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UConn in the MLB: Husky alumni struggling during first weeks of shortened season

George Springer, Matt Barnes, and Nick Ahmed have all performed poorly so far in 2020

Houston Astros v Los Angeles Angels
Myles Straw of the Houston Astros congratulates George Springer of the Houston Astros after his two-run home run during the ninth inning of a game against the Los Angeles Angels. (Seann M. Haffey - Getty Images)
Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

With MLB’s abridged season in full swing, other than a couple teams dealing with COVID-19 in their clubhouse, it’s time to check in on UConn’s professional alumni playing in The Show.

Most of them have struggled out of the gate with George Springer, Nick Ahmed, and Matt Barnes all amidst a schneid, but Anthony Kay had some bright spots in his season debut. Let’s take a closer look at how each former Husky is doing so far:

George Springer

The Houston Astros’ leadoff hitter really struggled out of the gate. In his first five games, he had just one hit – a solo shot off Nestor Cortes Jr. on July 25. Since then, he has started heating up at the plate with five hits in the past three games, including a homer and six RBI.

To start the young season, Springer is slashing .182/.333/.364 and has struck out at a 21.4% rate – which is his highest since 2016. His 16.7% walk rate is the highest of his career and his .364 slugging percentage is the worst it’s ever been, with his next lowest mark being .434 in 2018.

Springer and the ‘Stros are primed to turn it around as they’ve had to play the Los Angeles Dodgers and their league-best team 1.84 ERA so far this season. Starting Tuesday, the Astros will play a three-game set against the Arizona Diamondbacks and fellow Husky Nick Ahmed.

Nick Ahmed

Springer has struggled this season, but nowhere near the degree that Ahmed has. In 31 plate appearances, he’s mustered just a pair of hits and three walks. According to FanGraphs, his .065 batting average is the second worst in baseball next to Christian Yelich’s .037. He also has a -33 wRC+, which is second-worst in baseball.

So far, things have not looked good at the dish for the two-time Gold Glover. His launch angle has been well-below his career average, at just 3.5 degrees, and he has yet to barrel a ball this season. One positive is his solid K% which sits at 17.6% through the first 10 games, his lowest since 2015.

Anthony Kay

Kay took the loss on July 26 in his only appearance so far this season, allowing one earned over 2.2 innings of relief against the Tampa Bay Rays.

He picked up a couple strikeouts against right-hand hitters Jose Martinez and Ji Man Choi, who is somehow a switch hitter this season even though he hadn’t hit on that side of the dish since 2015.

Kay came in with one out in the third inning and gave up a double to Brandon Lowe after striking out Choi. He set down the next seven batters before giving up a bomb to Choi in the sixth. He was lifted a batter later.

Matt Barnes

I am writing this directly after watching him hang a knuckle curve to Aaron Judge, who proceeded to send my hopes and dreams 468 feet into space – so disclaimer: Barnes has simply not been good this year.

His 3.00 ERA coming into Sunday’s game against the New York Yankees was already deceiving, as he also had a 9.40 FIP and 6.27 xFIP through three appearances, according to FanGraphs. He has also somehow managed to been worth -0.2 fWAR in just three appearances. He has yet to retire the side in order this year, allowing at least one baserunner per game thus far.

Now comparing it to his numbers after his loss to the Yankees Sunday, his ERA jumped all the way to a 9.00 with an xERA of 12.28, according to Baseball Savant. His FIP jumped to 11.30 and his xFIP to 7.00. In a shortened season, there aren’t many opportunities to fix those numbers, so he’ll have to turn a corner and do it fast.

Taking a look at more of analytics through the first four games, he had a 58.3% hard hit rate and hitters had an average exit velocity of 94.9, according to Baseball Savant – not great.

He has relied on the curve a lot this season, up from 50% last year to 61% this year. He’s lost at least a mile per hour on each of his pitches, which isn’t unusual as a pitcher ages.

Barnes is 30 years old now and he’s losing velocity while steadily losing control of his pitches at the same time – not a good combination. Since 2017, he has consistently increased his walks per nine from 3.62 in 2017 to 5.32 in 2019.

Inactive Players:

Scott Oberg (IL)

Oberg’s season started on the IL with a strained back but his return to action was put in doubt Sunday after doctors discovered blood clots in his right arm. He has dealt with this issue in the past, including an IL stint last August.

John Andreoli

Despite making the Boston Red Sox’ 60-man player pool and playing in the team’s pre-season intrasquad games, Andreoli did not make the 30-man roster for Opening Day.