Career minor leaguer Jeremy Hazelbaker burst onto the scene this year with a .317 average and 5 home runs in April. He’s cooled off considerably since then, and his poor performance in May has some wondering if he’s going to stick in the majors.
Having narrowly made the Cards’ 25 man roster out of spring training, Hazelbaker made the most of the opportunity in a torrid month of April. He was among the league leaders with a 38.6% hard hit percentage (Fangraphs) and did an excellent job hitting to all fields (36.4% to left, 31.8% to center, 31.8% to right). There were some ominous signs, though, as his unsustainable .395 BABIP and 45.5% home run per fly ball percentage were, predictably, not sustained.
Fast forward to May, and you’ll see some distinctly different numbers in those areas. His BABIP is down to .233 with a 16.7% home run per fly ball percentage last month. These sorts of numbers mostly are a sign that his early luck has run out (and has perhaps even over adjusted). However, it’s likely that there’s been an adjustment to Hazelbaker league wide. Once word about a hitter’s exploits gets passed around the league, it’s up to the hitter to make an adjustment in return. He’s hitting the ball hard just more than half as often as in April (38.6% to 21.9%).
While plate discipline wasn’t a strength of his early on, it’s somehow become even more of an issue as he struggles. He struck out more than 9 times for each walk he took in May while striking out in an absurd 35.8% of his plate appearances. Interestingly enough, there seems to be an easily identifiable reason for this. Hazelbaker had a much more difficult time making contact with off-speed pitches in May than in April. His whiff percentage on breaking balls jumped from 13% to 28%, while general off-speed misses went from 17% to 27% (Brooks Baseball).
It stands to wonder then why Hazelbaker saw roughly the same percentage of off-speed pitches in May despite his pronounced struggles with them (constant around 39%). Unfortunately for him, until he shows he can hit a breaking ball, he’s most likely going to see a lot more of them going forwards. That’s a big part of breaking into the big leagues. It’s not just having enough raw talent to succeed on a nightly basis, but being able to identify how your opponent is trying to get you out, and working to make a tweak in order to counter that.
With Tommy Pham and Jhonny Peralta close to returning, it’s Hazelbaker’s roster spot that could be in jeopardy. That’s unwelcome news for the 28-year-old outfielder, as another stint in the minors definitely isn’t on his bucket list.
Photo Captured by Benny Sieu – USA TODAY Sports