Data: 3-2, 4.54 ERA, 1.25 WHIP
Malfunction: On May 2, Johan Santana gave up four homers and 10 earned runs in just 3 2/3 innings against the Phillies in the worst start of his career. It was so bad that Santana speculated that he may have tipped his pitches and changed his delivery to compensate. The start is again receiving scrutiny with the advent of this Phillies sign-stealing story, but in his next start he gave up four runs on eight hits in 7 2/3 innings against the Giants. He got a win, but it certainly wasn't as pretty as they've usually been for Santana.
Diagnosis: Santana's fastball is the slowest it's ever been. In 2006, his average fastball was 93.1 mph, but now it's 89.3, nearly four mph slower. Perhaps even more remarkably, his changeup, once the best in the game, has been far-less effective. From 2004-2008, his changeup was worth around 20 runs above average. In 2009, it was only 2.9 runs above average, and this year, it's been slightly below average. He's getting fewer swinging strikes than before and his strikeout rate — which dipped substantially once he become a Met, from more than 9 K/9 to fewer than 8 — has likewise slightly decreased.
Reboot Directions: Santana is 31 years old, and no longer the power pitcher he once was. As the Somewhat Manly Nerd points out, "Johan is fooling batters just a tiny bit less each year. ... He's done a damn good job of hiding that fact most of the time. It's just the times where he gives up a grand slam to Felix Hernandez(notes), or walks 71-year-old Jaime Moyer [sic], that one can plainly see he's past his peak." Of course, off-peak for Santana is better than most pitchers' peak, and he'll surely finish the year in spacious Citi Field with an ERA under 4.00. But he needs to figure out what happened to his changeup.
Aramis Ramirez(notes), Chicago Cubs .159/.227/.254, 3 HR, 15 RBI
Last week, I wrote about the slumping Derrek Lee(notes), and reader Sean F. pointed out that Lee's struggles weren't as worrisome as Ramirez's, "considering he doesn't slump often and is striking out at a bit higher pace than usual." Point taken: Ramirez hasn't had a multi-hit game since opening day, and he's gone nearly three weeks without an extra-base hit. Still, his .179 BABIP indicates that he's probably been extremely unlucky, and he's been striking out far less in May than April. The better plate discipline is a good sign for Cubs fans. For now, watch and wait.
Trevor Hoffman(notes), Milwaukee Brewers 1-2, 10.64 ERA, 6 HR, 5 SV, 4 blown saves
Trevor Hoffman gave up a run on opening day, and his ERA has been above 9.00 for nearly the whole season. He's given up at least one run in six of his 11 appearances, including six home runs. He's struck out just 4.9 batters per nine innings, nearly half his career rate of 9.5. Too many meatballs and not enough swings and misses. As Fangraphs' Steve Sommer summarizes: "This has all added up to disaster."
B.J. Upton(notes), Tampa Bay Rays .217/.302/.383, 4 HR, 17 RBI, 7 SB, 3 CS
The Rays are the best team in baseball, so that has obscured the fact that Upton is really scuffling right now. Upton is 3-for-31 in May, with 16 strikeouts and just three walks — he has struck out in more than half of his at-bats this month. He could be forgiven for being a little distracted, since his son was just born on Sunday, but Upton's been a big question mark in that lineup the past two years with negligible power and a fluctuating batting average. (He's not the only Upton who's struggling. His brother Justin with the Diamondbacks leads the majors with 45 strikeouts, and is batting .229/.313/.389, nearly a mirror image.)
- Johan Santana