Big League Stew - MLB

Using the best technology available today, Slumpbot .200 identifies a few players who are currently having trouble and then offers solutions for recovery. 

A.J. Burnett(notes), New York Yankees

Data: 6-7, 5.25 ERA, 1.54 WHIP

Malfunction: A.J. Burnett pitched five games in June and lost all of them, allowing 29 earned runs in 23 innings with 35 hits (nine of them homers) and issuing 17 walks against 19 strikeouts. Burnett is saying that it might have something to do with the absence of the Yankees' normal pitching coach, Dave Eiland, who went on personal leave for three weeks, and Burnett's grandfather recently passed away. So it's possible that sunny days are soon to come.

Still, this wasn't exactly what the Yankees had in mind when they handed Burnett an $82.5 million contract in December 2008.

Diagnosis: That 19/17 K/BB ratio in June really tells you all you need to know: Burnett has no idea where the ball is going. He's leading the majors in hit batters, too, with nine. Burnett has never been known as a control pitcher, but for his career he has struck out more than twice as many men as he's walked, and his career high for HBPs in one season is 12.

What's just as worrisome is that Burnett's strikeout rate has dropped rather precipitously, from 8.5 K/9 last year to 6.9 K/9 this year. Fangraphs' R.J. Anderson takes a look and concludes that his curveball may be to blame, but cautions that things may actually be worse than they appear:

"40 percent of his strikeouts have come against the Orioles and Indians. Those starts account for a little more than 20 percent of his starts this season."

In other words, when he's facing good teams, he's even worse.

Reboot Directions: Burnett is clearly having some major problems right now, and it sounds like they're affecting his confidence. He isn't commanding his pitches and he's getting crushed. He needs to work on his mechanics and figure out how to throw strikes with all his pitches, because right now he isn't fooling anybody.

Who else is currently struggling and need Slumpbot's help?

Matt Garza(notes), Tampa Bay Rays 8-5, 4.10 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 2.29 K/BB
Last week, I wrote about James Shields' recent struggles. And now he's been joined by his teammate Matt Garza. This month, Garza has given up 18 earned runs in 20 2/3 innings — not quite up to Burnett levels, but plenty bad in its own right. However, his last start was his best in weeks, allowing three runs in eight innings while striking out five — and it was first time all year that he didn't walk anybody.

Still, Garza has given up homers in six straight starts and he's striking out one fewer man per nine innings this year than last year. He's not having a terrible year, but he's not having a great year either, and those missing strikeouts may have a lot to do with it.

Matt Kemp(notes), Los Angeles Dodgers .261/.318/.455, 12 HR, 40 RBI, 10 SB, 10 CS
Matt Kemp is having a frustrating year. Last year he finished 10th in the MVP voting and just missed a 30-30 campaign. This year, defensive stats have him marked as one of the worst outfielders in baseball, he's been caught stealing as often as he's successfully stolen a base, he's batting .208 this month and Ken Rosenthal is calling for the cash-strapped Dodgers to trade him. Oh, and he's being benched by Joe Torre.

What's wrong? Offensively, not a lot has changed for Kemp, other than his BABIP, which is .355 for his career but is just .321 this year. He doesn't walk a lot, so when he isn't hitting for a high average his OBP is pretty pedestrian, and he probably strikes out too much. But the caught stealings indicate either that he's getting slower and he doesn't realize it, or his baseball instincts are terrible. Neither bodes well for his defense or future development. The Dodgers need to work with him and figure out how to address his many lapses this year, in the field and on the bases, because he can't get by on just talent alone.

Kelly Johnson(notes), Arizona Diamondbacks .261/.364/.482, 13 HR, 35 RBI
Kelly Johnson is one of the streakiest players in baseball, and has been throughout his career. After a scorching April, in which he hit nine homers and 18 RBIs with a 1.154 OPS, he has four homers and a .723 OPS in May and June combined. This is just how it's been his entire career: After a .973 OPS in May 2008, he had a .697 OPS in June and July of the same year. Then, after an .828 OPS in May 2009, he posted a .611 OPS for the rest of the season. Johnson basically played himself off the Braves, which is how the Diamondbacks managed to pick him up for a song in the offseason. They're starting to see why he was available.

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