Max Kepler has struggled for the Minnesota Twins in 2020. What has gone wrong after a breakout 2019?
Max Kepler had a breakout season for the Minnesota Twins in 2019. He had career highs in every major hitting category including 36 home runs, 90 RBI’s, and a .855 On-Base Plus Slugging percentage. (OPS). He also hit an astonishing .293 against left-handed pitchers and played an outstanding center field in the absence of the oft-injured Byron Buxton.
This had the Twins excited to see what new heights Kepler could reach in the 2020 season. He appeared to be on the verge of being an All-Star caliber player and a possible MVP candidate. Then the COVID-19 delayed season started, and the wheels came off the Kepler Express.
Kepler’s first game in 2020 was a good one, as he went 2-5 with 2 home runs and 2 RBI in a 10-5 win over the White Sox. Since then, he has hit 5 home runs, 16 RBI’s, and has a batting average of .204 during this stretch. In addition, his slugging, on base and on-base plus slugging percentages are the lowest in his career since his rookie season.
His performance against left-handed pitchers has been absolutely dismal, as he is hitting just .105 with 0 home runs and 4 RBI against southpaws this season. Since he came off the injured list on September 13, he is 2-19 at the plate with 0 homers and 0 RBI. The Twins gave him the day off yesterday, with the hope that the rest will help him clear his head and help him regain his confidence at the plate.
What’s wrong with Max this season? The Minnesota Twins are trying to figure that out. One theory is that while his walk and strikeout percentages are still strong, he is less aggressive at the plate this year and his pull percentage is down 9% since last season. He is not swinging as often at first pitches this year, causing him to be less aggressive and less likely to hit a juicy first offering from an opposing pitcher.
Hopefully, new hitting coach Edgar Vareta can help Kepler find his aggressiveness. Manager Rocco Baldelli showed his confidence in Max as he immediately returned him to the leadoff position on his return from the injured list.
Max’s defensive performance this year is also down as evidenced by a couple of costly mistakes that affected the final scores in two recent games. Also, his Outs Above Average has dropped from 7 in 2019 to 0 this season.
The Minnesota Twins hope that Max can flip the switch and return to his 2019 form. If he can help the Twins make a deep playoff run, their fans will soon forget about his subpar regular season.