In the midst of a cataclysmic start to the 2017 season, is it time to be concerned with New York Yankees first baseman Greg Bird?
If you can go back a month from this moment and ask your slightly younger self what they expect from New York Yankees first baseman Greg Bird in 2017, odds are they’d give you a relatively optimistic answer.
After all, the 24-year-old finished the spring as the major league leader in extra-base hits (16), on-base percentage (.556), slugging percentage (1.098), on-base plus slugging (1.654) and was tied with Bryce Harper for the home run lead (8).
At this point, you’d presumably tell your slightly younger self to be prepared for disappointment.
Through the first 14 games of the 2017 regular season, Greg Bird owns a .104/.204/.229 slash line and has hit just one home run in 48 at-bats. He’s entered play on Sunday with the worst batting average (.111), third-worst wRC+ (32), second-worst OPS (.460) and fifth worst WAR (-0.3) among major league first baseman with at least 50 plate appearances this season.
If you wanted to tab him as one of the worst hitters in baseball at this moment, you could probably get away with it. However, this slump, in particular, been more exaggerated than others for a couple of reasons.
Firstly, he was coming off a 2015 campaign in which he smacked 11 home runs in 46 games — a total of 38 when proportioned to a full season. That is really difficult to recreate, particularly for a guy shouldering massive expectations and coming off an operation on a torn labrum. Rust should have been expected and rust is exactly what we are witnessing.
Secondly, this is a classic case of a slump obtaining a ton of attention because it’s the opening month of the season. If Bird was tearing the cover off the baseball like Aaron Judge is right now and fell into a two-week funk during August, would there be as much clamor? Perhaps not.
Nevertheless, I’m not about to dismiss what we’re seeing here and what we’re seeing is not a case of Kevin Maas. It’s not the league catching up to him. In fact, there are no red flags about this slump in any way, shape or form.
While Bird was on a 38-homer pace in 2015, his strikeout rate sat at 29.8 percent while his walk rate was 10.7 percent. That’s not that great. In fact, the major league average last season was 24.5 percent so Bird was striking out at a higher-than-normal rate, to begin with.
Why is this important? Because his strikeout rate here in the early going of 2017 is 33.3 percent. Still high, but nothing far off from what we can expect from Greg Bird in the early stages of his career. In other words: we’ve seen him succeed immensely under the same circumstance before.
Next, you have to look at batting average on balls in play, which measures how often a ball in play goes for a hit. Entering Sunday, Bird’s BABIP was .148 and is extremely distant from what his average is (.281). A case like this usually tells us that, unless the style of play has changed considerably (looking at the uniform strikeout rate, it hasn’t), Bird is suffering from a case of bad luck.
A lack of quality of contact would usually dismiss the “luck” stance, but Bird entered play on Sunday with the second-highest hard contact rate (46.4 percent) on the Yankees — second to only Aaron Judge, of course.
Additionally, that rate is higher than Bird’s total in 2015 (44.8 percent) and the lefty is going the opposite way at a whopping rate of 42.9 percent — the sixth-best opposite field rate in major league baseball.
That said, come back from that ledge, Yankees’ fans. This is nothing more than an early-season a slump and his tendencies are indicating that his bat surely won’t be this corrupt all season.
We’ve already seen signs of it. Just last week against the St. Louis Cardinals, Bird smacked a 435-foot moonshot into the bleachers in right and just missed two more at PNC Park over the weekend. The results are coming, just have to wait for the luck to turn toward the Bird Man’s way.