Data: .273/.361/.409, 7 HR, 41 RBIs, 8 SB, 1 CS
Malfunction: It's the height of waiver season, and the injury-plagued Red Sox are six games out of first place in the AL East. Desperate to jump-start their floundering campaign, they tried to woo Johnny Damon, their once-beloved Caveman, back to Boston. On Tuesday, he flatly rejected them, but I don't think the Sox missed out on much. The 36-year-old Damon is in the midst of a mediocre season, providing slightly above-average offense and exactly average defense. Over 20 games this month he's only hitting .238 with a .619 OPS. He may be a better player than Sox emergency fill-ins Daniel Nava(notes) or Darnell McDonald(notes), but he's not necessarily having a good year.
Diagnosis: Damon's power is way down. Last year, he tied a career high with 24 home runs; this year, he's down to just seven, with a slugging percentage 80 points lower than last year and 28 points below his .437 career slugging percentage. Last year, his home runs came at the cost of a career high in strikeouts. This year, he's maintained the high strikeout rate while losing the homers. His contact and walk rates are also similar to last year's numbers. As he's gotten older, he has done what most aging players do: He's walking more and striking out more, and making less contact than he did as a younger man. (That's why walking a lot, striking out a lot, and hitting a lot of homers are called "Old Player Skills.") He has also clearly lost a step on the basepaths; after stealing at least 16 bases for 13 straight years, from 1996 to 2008, he's only attempted 21 steals the past two years. His instincts are still good, as he's 20-for-21, but that shows how much he trusts his own foot speed.
Reboot Directions: Johnny Damon is a good player in a slow decline. But it's hard to imagine he could have helped the Sox pick up six games in the standings, and it's hard to imagine he'll hit 24 homers again. So this year provides a pretty good look at who he is: a top-of-the-order hitter who draws walks, makes contact, and hits doubles. He's what Carl Crawford(notes) will look like in 2018 or so. In the short term, he'll snap his August slump, but he won't regain the homers he lost from last year. This is who he is now.
What other players are currently slumping?
Alex Rios(notes), Chicago White Sox .290/.337/.463, 17 HR, 70 RBIs, 25 SB, 13 CS
The White Sox are back to understanding why the Blue Jays were so frustrated by Rios' inconsistency. After a stellar first half, in which he hit .305/.361/.518 with 15 HR and 49 RBIs, he's now batting .259 with a .634 OPS and just two homers in the last month and a half. He really has been two different players this season. Pre-All-Star Rios was 23-for-32 in stolen bases, grounded into just five double plays, and struck out less than twice as often as he walked. Post-All-Star Rios is two-for-six in stolen bases, has grounded into 12 double plays, and has struck out nearly five times as often as he has walked. Homers come and go, but the slipping plate discipline, awful caught-stealing rate, and the massive number of double plays are all extremely worrisome. (Billy Butler(notes) leads the majors with 26 GIDP in 124 games, but Rios has 12 in his last 36 games.) The Sox will need Rios to turn it around if they want to have a prayer for the postseason.
Fausto Carmona(notes), Cleveland Indians 11-12, 4.20 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 1.59 K/BB
If you're an Indians fan, you know this guy's a natural heartbreaker. After a breakout season in 2007, he's ranged from tantalizing to miserable. After he had a terrific spring training, this year was supposed to be his return to form, and a fine first half landed him on the All-Star roster. Since then, he's looked pretty awful, with a 5.59 ERA and .333 opponents' batting average in his last eight starts. However, his K/BB has actually been better in the recent cold streak (2.15) than it was beforehand (1.42), and he's mainly been hurt by an unfortunate .365 BABIP during the stretch. But he's a sinkerballer: He wants batters to make contact and beat the ball into the ground where his fielders can make a play, and sometimes hits will bunch up and runs will score. If he can keep his K/BB above 2.0, like it was in 2007, he'll have a chance to remain an effective major league pitcher. Whenever his K/BB drifts below 1.5, where it was for most of the year, he's a disaster waiting to happen.
Denard Span(notes), Minnesota Twins .265/.334/.349, 3 HR, 42 RBIs, 19 SB, 3 CS
Span has been one of the more underappreciated players in baseball the last two years, a leadoff hitter and center fielder who played average defense and put up an OBP around .390. He never had much power, though, so when his BABIP tumbled this year, his offensive game didn't have much else to offer. Last year, his BABIP was .353; this year, it's .293, and that 60-point drop almost entirely accounts for his 46-point drop in batting average, his 58-point drop in OBP, and his 66-point drop in slugging. The good news is that he's stealing bases more successfully than ever before. After going just 41-for-58 his first two years, he's 19-for-22 this year. Credit Span with getting the most out of his talent the last two years. If last year was any indication, he'll turn it around. But it's awfully tough to be a singles hitter when the singles just aren't falling.