Greg Bird has struggled through his first 16 games of the 2017 season. It’s been so bad that some are starting to wonder if he is ever going to make it and whether or not he should be allowed to play every day at this point. A .109/.222/.218 batting line isn’t going to get you many fans, but thankfully for him, the only other option would be Chris Carter, and he’s been about just as bad. Given this reality, it’s time to settle in and give Bird time to turn things around. There is evidence that suggests he’s hanging in there and could improve soon.
He’s been unlucky
Baseball can be a game of luck at times, and Greg Bird has certainly been unlucky in the early goings of the season. Right now his batting average on balls in play is a measly .147, which you have to imagine isn’t sustainable for very long. At some point he will begin to revert to a normal number as more balls in play find holes where the defenders aren’t.
That’s not to say that luck has everything to do with Bird’s struggles right now. While many like to refer to BABIP as the luck stat, all it really does is measure how often the ball finds a hole when a player makes contact. Sometimes that can be due to bad luck, like we saw last night when Adam Jones caught that ball at the wall that was at least a double. Other times, weak contact is to blame for a low BABIP, but it’s likely somewhere in the middle for Bird because he’s measured in the middle of the pack when it comes to exit velocity.
He’s still walking
When a player struggles for an extended period of time, it’s always key that they find some way to remain productive. If they are getting on base, it’s likely a sign that they are still seeing the ball well, aren’t being overaggressive, and have a game plan in mind. If they are walking, it means that their struggles might be more mechanical in nature than simply being unable to catch up to major league pitching.
As the YES booth confirmed last night, Bird is seemingly late on everything he sees, which can result in many ugly whiffs (a 31.7% K-rate) and weak contact. Thankfully, his impressive eye at the plate has not gone anywhere as Bird continues to walk at an 11.1% rate. It’s nothing record-breaking, but it will be enough to help him stay in the lineup through these hard times.
He’s hitting the ball well
While things aren’t going his way, Greg Bird continues to hit the ball into the air. Typically, during a slide like this, a player will generate weak contact and ground out at a continuous and agonizing pace. Bird, however, is hitting the ball on the ground only 29% of the time, which isn’t too far off from his career average in the minors.
Meanwhile, his 58.8% fly ball rate is seven percent higher than what he did in 2015, showing that he’s hitting plenty of pitches into the air. Not all of those batted balls are the hardest hit, but the more balls you hit in the air, the more likely it is that some of them will start to fall in. We’ve seen him get robbed before, so it’s just a matter of time before his luck begins to change.
He isn’t chasing bad pitches
The good news is that his plate discipline is very much the same as it was in 2015. Bird is swinging at the same amount of pitches overall. He’s chasing a few more out of the zone, but an increase of three percent isn’t going to make or break his season. The biggest change he’s exhibiting is an increase in his zone swing, which has gone from 66% in 2015 to 71.4% in 2017. He’s recognizing more pitches in the zone and trying to do something with them. While that certainly isn’t a bad thing, if his timing is off, it means he’s not connecting with those pitches as often as he should be. There’s also the risk that he’s starting to press in an effort to get out of his slump.
Overall, there are plenty of good signs that show Greg Bird is hanging in there. It’s been almost a month, but let’s continue to be patient and give him time to get in a rhythm. There’s no doubt in my mind that his ankle injury from earlier in the year has messed with his timing a little. He’ll figure it out eventually.