SlumpBot .200: Take 'em from the top — terrible leadoff hitters

Alex Remington
June 19, 2009

Using the best technology available to us, SlumpBot .200 identifies a few players who are currently having a bit of trouble and then offers solutions for performance recovery.

Alfonso Soriano(notes), Chicago Cubs

Data: .229/.291/.447, 14 HR, 29 RBI, 6 SB

Malfunction: Same problem as always: Soriano doesn't walk much, and he doesn't get on base much. He'd be a lot more valuable to his team hitting 3-run shots instead of solo shots, but he likes leading off, and the Cubs are afraid to say no to their star. Even if their star is 21 for his last 122.

Diagnosis: Soriano usually has a crappy OBP, but not this bad. What's going wrong? His Batting Average on Balls in Play is way down — 52 points lower than his career mark. His line-drive rate is down — 14 percent of all balls in play — compared to a very good career rate of 21 percent. And his strikeout rate is up — K's in 24 percent of plate appearances, compared to a career rate of 20 percent. In other words, he's hitting homers at his usual clip, but just not hitting much of anything else, and since he never walks that's more of a problem. Of course, no one else on the Cubs is hitting much either, which led to the firing of hitting coach Gerald Perry. The new hitting coach will be Von Joshua, from Triple-A Iowa.

Reboot Directions: It's too early to tell whether Joshua will be able to fix Soriano and all of the other slumping Cubs. Soriano finished strong last year, so it's hard to imagine that his 2008 ailments — two DL trips for leg and wrist injuries — are still bothering him. The best thing to do might be the one thing he doesn't want to do: "I get surprised if he gives me a day off because I don't like a day off," Soriano said a few days ago. It might be time to try a few things he doesn't like, like dropping him in the order and letting him ride the pine every so often. Other than the occasional solo shot, he isn't doing much good at the top of the order.

Which other players are slumping and need SlumpBot's advice right now?

Willy Taveras, Cincinnati Reds

Data: .219/.270/.274, 1 HR, 9 RBI, 13 SB

Malfunction: Why does Dusty Baker insist on clogging the top of his order with guys who can't reach base? Willy Taveras(notes) is a really fast guy who cannot get on to save his life; despite blazing speed, he has never scored more than 83 runs in a single season. Somehow, this season, he's doing even worse: after a 59-point OBP dropoff from 2007 to 2008, he's dropped another 38 points.

Diagnosis: Taveras can't hit. His BABIP, which was off the charts in 2007, plummeted 74 points last year, which helps explain why his BA dropped 69 points. This season, he's lost another 43 points of BABIP and 32 points of BA. Is he just unlucky? Maybe somewhat. But he also isn't being smart. With his speed, he should be hitting everything on the ground and trying to beat out infield hits, but he's actually hitting more fly balls than grounders. He rarely strikes out, but he rarely works counts: he has only seen four 3-0 counts all year. With a limited skill set like his, he should be focusing on getting the most out of his speed and contact skills, and he simply isn't.

Reboot Directions: Remember what Rickey Henderson did for Jose Reyes? The Reds need to hire a classic leadoff hitter — like Tim Raines or Brett Butler — to teach Willy how to beat the ball into the ground, drag bunt, work the count, take a walk, and actually help his team on offense. He has plenty of tools, but he needs serious outside help to use them. "I know I'm a key part to this offense," Taveras said recently. If the Reds want any chance of winning, they'll need to work on unlocking his gifts.


David DeJesus, Kansas City Royals

Data: .244/.294/.389, 3 HR, 29 RBI

Malfunction: In the best of times, DeJesus is average or slightly above average at everything: speed, power, defense, batting average, batting eye. This year, though, he's gone from blah to ick, and the tailspinning Royals are trying a reboot by handing DDJ the leadoff spot.

Diagnosis: As you might expect, a lot of little things have gone wrong. His BABIP is down this year, 35 points below his career average of .315. He's striking out a bit more and walking a bit less than usual (striking out 2.6 percent more often, walking 2.2 percent less often). He's never been much of a home run hitter, but he's hitting line drives 3 percent less often. He's swinging and missing more. It's tempting to say that he's just had bad luck. During an eight-game hitting streak from June 7-16, most of those games at leadoff, he hit .286, and he went 3-for-5 Thursday night. But he has such modest power and on-base ability in the best of times that it's hard for him to climb out of a hole this big.

Reboot Directions: He's not much different from the player he's always been, he's just having a slightly worse year in a lot of respects, and his talents don't leave him a lot of room for error. With Coco Crisp(notes) on the DL, he seems to be the Royals' leadoff Mr. Right. "David's one of those guys I feel like I can trust," manager Trey Hillman said, and DeJesus rewarded him with four RBI in Thursday's loss to the D-backs. But the Royals might win more games if Hillman trusted more guys with an OBP over .300. (Like Alberto Callaspo(notes).)

A few more players who are struggling ...

Jorge De La Rosa(notes), Rockies: Over his past six starts, De La Rosa is 2-4 with a cool 10.00 ERA. Over that same period, when he isn't on the mound, the Rockies are 15-5. Maybe they should find something else for him to do.

Carlos Gomez(notes), Twins: It's fair to say that Delmon Young isn't the only guy killing the Twins offense — Carlos Gomez, with a .604 OPS in 58 games, has been murdering them at the plate too. You think the Twins wish they had a do-over on that Santana deal?

Jack Cust(notes), Athletics: Jack Cust is a poor man's Adam Dunn(notes). Since 2007, he has 71 homers (fifth in the AL), 245 walks (tied for most in the AL), and a frightening 424 strikeouts (most in the AL). But he makes so little contact that his OBP tends to be bad despite the walks: over his last 30 games, his OBP is .242. Ouch.