Data: .252/.285/.289, 1 HR, 18 RBI
Malfunction: Excited about your team's latest grab in the MLB draft? Young provides a great example on why you should temper your excitement just a bit.
The Rays' former No. 1 overall pick is performing poorly and because he was given a major league contract when he signed, the Twins can't even send him back to the minors to relearn how to hit. His below-average strike zone judgment, which was viewed as a minor Achilles heel amidst his incredible production in high school and the minors, has essentially crippled him as a hitter. Basically, he never walks and he strikes out a lot. Even worse, his limited power, which everyone expected to develop as he got older, has disappeared. (In fairness Young has struggled through some pretty weighty stuff. His mother battled cancer all year and then died in mid-May. He took two weeks to be with her at the end and he's hit much worse since her death.)
Diagnosis: Sadly, this is the easy part. He has no command of the strike zone. He used to have superior bat control to make up for it, but that seems to have disappeared. He will never be an effective hitter unless he can vastly improve his batting eye and plate discipline. Right now, he's swinging at everything and it shows, as he's hitting nothing well — he only has three extra-base hits all year.
Reboot Directions: The major leagues isn't the best place for a guy to relearn how to hit, which is what he needs. Whether his problems are mental or physical, he's not a major league hitter right now, but it's not in anyone's best interest for him to be "stuck in a fourth outfielder role for the next several years," as John at Twins Geek points out. The Twins have a few different options: Try to send him to the minors and possibly lose him on waivers, try to trade him or simply sit him on the bench. Best of all would be if they could find a way to DL him, because then he could effectively return to the minors on a rehab stint, away from the pressure and photographed failure of the big leagues. It might not be strictly honest, but it would be strategically perfect.
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Data: 1-4, 7.33 ERA, 2.111 WHIP
Malfunction: He's battled injuries and control problems this year, making his second spring DL trip in two years. Many writers blame the World Baseball Classic, which shortened his spring training preparation and Matsuzaka has implied as much, saying, "There are things that I am working on right now that I would normally take care of in the preseason or in the offseason."
But with John Smoltz(notes) knocking on the door and an overstuffed bullpen and farm, time may be running out on the $100 million man. NESN's Don Orsillo suggests "there is a slight chance that by July 1, Daisuke Matsuzaka could go to the pen."
Diagnosis: His velocity's been alright, but his command hasn't been. He has frustrated Sox fans with his tendency to nibble since arriving in 2007 and his walks increased dramatically last year. If he can't throw strikes — or feel enough confidence in his pitches to throw them in the strike zone — he'll continue to have problems.
Reboot Directions: Matsuzaka has complained of a lack of "merihari," or variety, but what he really needs is fastball command. He famously has a ton of different pitches, but a majority of what he throws is fastballs, and this year his fastball is just getting killed. (By one measure, his fastball has been worth 7.7 runs below average this year.) He pitches in the low- to mid-90s with movement, so there's just no reason for that. Considering the Sox's pitching-rich roster, he can afford to skip a few starts or even revisit the DL, as long as he can figure out how to make his fastball go where he wants it to go. If he can't command his fastball, there's not much use in sending him out to pitch.
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Data: .231/.281/.355, 4 HR, 22 RBI
Malfunction: Kendrick has always been a high-contact low-walk guy, so he's heavily dependent on his Batting Average on Balls in Play, which is about 80 points lower this year than it was last year. Unsurprisingly, his overall batting average is 70 points lower than it was last year. He's swinging, but the hits aren't falling like they used to.
Diagnosis: Kendrick toes a delicate line as a hitter. He doesn't see a whole lot of pitches, doesn't walk much, and makes a ton of contact. With a usually decent line drive rate, that generally works just fine for him, but if the hits stop falling he doesn't have any other way of getting on base — he doesn't work the count and he doesn't have enough pop to persuade pitchers not to throw strikes. His son was born in the offseason, which may have affected his focus during his offseason preparation, but he's gone from a career .300 hitter to nearly playing his way out of a job.
Reboot Directions: Angels hitting coach Mickey Hatcher doesn't tend to emphasize plate discipline, which means that Kendrick may need some Rudy Jaramillo time. Manager Mike Scoscia has indicated that if Kendrick keeps it up, he could be headed to the minors. In the meantime, Kendrick might want to ask Chone Figgins(notes) how he fouls off all those pitches and walks so much — he could learn a lot.
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A few more players who are struggling ...
Dioner Navarro(notes), Tampa Bay Rays: There are a lot of reasons you could give for why the Tampa Bay Rays have disappointed this year, but here's a big one: Dioner Navarro, an All-Star last year, is below the Mendoza line this year. It's been that kind of season for the AL champs.
Dontrelle Willis(notes), Detroit Tigers: Willis is such a charismatic guy that it's easy to root for him to return to the dominating form he showed in his early 20's, but it's pretty clear that guy is gone. After missing most of the year last year, he's back, but the results haven't been pretty: a 6.60 ERA in 6 starts. Because he's a lefty, he'll keep getting chances, but other than 6 1/3 shutout innings on May 19, he hasn't done much to justify his spot in the rotation.
Ken Griffey Jr.(notes), Seattle Mariners: After flirting with the Braves in the offseason, Griffey had a warm Seattle homecoming this spring. The only problem is that he can't hit any more. He has a .710 OPS this year, and he's Seattle's DH — a pretty terrible performance for a guy whose only job is hitting. He's not an everyday player any more, even as a DH, and if he keeps hitting like this the entire season, it'll be time to hang up the cleats.