment. But Lux got it going at an opportune time for an L.A. club that lost shortstop Corey Seager to the IL just as it was emerging from a losing skid. Lux has been filling in at short and getting some big hits, helping the Dodgers find their footing and impressing teammates and manager Dave Roberts.
Joc Pederson, LF, Cubs
Slow start (16 G): .137/.262/.235 (48 wRC+)
Rebound (19 G): .338/.380/.535 (150 wRC+)
Ignore a strange, shortened 2020 season, and Pederson has always hit, at least against right-handed pitching. But his first few weeks as a Cub were a struggle, coinciding with a tepid start for the club’s offense as a whole. Pederson then landed on the IL with a wrist injury. When he returned on May 4, his bat came with him. Pederson has five three-hit games since then and is finding his power stroke, one reason the Cubs have been one of MLB’s top teams this month. As Pederson said recently, “You’ve gotta just trust your ability.”
Austin Riley, 3B, Braves
Slow start (15 G): .182/.275/.182 (31 wRC+)
Rebound (34 G): .362/.457/.690 (207 wRC+)
Like Lux, Riley was an appealing breakout pick before the season but then began 2021 in a funk. It took 18 games for the 24-year-old to notch his first extra-base hit. That was odd for a player who had homered nine times in his first 18 career games back in 2019, but it proved to be temporary. In his past nine games, Riley has 11 extra-base hits, including seven roundtrippers, lifting his overall slugging percentage to .550. From April 18 through Thursday, only one qualified hitter had a higher wRC+: Fernando Tatis Jr.
Kyle Schwarber, LF, Nationals
Slow start (19 G): .181/.253/.319 (56 wRC+)
Rebound (18 G): .267/.375/.560 (154 wRC+)
The man Pederson replaced at Wrigley Field moved to Washington but had his Nats debut delayed by an IL stint due to COVID-19 protocols. Even when he returned, Schwarber was not getting the job done, with the notable exception of two massive walk-off home runs. Schwarber is never going to hit for average, but Washington acquired him for his ability to draw walks and mash taters. Well, Schwarber has 11 walks and six big flies in those past 18 games. With fellow offseason addition Josh Bell also heating up, the Nats’ lineup is looking more formidable these days.
Marcus Semien, 2B, Blue Jays
Slow start (17G): .174/.247/.348 (64 wRC+)
Rebound (32 G): .349/.413/.651 (191 wRC+)
Like three others on this list, Semien is a face in a new place this season -- with the added change of playing a new position after six seasons as Oakland’s shortstop. He showed some power in the early going, with four homers in his first 11 games, but wasn’t finding much success otherwise. But since April 21, Semien is No. 1 in the Majors in FanGraphs’ WAR among position players, and his overall production looks a lot like it did in 2019, when Semien finished third in the AL MVP race.