This article appeared in The Wall Street Journal on July 18, 2016.
Major League Baseball’s All-Star Week was a chance to celebrate some of the game’s great hitters. Miami Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton slugged a ridiculous 61 home runs en route to his first Home Run Derby victory and legendary Boston Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz made his final appearance in the Midsummer Classic.
But there’s one hitter whose historic achievements this season weren’t recognized in the festivities: Atlanta Braves shortstop Erick Aybar, who is quietly putting together one of the worst offensive seasons by a position player in over a generation.
Aybar, who was acquired from the Los Angeles Angels in November via a trade, was an All-Star himself as recently as 2014. But the drop-off in his production this season is startling. Over his first 10 years in the league, Aybar was a regular at or near the top of the Angels’ lineup, hitting .276 for them. In 72 games this year, however, he’s batting just .210 with a lone home run, 14 RBI and 64 total bases. In fact, 110 players already have more total bases than Aybar’s on pace for this year—and that’s assuming he plays every game going forward.
But those numbers don’t tell the full story of his struggles at the plate. The 32-year-old’s on-base plus slugging percentage, or OPS, is nearly 50 points worse than any qualifying hitter this year. (Due to a recent stint on the disabled list, Aybar is 18 plate appearances short of qualifying.) His OPS+, which takes a hitter’s OPS, adjusts it for different ballpark factors and puts it on a scale where 100 is the league average, is just 43. That ranks as the lowest OPS+ the league has witnessed in any non-shortened season since 1980.
Despite already setting a personal best with five intentional walks (a benefit of playing in the National League and batting in front of the pitcher more often than previously), Aybar’s 4.25 strikeout-to-walk ratio is by far the worst of his career. Even his speed seems to have vanished. Though he has averaged 18 stolen bases over the past seven seasons, only four MLB players this year have a worse stolen base-caught stealing differential than Aybar’s minus-2.
Last month, there were signs that Aybar may have been turning his abysmal season around. He hit .302 with five doubles in June; good for a .790 OPS. Thus far in July, however, he has regressed, with only eight hits and a 10-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 12 games played.
History doesn’t suggest Aybar will be able to snap out of his slump, either. He hasn’t improved on his first-half numbers during the second half of any year since 2012 and has only done so once since 2009.