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The Strike Zone

Down Low, Too Slow: Five players off to awful starts this season

Mike Moustakas remains without a hit through Kansas City's first five games. (Paul Sancya/AP)Mike Moustakas remains without a hit through Kansas City's first five games. (Paul Sancya/AP)

Yesterday, I took a look at the five players off to the best starts in the 2014 regular season. Today, I look at those off to the worst starts, a list headed by two former No. 2 overall draft picks who were among the worst regulars in the majors last year, as well.

B.J. Upton, CF, Braves

Season Stats: .120/.120/.160, 11 strikeouts

Upton's first season with the Braves last year was a disaster. He hit just .184/.268/.289, was 1.3 wins worse than a replacement-level player according to Baseball-Reference's wins above replacement and finished the season on the bench while the Braves played Evan Gattis in leftfield during the playoffs. Upton spent the offseason working with Braves hitting coach Greg Walker and came to camp believing he had recovered his hitting mechanics from his days with the Rays. His performance in spring training, however, was underwhelming, and he has been even worse thus far in 2014 than he was in 2013.

On the positive side, Upton has three hits so far, including a double, and was successful in his only stolen base attempt. On the far greater downside, he hasn't drawn a walk and, thanks to hitting into a double play, has made 23 outs in 25 plate appearances, 11 of them by strikeout. Those 11 Ks lead the majors and account for 44 percent of his trips to the plate this season, as he has struck out multiple times in all but one of his six games. Upton's strikeout rate wouldn't be a record unless he maintained it past 150 plate appearances, but it's notable all the same. At that pace, he would break Mark Reynolds' single-season strikeout record in just 510 plate appearances (Reynolds had 662 when he set the record at 223 in 2009).

Mike Moustakas, 3B, Royals

Season Stats: .000/.143/.000, 21 PA

Moustakas is four years younger than Upton and wasn't quite as bad as his fellow former No. 2 pick last year. Still, Moustakas' .233/.287/.364 line in 2013 was a major disappointment coming from a 24-year-old who had 20 home runs the year before and whom the Royals have long hoped would emerge as a middle-of-the-order force in their batting order. Moustakas had a monster spring, hitting .429/.522/.768 with four home runs (a full third of his 2013 total), but he remains hitless in the regular season and leads the majors in plate appearances among hitters still looking for their first hit. Moustakas has drawn a walk in each of Kansas City's last three games and has only struck out four times, but it's hard to do much worse than 0-for-the-season. Oh, and he's made two errors in five games in the field.

Zack Cozart, SS, Reds

Season Stats: .043/.043/.043

Cozart is 1-for-23 on the season without a walk or an extra-base hit, making him the only qualified batter in the majors to have reached base only once. Cozart boasts the major league's lowest on-base percentage, OPS and OPS+ and is second only to Moustakas for lowest batting average and slugging percentage among qualified hitters. Like Upton, he has also hit into a double play, so he has actually made 24 outs in 24 plate appearances.

Ricky Nolasco, SP, Twins

Season Stats: 0-1, 9.00 ERA, 2.30 WHIP (10 IP)

My list of the five players off to the best starts this season included two in the first season of new multi-year extensions, the Braves' Freddie Freeman and the Phillies' Chase Utley. By comparison, Nolasco is the only member of this list who entered the year with a new contract. Nolasco signed a four-year, $49 million deal with the Twins in November and has started his Twins career by allowing five runs in each of his first two starts. His 9.00 ERA is tied with Texas' Tanner Scheppers for the worst among pitchers who have made two starts this season, and only Scheppers has a higher WHIP among that group (Scheppers avoided this list with solid start in Boston Monday night: 5 IP, 2 R). Most alarmingly, opposing batters are hitting .395/.460/.698 against Nolasco this season, making it no exaggeration to say that he's making the rest of the league look like Babe Ruth.

Brandon McCarthy, SP, Diamondbacks

Season Stats: 0-1, 7.82 ERA, 4 HR (12 2/3 IP)

McCarthy has a tidy 1.18 WHIP and a strong 3.50 strikeout-to-walk ratio, so how did he make this list? Because, despite allowing opposing batters to reach base just 29 percent of the time and benefiting from a pitcher-friendly .231 batting average on balls in play, McCarthy leads the majors in earned runs allowed with 11 thanks in part to his surrendering a major-league-high four home runs. McCarthy gave up five runs in 6 2/3 innings in his season debut and six runs in six innings against the Rockies last Saturday. Given that he posted an 84 ERA+ last year in the first season of his two-year contract with the Diamondbacks and that it's only a matter of time before his shoulder sends him back to the disabled list, something it has done each of the last five seasons, McCarthy may be the player on this list who receives the least opportunity to recover from his poor start to the 2014 season.

Honorable mention: Ryan Flaherty, Allen Craig, Ubaldo Jimenez

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