Royals 2011 no. 5 overall pick Bubba Starling enjoyed what many believed to be a breakthrough season at the plate in 2015. Through the first five weeks of 2016, he’s backsliding at AA NW Arkansas.
After crushing High A Wilmington, putting up solid numbers at AA NW Arkansas, and flashing good skills in the Arizona Fall League last season, many KC Royals fans thought the 23-year-old Bubba Starling could earn a big league call up as early as September. However, Starling is mired in a slump that has driven his triple slash to a miserable .205/.294/.394.
Yes, it’s clear he’s been trying to hit for more power this season. And yes, he does have 12 doubles and 4 home runs in 127 at bats after hitting no more than 13 dingers in any season of his professional career. But the increased power has come at the expense of a spike in Bubba Starling’s strikeout rate to 35.7%.
That’s insane. A guy that can’t make contact against AA pitchers would get badly schooled at the major-league level. To put in perspective how bad Starling’s contact rate is, Washington Nationals superstar Bryce Harper has the highest strikeout rate of any qualified player in major-league baseball at 25.3%. And that’s against major-league pitching.
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Experienced big-league pitchers would make mincemeat of the holes in Starlings swing.
The fact is, Bubba Starling isn’t going anywhere in professional baseball striking out 35.7% against AA pitchers. Even the notoriously strikeout prone Kris Bryant of the Chicago Cubs only struck out 30.6% of the time last season, and never posted a K rate higher than 28.6% in his minor league career.
Starling is going to have to tighten up his swing by quite a bit before he can even think about a promotion to AAA Omaha, much less a September call-up to Kansas City. At this rate, I’d be surprised if he’s anywhere close to ready at the start of the 2017 season like many Kansas City Royals fans had hoped after his strong 2015.
This strikeout spike comes after Starling reduced his K rate to a career-low 24.9% last year at AA NW Arkansas. Zooming more than 10% while repeating a level isn’t very impressive. Instead, it looks like pitchers have figured out how to take advantage of Starling this season.
The only consolation for Bubba Starling and the Royals is that his walk rate is still a solid 8.6%, up from 8.2% last season. He’s got a good idea of the strike zone like he has had his entire minor-league career. It’s just that Starling is swinging and missing so often that it doesn’t matter.
Bubba Starling needs to cut down his swing and get back to making better contact. The power will come naturally when he gets his swing under control.