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Big League Stew

Slumpbot .200: June’s end a welcome sign for Jayson Werth

Alex Remington
Big League Stew

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

Jayson Werth, Washington Nationals

Data: .224/.327/.392, 10 HR, 27 RBIs, 10 SB, 2 CS, 40 BB/73 K

Malfunction: Coming off a career year, Jayson Werth signed a ginormous $126 million contract that the Nationals basically admitted was an overpay -- but one they believed necessary to establish credibility as a franchise. So, over the offseason, everyone figured that the 32-year old Werth would lose his effectiveness once he reached his late 30s.

We just didn't think it would happen this quickly. Werth still has double-digit homers and steals, so he still has the power and speed that tantalized Washingtonians as they pursued him, but his power isn't what it was a year ago and his average has slid tremendously — he's batting just .156 in June and his average on the season has slid all the way to .224.

Diagnosis: Well, his BABIP has slid precipitously — his .262 BABIP is 90 points lower than it was last year, and it's 63 points lower than his career average. That's partly luck, but it's also partly a result of his hitting a lot more ground balls and a lot fewer fly balls than usual. {YSP:MORE}

Werth is also hitting slightly fewer home runs on those fly balls than he did the last few years: his homer per fly ball rate is 10.2 percent, down from 13.6 percent from 2008-2010, and that is probably due to a combination of random chance and park effect. Both the Nationals and Phillies have pretty good hitters' parks, but Citizens Bank Park tends to be a better place to hit a home run than Nationals Park, according to the ESPN Park Factors of the past several years. So at least part of the power drop may be attributed to the uniform change, and playing 82 games in the District of Columbia rather than the City of Brotherly Love.

But his plate discipline is unchanged: his strikeout and walk numbers are virtually indistinguishable from last year, he's actually swinging at fewer pitches out of the strike zone, and he's actually making more contact and having fewer swinging strikes than usual. He's normally a disciplined, high-BABIP hitter, and though the BABIP is lower his discipline has remained constant. It seems likely that he will bounce back. This really looks more like bad luck than bad form.

Reboot Directions: Jayson's a good hitter having a really bad month. He wasn't great in April and May, but he wasn't awful, which is what he's been in June. He'll come around, though. He's seeing the ball well enough to be able to tell strikes from balls, which means that his hit totals will come back around. And though he may be more of a 30-homer hitter than a 35-homer hitter in this park, part of the power likely will return as well.

Which other players are struggling?

Eric Hosmer, Kansas City Royals .268/.318/.407, 5 HR, 26 RBIs, 2 SB, 1 CS, 14 BB/36 K
When Eric Hosmer first came up from the minors, he was hotter than a June bride on a feather bed, with two homers and five RBI in his first six games. But he's cooled off a bit. Since the first of this month, he has just a .609 OPS, and the power in particular has tailed off, as he's homerless in his last 25 ballgames. Coming through the minors, Hosmer was always seen as a pure hitter with projected power, rather than a simple slugger, and so the power lapse doesn't necessarily indicate anything other than a rookie slump — no one expected him to hit 30 home runs out of the gate. The main problem right now is his below-average walk rate. His strikeout rate is right around league average, but his walk rate is worse than league average, and right around where it was last year in Double-A, a league he otherwise destroyed. He didn't really need to walk then, as he was slugging over .600 at the time, but he'd better learn how to do it at the major league level.

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Grady Sizemore, Cleveland Indians .226/.293/.441, 7 HR, 20 RBIs, 0 SB, 2 CS, 12 BB/58 K
It's been a tough couple of weeks for the Indians. After being picked to finish near the bottom of their division, they spent an astonishing two months in first place. But they finally fell out of the lead on June 14, and they've been neck and neck with the Detroit Tigers over the last couple of weeks. Unfortunately, they just learned that their underachieving superstar Shin-Soo Choo will be out for more than two months, and their other underachieving superstar, Grady Sizemore, has struggled to pick up the slack. The oft-injured Sizemore spent much of May on the DL with a knee injury, and manager Manny Acta recently moved him down in the order from leadoff to fifth. Sizemore says he feels healthy, but given his checkered history it's hard to know for sure.

Statistically, the problem is quite simple: He's striking out more and walking less than ever before in his major league career. He's actually hitting for decent power, but it's very possible that he's selling out for that power, because he's swinging and missing more than ever before, far above the league average rate, and that's leading to a lot of those whiffs. Perhaps he'll feel more comfortable at the plate as he gets used to being healthy once more, but he's certainly not locked in. Whether or not his iffy plate discipline is linked to his frequent bouts of injury, he won't be able to help the team offensively until he can command the plate the way he once did. Right now there are simply too many holes in his swing.

Fausto Carmona, Cleveland Indians 4-10, 5.89 ERA, 102 1/3 IP, 4.80 FIP, 1.42 WHIP, 1.85 K/BB
The Indians' other problem is pitching. While they've gotten yeoman's work from Justin Masterson and Josh Tomlin (though Tomlin has also been cooling off), their putative ace has turned in another putrid campaign. Carmona had a surprising bounceback last year, going 13-14 with a 3.77 ERA as he made the All-Star team for the first time in his career and posted an ERA under 5.00 for just the second time in his career — the first time was his breakout 2007, when he went 19-8 with a 3.06 ERA, and which he has been unable to duplicate ever since. However, he isn't necessarily pitching that much worse than last year. He's just giving up a ton more homers: He's yielded 15 longballs in his 17 starts, after giving up just 17 all of last year. For a sinkerballer, that isn't good.

If it's a fluke, then, statistically, there's hope -- his xFIP is 3.98, which is actually lower than his xFIP of 4.25 last year. His homer per flyball rate is far, far higher than ever before. But with a pitcher as consistently inconsistent as Carmona, it's hard to tell what's going on. It's likely that his home run rate will drop, but even if it does, his ERA could well stay over 5.00 -- after all, his ERA has been over 5.00 in three of his five major league seasons.

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