Ice-Cold MLB Starts That Are Sure to Turn Around

Karl BuscheckContributor IIIApril 9, 2014

Ice-Cold MLB Starts That Are Sure to Turn Around

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    Alex Gallardo

    From Prince Fielder to Matt Cain, some of the biggest stars in MLB are off to ice-cold starts in the opening days of the 2014 season. 

    Of course, it's still the first half of April, which means it's much too soon in the year to be jumping to any conclusions. What follows is a look at several forgettable MLB starts that are sure to turn around.

    Some of the players who crack this list are here because the sample sizes are just way too small at this point in the season. Others have a history of poor early returns, but they also have track records of success that indicate that the struggles won't continue throughout the 2014 campaign.

    So, let's take a look at MLB players off to frigid starts who are set to turn their seasons around.

Edwin Encarnacion, 1B, Toronto Blue Jays

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    Leon Halip/Getty Images

    The Ice-Cold Start:

    With 78 home runs over the past two seasons, Edwin Encarnacion has cemented his status as one of the premier power hitters in all of the American League. 

    So far in 2014, though, the Toronto Blue Jays' slugger is hitting .182(6-for-33) with two doubles, one triple and zero home runs and zero RBI in nine games. The number that most stands out, however, is the 12 strikeouts Encarnacion has already racked up.

     

    Why He'll Turn It Around:

    According to FanGraphs, that means the 31-year-old has struck out 34.5 percent of the time, which is substantially higher than his 10.0 K% in 2013 and his 15.9 K% over his entire MLB career. That discrepancy suggests that Encarnacion's strikeout percentage should drop significantly in the upcoming weeks. 

    There's also the consideration a slow April start is nothing new for the 2013 All-Star. As Bob Elliott of the Toronto Sun notes, Encarnacion was hitting .074 (2-for-27) after the first week of the 2013 campaign.

Jered Weaver, SP, Los Angeles Angels

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    Pat Sullivan

    The Ice-Cold Start:

    Jered Weaver has taken the mound for the Los Angeles Angels on two occasions in 2014, and both times the veteran has ended up as the losing pitcher. In his most recent outing on April 6, Weaver served up four home runs against the Houston Astros as the Angels lost 7-4. Currently, the righty is the owner of a 6.00 ERA.

     

    Why He'll Turn It Around:

    First, the three-time All-Star won't be pitching all his games at the notoriously hitter-friendly Minute Made Park, the home of the Houston Astros.

    Second, despite the fact that Weaver allowed four long balls against the Astros, the right-hander actually only allowed five hits in total. The 31-year-old also didn't issue a single walk, which is an encouraging sign. With his fastball now sitting in the 86 mph to 88 mph range, per Alden Gonzalez of MLB.com, pinpoint command will be of the utmost importance for Weaver to get back on track.

Josh Donaldson, 3B, Oakland Athletics

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    Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    The Ice-Cold Start:

    After landing fourth in the American League MVP Award voting last year, Josh Donaldson's 2014 season has not gone as planned so far.

    Through his first nine games, the Oakland Athletics' third baseman is batting .194 (7-for-36) with three doubles and two RBI. Donaldson's struggles included an 0-for-20 rut, which was a career-worst, per Joe Stiglich of CSN Bay Area. On the season, the 28-year-old has also drawn just one walk to 11 strikeouts. 

     

    Why He'll Turn It Around:

    In an interviews on 95.7 The Game, Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle remarked that she "could easily see him hitting his groove soon." That's a more-than-reasonable assessment, considering Donaldson's intelligent and patient approach at the plate.

    Last year, the right-handed hitter was ranked No. 18 in all of baseball with an average of 4.04 pitches per plate appearance, according to ESPN.com. There's no doubt that it will be a challenge for Donaldson to match his .301/.384/.499 slash line from a season ago. Still, a .280 average with 18 home runs is a completely viable target.

Matt Cain, SP, San Francisco Giants

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    Chris Carlson

    The Ice-Cold Start:

    In his first two starts of 2014, Matt Cain has worked 11 innings, allowing eight runs (seven earned) on 13 hits. On April 6, his second outing of the year, the Los Angeles Dodgers tagged the right-hander for three home runs. 

    As Alex Pavlovic of the San Jose Mercury News notes, the three-home run barrage was reminiscent of the way the 2013 season started when the veteran allowed three home runs in three of his first nine starts.

     

    Why He'll Turn It Around:

    While Pavolvic's parallel is certainly troubling, it's also worth pointing out that Cain rebounded from that poor beginning a season ago. Last year, the righty posted a 5.06 ERA in 19 starts leading up to the All-Star break. In 11 second-half appearances, though, he recorded a 2.36 ERA.

