Big things were expected from Michael Busch on the heels of a hitting 32 home runs last season between Double-A Tulsa and Triple-A Oklahoma City. This year, he kept that success going at the minor league level hitting .323/.431/.618 with 27 homers in 98 games for Oklahoma City in winning Pacific Coast League MVP.
However, with the Dodgers his results were drastically different. Busch hit just .167 which was paired with a .174 xBA and he struck out in 33.3 percent of his plate appearances. It is a small sample size of 81 PA, but for a 25-year-old to see such a difference in production between the two levels is concerning. So the main question is what went wrong for the rookie in the majors?
For starters, his ground ball rate shot up. At Triple-A in 2022 it was at 39.2 percent and this year it was 37.6 percent. However, in the bigs, his ground ball rate shot all the way up to 58.7 percent. For those who don’t know, a ground ball traditionally holds very low expected metrics because of the likelihood that it is scooped up by a fielder. When combined with the fact that Busch’s average exit velocity at the MLB level was 89.1 MPH on all batted balls, you get a relatively ugly stat line across the board.
The next major problem for Busch was how poor he was against four-seamers. Traditionally when minor league players come up, the one pitch they are able to hit comfortably with consistency is four-seam fastballs. For Busch though, that could not be less true. He carried a strikeout rate of 46.2 percent, whiff rate of 27.6 percent and xwOBA of .185 against the pitch. Struggling mightily against a pitch that you see 35.5 percent is going to make it next to impossible for any hitter to succeed.
The third major problem for Busch was when he was able to pick up base knocks, more often than not they were just singles. In 27 MLB games this season he had just three doubles and two homers. Across 72 at bats, that translates to an ISO (isolated slugging percentage) of just .125. In Triple-A in 2023 his ISO was .295 and in 2022 it was .214 in Triple-A.
Were there any positives?
Short answer, yes. There were not many of them for Busch in the majors, but there were a couple. His walk rate was 9.9 percent which was 1.4 percent above major league average and the same as his 2022 Triple-A walk percentage.
Second, despite carrying poor expected metrics, Busch still had a hard-hit rate (batted balls with an exit velocity of 95+ MPH) of 50 percent which is 16.7 percent higher than the league average.
Busch can still develop into a good player for the Dodgers as his sample size for them was very limited and he has been historically successful in the minors. However, he is going to be 26 next season which means it is almost a make-or-break year for him. If his struggles continue, then it is very fair to question whether or not he is going to have any type of future in LA.