April 28, 2010
Using the best technology available today, SlumpBot .200 identifies a few players who are currently having trouble and then offers solutions for recovery.
David Ortiz, Boston Red Sox
Data: .154/.241/.308, 1 HR, 4 RBI
Malfunction: It looks like David Ortiz's spring slumps are becoming an annual tradition for Slumpbot. Big Papi recovered for a decent second half last year, but it was the first season of his career that he'd posted a sub-.800 OPS, and he set a career high in strikeouts with 134. So his comeback was nice to see, but it wasn't enough to make 2009 a good season. A year ago, it looked like he was done. This year, it really might be true.
Diagnosis: If nothing else, Ortiz showed last year that he still had home run power, even if his swing had more holes than in years past. But his power is declining, as Fangraphs' Dave Allen discovered. Meanwhile, his strikeouts are going way up — he struck out in 24.8 percent of at-bats last year and it's 36.5 percent this year — while his contact rate has gone down from 76.7 percent to 72 percent. For the first time in his career, he has a negative-win value when swinging at fastballs. The usual caveats about it being early in the year all apply, but this all points toward one thing: Ortiz can't catch up to a good fastball anymore. He's an old slugger with declining bat speed.
Reboot Directions: I'm not sure he can be rebooted, which may be one reason that Terry Francona has given him a few days off recently in favor of the righthanded Mike Lowell. A DH platoon might be the best way for the team to leverage the talents of its two aging sluggers.
Charlie Morton, Pittsburgh Pirates 0-4, 16.20 ERA, 2.55 WHIP, 2.00 K/BB
Not to pick on the poor Pirates, but Morton is a pretty good embodiment of what's wrong with the team. The key acquisition in the Nate McLouth trade, Morton is a talented right-hander with ace stuff but so far has shown little ability to harness it at the major league level. Plenty of talent but few major-league results — sounds a lot like the Pirates' draft history.
Jeff Francoeur, New York Mets .280/.349/.493, 3 HR, 10 RBI, 9 BB, 9 K
Francoeur was one of the best stories of the early part of the season, beginning the year with a 10-game hitting streak and showing power and plate discipline at the same time, something he'd never managed during his time with the Braves. He's been ice-cold since then, however, snapping his hit streak with an 0-for-7 in the Mets' 20-inning loss to the Cardinals and hitting .125 in the following 11 games. His season totals are still respectable, but they're headed back to where he was.
Rick Porcello, Detroit Tigers 1-2, 7.91 ERA, 2.02 WHIP, 2.17 K/BB
One of the more embarrassing things I wrote last year was in the Ortiz post linked above, when I suggested that Porcello had no business being in the major leagues. Clearly, he proved me wrong and then some. So far this year, however, he's giving up runs by the bucketful and allowing a .393 opponents' batting average. That will come down, of course — so will his comically high .449 BABIP — but it's still worth remembering that he's just 21. Slumps happen. As long as he doesn't break his wrist punching a wall, he'll be okay.