    Of course, this year, the San Francisco Giants will be hoping that it won't take Cain the entire first half of the season to regain his form.

Allen Craig, 1B, St. Louis Cardinals

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    The Ice-Cold Start:

    Through his first eight games of the season, Allen Craig is batting .097 (3-for-31) with zero extra-base hits. The right fielder, who has been dropped into the No. 6 spot in the St. Louis Cardinals lineup, has also endured an 0-for-14 skid in the early goings of 2014. 

     

    Why He'll Turn It Around:

    Simply put, Craig is a far-too-accomplished hitter to continue floundering so badly. During his big league career, the 29-year-old is a .301/.353/.483 hitter over 1,322 at-bats. Aside from a 44-game stint back in 2010, the right-handed batter has never hit below .307 in a single season. I expect Craig to extend that streak in 2014.

Pablo Sandoval, 3B, San Francisco Giants

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    Jae C. Hong

    The Ice-Cold Start:

    Pablo Sandoval's contract year has gotten off to a terrible start, as the third baseman is currently batting .143 (5-for-35) with one double and one home run through his first nine games of the season. 

     

    Why He'll Turn it Around:

    While playing during a contract season can often provide a player with extra motivation, in the case of Sandoval, the situation instead appears to have become a distraction for the switch-hitter. However, that should no longer be an issue, as Andrew Baggarly of CSN Bay Area tweets that "all contract talks with Pablo Sandoval have been tabled."

    Now, the career .296 hitter can focus all of his attention on the field as he looks to prove to the Giants and the rest of MLB just how valuable he really is.

Ivan Nova, SP, New York Yankees

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    Alex Brandon

    The Ice-Cold Start:

    On April 8, Ivan Nova got torched for seven runs on 10 hits as he made it through just 3.2 innings against the Baltimore Orioles. The right-hander now has an 8.68 ERA after two starts, and he's allowed an astonishing 21 baserunners in 9.1 innings of work.

     

    Why He'll Turn It Around:

    This is a bold call, as Nova has proven to be consistently inconsistent throughout his big league career. A bad April is nothing new for the 27-year-old. Last year, it was his worst month of the season, as the righty turned in a 6.48 ERA in four starts. 

    However, for now, manager Joe Girardi isn't overly concerned by Nova's poor April showings, as he explained via Andrew Marchard of ESPNNewYork.com. 

    "I wouldn't make too much of two starts. I know it's glaring in the beginning, but I always say this: If it is in the middle of the year, you probably don't say too much about it."

Jay Bruce, RF, Cincinnati Reds

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    Elsa/Getty Images

    The Ice-Cold Start:

    Nine games into the 2014 season, Jay Bruce is hitting .188 (6-for-32) with nine strikeouts for the Cincinnati Reds. Even for a hitter who went down on strikes 185 times in 2013, that's a ton of strikeouts. 

     

    Why He'll Turn It Around:

    The 27-year-old right-fielder has a track record of getting off to less-than-impressive starts. In 2013, April was Bruce's worst month of all in terms of OBP (.312), slugging percentage (.339) and OPS (.651).

    Plus, even though the two-time All-Star has scuffled during the early goings of the 2014 season, it's not as though his trademark power stroke has deserted him. Bruce has already clubbed a pair of home runs, and in his most recent game action on April 8 against the St. Louis Cardinals, the slugger smashed a two-run triple. Already, it appears as if Bruce is hitting his way out of his early slump.

Prince Fielder, 1B, Texas Rangers

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    Jim Rogash/Getty Images

    The Ice-Cold Start:

    Prince Fielder is still finding his swing as the new No. 3 hitter for the Texas Rangers. In his first nine games, the left-handed batter is hitting .162 (6-for-37) with a couple of doubles and three RBI. The 29-year-old has also already made costly blunders in the field and on the basepaths.

     

    Why He'll Turn It Around:

    While the miscues as a defender and a baserunner will likely become a recurring theme, there's absolutely no doubt that Fielder will improve drastically at the plate.

    Last year, in what qualified as a down season by his standards, Fielder posted an .819 OPS and clubbed 25 home runs. However, in the two seasons before that, the five-time All-Star posted an OPS of .940 or higher. The first baseman is also one of the most durable players in all of baseball, having missed just one game from 2009-2013.

     

    Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and MLB.com unless otherwise noted. 

    If you want to talk baseball, find me on Twitter @KarlBuscheck.