Every year, you see a few elite players that start the season looking more like the best of Double-A than the best of Major League Baseball. People hounded Boston's Carl Crawford early in the season for his struggles, but he's slowly been pushing his numbers up to respectability; the better he's played of late, the more confident we can be that Crawford's initial struggles were simply due to getting comfortable with a new organization after spending his entire career in Tampa Bay, rather than the unfortunate beginning of a long, brutal decline in a Red Sox uniform.
So who else should we not be worried about, because they're already heating up? Which guys can we feel good about getting back to where they're supposed to be on the leaderboards by season's end, because they're already beginning their climb back to the top? I'll go over a few of the most prominent ones here, but of course you're welcome to throw out your one in the comments. For each player, I'll give you their current line, along with their line at its lowest point as well as the player's numbers since that low point.
2B Kelly Johnson, Arizona - .229/.306/.458 in 255 PA
April 1 through May 19: .181/.251/.300 with 4 homers, 12 walks, 53 strikeouts in 178 PA
May 20 through June 8: .343/.429/.836 with 8 homers, 10 walks, 16 strikeouts in 77 PA
Pretty ridiculous to see how Johnson's adjusted so far this season, huh? He's cut his K rate from 30% to 21% while boosting his walk rate from 6.7% to 12.9%, and over the past 18 games he's hit one home run every 10 PA's. In a piece for The Arizona Republic, Johnson opted not to discuss his adjustments in order to avoid a "jinx" but clearly the former Braves second baseman has been able to recognize some of his issues from early in the season and properly alter his approach. The improved K/BB rate is huge for Johnson, who's always flashed power but needs to keep his approach in check in order to fully unleash it.
OF Mike Morse, Washington - .301/.343/.518 in 181 PA
March 31 through May 13: .244/.277/.337 with 2 homers, 4 walks, 26 strikeouts in 94 PA
May 14 through June 8: .370/.420/.728 with 7 homers, 5 walks, 19 strikeouts in 88 PA
Morse wasn't far off from screwing up his chance at an everyday spot with the Nationals in mid-May, but he's been absolutely scorching since then and is proving that he deserves to be on the field every day. He now boasts a .356 career wOBA in nearly 900 plate appearances without a massive platoon split, which would actually make him better than the vast majority of everyday outfielders currently in the majors. At this point, Morse pretty much has to play every day in left field for Washington, even if you still would like to see him walk more than he does.
1B Albert Pujols, St. Louis - .270/.350/.482 in 277 PA
March 31 through May 29: .257/.326/.395 with 8 homers, 21 walks, 22 strikeouts in 236 PA
May 30 through June 8: .400/.488/1.000 with 6 homers, 5 walks, 2 strikeouts in 41 PA
This is why he's Albert Pujols, right? Because he can have a .395 slugging percentage as we near the end of May, and then you look up on June 8th and he's already boosting it back up to .482? That's what I'm thinking right now. With six homers in his past nine games, including five in a four-game span, the Cardinals slugger is earning back contract leverage by the millions right now. It was never easy to grasp one's head around the idea that 2011 might actually be the beginning of Pujols' demise, and in a few years we may look back and find that to be the case. But over the past week, we've seen the exact Albert Pujols that we've come to love and fear at the same time.
OF Jay Bruce, Cincinnati - .299/.365/.568 in 261 PA
March 31 through April 24: .234/.286/.334 with 2 homers, 6 walks, 23 strikeouts in 84 PA
April 25 through June 8: .331/.403/.682 with 15 homers, 19 walks, 32 strikeouts in 177 PA
You probably know about this one already, but after an awful start to the season, Bruce has been one of the best players in baseball over the past five weeks or so. Cutting down on the strikeouts has been a major factor in the increased batting average, and finding better pitches to hit has allowed Bruce to take better advantage of having ridiculous raw power while hitting in a hitter's park in Cincinnati.
C Miguel Olivo, Seattle - .246/.298/.412 in 209 PA
April 1 through April 24: .164/.224/.180 with 0 homers, 5 walks, 21 strikeouts in 67 PA
April 25 through June 8: .286/.333/.524 with 8 homers, 11 walks, 34 strikeouts in 142 PA
Olivo was so bad to start the season that his OBP is still characteristically under .300 even though he's been hitting quite well since late April. But his BABIP has taken a serious turn for the better of late, which combined with a slightly improved K rate has allowed Olivo to bat .286 over the past 36 games. Olivo is always going to put up an ugly on-base percentage, but he continues to show that he can provide value through defense and his occasional hot streaks at the plate.