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These players could bounce back in 2019

These guys are coming off of down years, but they should be able to recover.

MLB: New York Mets at San Francisco Giants Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

There are still five months before the 2019 season begins, and for some hitters, Opening Day can’t come soon enough. For one reason or another, these four players had forgettable 2018 seasons, and they’ll be eager to begin again with a clean stat line. Here are hitters who ought to bounce back in 2019.

Joe Panik

After homering off of Clayton Kershaw and Kenley Jansen in back-to-back games, Joe Panik was on pace for 162 home runs to begin the 2018 season. He wound up with four. Panik ended the year with a .254/.307/.332 slash line and a measly 75 wRC+. The former All-Star had his worst season as a big leaguer as his year was plagued with injuries and bad luck.

Panik missed time with a sprained thumb and later a sprained groin. Panik’s never been more than a doubles hitter, but with the injury to his lower body, he had difficulty elevating the ball. His average launch angle of 9.8 was a full degree lower than his career normal.

Over his career, Panik has walked about as much as he struck out, and this year was no different. He had a career-low walk rate (6.6 percent), but that accompanied a career-low strikeout rate of 7.7 percent. Among batters with at least 90 plate appearances, Panik had the third-highest contact rate behind only David Fletcher and folk hero, Willians Astudillo. He just had issues with what happened when the ball was put in play.

Panik had just a .265 BABIP, and that came with a .321 xwOBA. Panik’s batted-ball luck should normalize in 2019, and if it does Steamer projects him to be an above average hitter again at a 104 wRC+.

Steven Souza Jr.

After hitting 30 home runs with the Rays in 2017, Steven Souza Jr. hit just five in 2018. Souza missed the first three months of the season with a pectoral strain, so he had fewer than half the amount of plate appearances. Even prorated out over 600 plate appearances, Souza’s power was severely lacking. He slugged just .369 despite a .149 ISO.

Hitting 30 homers again might not be realistic considering home runs in general were at an all-time high in 2017. Souza’s hard-hit rate didn’t budge this year, and his average exit velocity was up from last year. His problem might have been that he was hitting the ball too high. His average launch angle rose six degrees and his pop-rate rose four percentage points.

Brian Dozier

In the previous two seasons, Brian Dozier put up a combined 11.2 fWAR and hit .269/.349/.522 for a 128 wRC+. This year, he had just a 90 wRC+ and was barely above replacement at 0.8 fWAR. He hit five homers after coming to the Dodgers, but that was about all he did.

His hard-hit rate took a six-point dip down to 28 percent, and Dozier will be 32 next year, so he doesn’t have to be a down-ballot MVP candidate again. Dozier had just a .240 BABIP this year, and his strikeout and walk numbers remained the same.

He might have to take a one-year deal this winter to re-establish his value, but as long as he can get back to hitting the ball with authority and he has some better batted-ball luck, he should be up to the task.

Willson Contreras

Contreras’ overall numbers from 2018 don’t look too bad. Every other player on this list would have loved .321 wOBA and 100 wRC+. But this was the first time Contreras slugged under .400 at the major league level. Heck, it was the first time he slugged under .480.

His season started out like normal, but things just got worse as things went on. After July, each month was worse than the last. Here’s his wRC+ by month:

Mar/April: 109

May: 134

June: 101

July: 141

August: 74

September: 27

Contreras was just one of several Cubs hitters that went cold near the end of the season, and like the rest of the team, he should be fine. If he had his two worst months at the beginning of the season, no one would even be thinking of him as someone who needs to bounce back.

Kenny Kelly is a writer for Beyond the Box Score, McCovey Chronicles, and BP Wrigleyville.