SlumpBot .200: Joba morphs into a late season question mark

Alex Remington

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

Joba Chamberlain(notes), New York Yankees

Data: 8-5, 4.41 ERA, 1.53 WHIP

Malfunction: In six starts since the end of July, Joba has a 7.96 ERA and hasn't gone more than six innings in any of them and thanks to the new new Joba Rules, he hasn't gone past three in his last two. It's almost as if he's switched places with Phil Hughes(notes) in the Yankees' organization. In fairness, Chamberlain was in the middle of a pretty good year before his recent meltdown, sitting with a 7-2 record and a 3.58 ERA after eight brilliant shutout innings against the Rays on July 29. But what went wrong?

Diagnosis: It really would have been easier if the Yankees had just kept him in the pen, but he's actually a pretty good starter, all things considered. Over the last two years, he's pitched a little more than one full season of starts, and sports a 3.88 ERA and an 11-6 record, with a 191/92 K/BB in 202 innings. Those are fine numbers, and if he can keep that up, he's far more valuable to the Yankees pitching seven innings every five days than pitching two innings every four days. Similarly, the Joba Rules aren't such a bad idea in themselves, but it looks awful silly when the media reports that they have decided to limit Joba to exactly three innings a start. How much of Joba's troubles are related to the hell he gets from the tabloids and radio shows with every bad start is hard to tell — but it sure can't help.

Reboot Directions: Joba does have one other problem, though — he's not throwing enough strikes. He's throwing strikes on 59 percent of his pitches this year, a rate below the league average of 62 percent and a personal career average of 63 percent before this year. He's also leading the major league in hit batsmen this year. He's got great stuff, but he still isn't a complete package yet. The new Joba Rules are intriguing — he's basically being used as a reliever, but as the first pitcher out of the gate. It will be interesting to see how it works over the final month of the season and into the playoffs. He certainly did a better job throwing strikes when he was in the pen, though.

What other players are currently dragging?

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Edwin Jackson(notes), Detroit Tigers

Data: 12-6, 3.10 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 183 IP

Malfunction: There is little Jackson can do to tarnish the sheen of this season. He's leapt from being a frustrating longtime hot prospect to an overnight star and one of the best pitchers in baseball. But even though he's earned four wins in his last five starts, his second half hasn't quite been as hot as his first, and he has an ERA over 5.00 in his last six starts. Could the kid be running out of gas just as the Tigers will need him most?

Diagnosis: In the second half, Edwin is pitching fewer innings and getting fewer strikeouts, though his velocity is the same as ever. In the first half, he averaged better than 6.7 innings per start and 7.2 strikeouts per nine innings, 2.6 walks per nine, 0.74 homers per nine, and sported a 2.52 ERA. In the second half, he's averaging .63 fewer innings per start — that's two fewer outs a game — and just 6.5 K/9, 3.8 BB/9, and he's giving up 1.61 HR/9, which has led to a second-half ERA of 4.26. Still fine numbers overall, but not where he was before.

Reboot Directions: Jackson is just one out shy of his career high in innings, set last year, so fatigue is one possibility. The other is that as good a pitcher as he's turning out to be, he wasn't that good. A little regression to the mean was to be expected. It's a testament to how good he's been that his eight inning, three run performance on Sunday actually raised his ERA. The Tigers should be cautious with the kid — they have a safe six-game lead in the AL Central, and he can be a meal ticket for years to come. He should be on limited innings, particularly since he'll be pitching in the postseason for the second time in a row (though he only pitched 4.1 innings for Tampa Bay last season).

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Miguel Tejada(notes), Houston Astros

Data: .298/.327/.423, 10 HR, 69 RBI

Malfunction: Miguel Tejada has aged strangely for an old power hitter. Despite maintaining a high batting average, he's drawing fewer walks than he did at his prime. But he's also been in a freefall for the past month or so. Since the beginning of August, he's batting .202 with an OPS under .500, and just five extra-base hits in 31 games.

Diagnosis: The 35-year old Tejada has always been a more limited offensive player than is generally admitted. Other than his celebrated consecutive games streak, he's only led his league in three offensive categories: RBIs (2004) doubles (2005), and double plays (2004, 2006, and 2008). From 1999 to 2007, he walked in 7 percent of his plate appearances, but over the past two years, it's only been 3.2 percent, less than half his prior standard of performance. He's already been revealed to have lied about his age and was a subject in the Mitchell Report on performance-enhancing drugs in baseball. Good thing this is a contract year, huh?

Reboot Directions: The Astros aren't battling for anything other than a .500 record, so it's not like they have to make a quick decision. However, he projects to be a Type A free agent, which means that if the team offers arbitration and he rejects it, the Astros would stand to pick up two draft picks. But is there any chance he could get more money on the free agent market than at the arbitrator's table? Would the Astros take a chance of offering him arbitration and having him accept? At this point in his career, he's defensively and offensively limited. It's hard to see where he could fit as a full-time player.

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Justin Morneau(notes), Minnesota Twins Morneau is 0 for his last 23, and seems to be in the middle of a pretty bad summer swoon. In the second half, he's batting just .211 with a .738 OPS, and since August 1 he's hitting .182 with a .610 OPS. Ouch.

Russell Martin(notes), Los Angeles Dodgers Catchers are famous for aging poorly, but this guy is falling off a cliff. After back-to-back All-Star appearances in 2007 and 2008, Martin's batting .256 with a .676 OPS this year. His power has completely vanished, and the only thing that's preserving his value as an offensive player is a good walk rate. But it's hard to keep up a walk rate when you don't have enough power to keep the pitcher honest.

Brian Bannister(notes), Kansas City Royals Much like Joba, Brian Bannister was having a pretty good year until he ran into the August from hell. He has a 7.58 ERA since Aug. 2, and now says that his shoulder hasn't been right for some time. "It's progressively gotten worse," he told the Kansas City Star. "It's affected my stuff over the last month. I've still been able to give this team innings, but today it really affected my ability to get the ball down in the strike zone." If you're hurting so bad you can't get the ball down, your innings aren't doing anybody any good. Shut it down, Banny.