5 NL East players who can turn it around

April 22nd, 2021

For some of the NL East’s most prominent newcomers, the transition to a new team hasn’t been exactly smooth. In New York, struggled for weeks before hitting his first home run on Wednesday. In Washington, has stumbled out to a cold start.

Then again, it’s not just the newcomers, as several of the division’s most consistent returning players have also endured rough Aprils. Here’s one player from each NL East club who has a chance to turn things around -- and quickly.

Braves: 1B
Those worrying about Freeman’s bid to repeat as the NL's MVP have likely not seen how unfortunate he has been while consistently making hard contact through this season’s first few weeks. Freeman’s expected batting average has hovered approximately 100 points higher than his actual batting average, and his expected slugging percentage was more than 120 points higher than his actual slugging percentage earlier this week.

Freeman hit five homers through his first 16 games, and his average exit velocity has been slightly higher than it was last year. After Tuesday night’s loss to the Yankees, he had a 1.042 OPS over his last 11 games following a 2-for-21 stretch to open the season. So while his batting average might not be pretty, the reigning MVP’s bid to repeat seems to be just fine.
-- Mark Bowman

Marlins: 3B
Entering Thursday, Anderson was slashing just .183/.246/.283 with an OPS of .529 through 16 games. But if you dig a bit deeper, you’ll notice he has been the victim of some bad luck with a BABIP of .227. No play greater encapsulates that sentiment than one that occurred in Tuesday’s loss to the Orioles, when Austin Hays made a highlight-reel catch in right field to rob Anderson of extra bases. According to Statcast, the flyout had an expected batting average of .670.

There are two main reasons why there shouldn’t be cause for concern: track record and type of contact. From 2019-20, Anderson produced near identical slash lines (.261/.342/.468 vs. .255/.345/.465) and has seen his OPS+ improve to 117. So far in 2021, his barrel percentage (11.1%) is higher than his 2020 mark, while his weak (2.2%) and flare (13.3%) numbers are down. Anderson also has a career-low ground-ball rate (37.8%).
-- Christina De Nicola

Mets: SS
Outfielder already appears to be emerging (albeit slowly) from his early-season slump, which turns the spotlight more fully on Lindor. He has had a tough time making hard contact early in his Mets tenure, which would be less of a narrative if he hadn’t just signed a 10-year, $341 million extension with the club.

The most significant thing working in Lindor’s favor is his strike zone judgment, which has been excellent. The shortstop entered Wednesday’s play ranked 13th in the Majors in walk rate and third in strikeout rate, with nine of the former and just three of the latter. His contact rate was also among the best in baseball, though he hadn’t done much damage on those pitches until homering off Cubs right-hander Zach Davies. According to Mets hitting coach Chili Davis, that’s mostly been the product of inconsistent opportunities, with the Mets enduring seven postponements due to weather and COVID-19 issues. Once Lindor begins logging more regular trips to the plate, Davis said, his slump should quickly become a thing of the past.

Nationals: 1B
Bell gave a glimpse into his hard-hitting potential when he batted .383 with a 1.328 OPS and six home runs in 18 Spring Training games. After beginning the season on the injured list because of COVID-19 protocols, Bell got off to a slow start at the plate (2-for-20 in his first six games). But he showed signs of a turnaround this week against the Cardinals, knocking his first homer as a member of the Nats on Tuesday. Washington acquired Bell from Pittsburgh this offseason to add power and protection behind in its lineup. With Soto on the 10-day IL (left shoulder strain), Bell is a veteran who could hit his stride when his team needs an offensive boost. -- Jessica Camerato

Phillies: 3B
Bohm finished second in NL Rookie of the Year voting last season because he not only batted .338 with an .881 OPS, but also consistently came up big in clutch situations. Only Mike Yastrzemski (2.935), Freddie Freeman (2.705) and Brandon Lowe (2.407) ranked ahead of Bohm (2.287) in Win Probability Added. But so far in his sophomore season, Bohm is batting only .219 with a .618 OPS in 18 games.

Bohm’s swing and approach are simply too good not to have him right the ship a little bit. Does it mean he will match his numbers last season? No, not necessarily. But he should improve enough to give the Phillies’ lineup a little more length and make them a little more dangerous. -- Todd Zolecki