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.
Data: 9-5, 3.08 ERA, 1.187 WHIP
Malfunction: Santana's numbers for the year look fine, but his ERA was under 1.00 as recently as May 15. Since his start on May 15, Johan has sported a 5.19 ERA, an occasionally reduced fastball velocity and has had to deflect questions about his health. Mets fans may have unreasonably high expectations for him, but they can't afford for their $137.5 million meal ticket to be anything other than a sure thing. He's had two good starts in a row — including a win over St. Louis on Thursday — but a little sliver of doubt was planted over the previous month and a half.
Diagnosis: The reasons for Santana's "struggles" are clear: Too many homers and not enough strikeouts. Until Thursday, he had given up at least one homer in seven straight starts, including a career-high four to the Phillies on June 9. Since striking out 11 Nats in 6 innings on May 27 (a game in which he also walked 6), he only struck out 14 men in 30 1/3 innings in the four starts that followed. And, of course, worst of all for Mets fans was the nine-run shellacking he suffered in the new Yankee Stadium on June 14. Pitching coach Dan Warthen suggested it was a knee problem (he had knee surgery in October); catcher Brian Schneider(notes) said it was a matter of pitch location.
Reboot Directions: He has had two solid starts in a row, a hard-luck loss to the Rays and then outdueling Chris Carpenter(notes) on Thursday, so he may have righted the ship. Still, his very low strikeouts are at least slightly worrisome, as is the fluctuating fastball velocity. The decimated Mets clubhouse, which has lost J.J. Putz(notes), Billy Wagner(notes), John Maine(notes), Oliver Perez(notes), Carlos Delgado(notes), Jose Reyes, and Carlos Beltran(notes) to the DL (did we miss anyone?), needs Santana to be at his very best, and that includes babying his innings a bit. Better an underutilized Johan Santana than an unhealthy one.
Who else needs the SlumpBot's help?
* * *
Data: .263/.388/.424, 5 HR, 23 RBI, 5 SB, 4 CS
Malfunction: What, you weren't expecting he'd cool off? For the second year in a row, Kosuke Fukudome is following a hot spring start with an atrocious summer power outage. Since the beginning of May, he's batting .224 with one homer and an OPS of .690. Even worse, he's hitting .174 in June. Thursday night was the first time since May 12 he had multiple extra base hits.
Diagnosis: Perhaps part of the problem is that he's really playing two positions on the team, center field and right field, as they try to work in playing time for Milton Bradley(notes), Reed Johnson(notes), and Micah Hoffpauir(notes). Considering no Cubs outfielder is hitting particularly well, they might be better served to simply platoon Fukudome and give him just one position to worry about, rather than rotate his spot in the field. The thing is, he's not necessarily getting cheated at the plate. His BABIP is .313, better than average; his line drive rate is 22 percent, which is very good. So, if anything, he may be getting lucky just to be hitting this well. The biggest problem for him is a lack of authority when he does hit the ball: he has an acceptable walk rate, increased from last year, but he just doesn't hit with enough power. After 10 extra base hits in 20 games in April, including four homers, he only has 11 in the 39 games since then, and only one homer.
Reboot Directions: The Cubs have brought in Fukudome's old hitting coach from Japan, Kyosuke Sasaki; "We can bring in the whole Japanese hitting academy if it'll help him hit," said Lou Piniella. 2007 elbow surgery may have contributed to his poor season last year, but it isn't a good excuse this year. He worked with Sasaki over the winter, and it led to a good April. Maybe one more trip to the well will bring fresh results.
* * *
Data: .257/.321/.366, 3 HR, 12 RBI, 11 SB, 1 CS
Malfunction: This may be unfair — Andrus is only 20, after all, and the Rangers knew that they'd be getting a glove with a questionable bat when they brought him up. But there are risks to bringing up young hitters before they're ready, and Andrus, who is 8-46 with no extra base hits in June, shows one good reason. Hopefully, he can keep his confidence, but right now he's simply overmatched.
Diagnosis: The Dallas Morning News blogged that he's "exceeded expectations this season," which shows how little they expected from his bat. After all, he only OPSed .717 last year as a 19-year old in AA. He was rushed through the minors awfully quickly, especially after being included in the Mark Teixeira(notes) deal, getting promoted to the big leagues without ever really hitting well at any level. Despite a minor league BABIP of .336, his BABIP this year is .282. It's hard to know at this point in his career whether that's too high or too low.
Reboot Directions: Andrus hit much better in May —.303/.347/.472 — than he has in June, but that probably wasn't sustainable, so he probably won't be able to reboot to that level. The key for him is to not get discouraged by his inevitable lack of success in his first big-league campaign. The Rangers can afford to live without his offense this year — he's batted ninth most of the year. But they can't afford for him to suffer Chris Young disease and become a liability in years to come. Patience and perseverance. He's got all the talent he needs to succeed and his glove is elite enough that they'll pencil his name into the lineup no matter how many 0-for-4 days he endures.
* * *
Who else needs the services of SlumpBot?
Carl Pavano(notes), Cleveland Indians: Just checking in and Pavano still sucks. He has a 5.80 ERA in 15 starts and 85 1/3 innings, which is actually his most since 2005. Millions of contract incentive dollars start to kick in if he can reach 18 starts or 130 innings ... if the Indians decide to keep sending him out to pitch.
Fred Lewis(notes), San Francisco Giants: Okay, no one expected him to be Barry Bonds(notes), but the Giants left fielder is mired in a 14-for-75 slump and is now splitting time with mediocre retreads Randy Winn(notes) and Andres Torres(notes). Lewis isn't better than them, but he has to be telling himself he can't possibly be too much worse.
Gary Matthews Jr.(notes), Los Angeles Angels: Speaking of fourth outfielders, Gary Matthews Jr. — who signed a $50 million contract in 2007, shortly before being outed as a performance-enhancing drug user in the Mitchell Report — has only started 32 of the Angels' 70 games, though he outearns all Angel outfielders but Torii Hunter(notes). When he has gotten in, though, he's stunk up the joint. In 12 games in June as a starter, pinch hitter or sub, he's managed a grand line of 2-for-34.