June 24, 2010
Data: .325/.389/.584, 12 HR, 44 RBI
Malfunction: On May 14, Andre Ethier was hitting .392/.457/.744 and was leading the league in all three Triple Crown categories. Then he broke his finger and went on the DL for the first time in his career. Since his return, he's hitting .226/.287/.345 with just one homer and six RBIs. The 38-year-old Manny Ramirez(notes) can still hit, but Ethier is the Dodgers' No. 3 hitter and their core offensive player. With the surprising San Diego Padres creating some distance ahead of the Dodgers in the division, they can't afford for him to feel much more pain.
Diagnosis: Ethier's power isn't the only thing that has diminished. He's also striking out a bit more and walking a bit less. Of course, he was bound to go through a rough patch, after opening the season so red-hot — as good as he is, Ethier wasn't going to hit .400 all year long. So it's hard to know whether he's still hurt, but he's played in every single game since returning from his injury, and those bumps and bruises have a way of compounding, and he should probably be given a few more off days over the summer just to make sure he's in top form for the stretch run in the NL West.
Reboot Directions: Ethier is lucky that all he broke was his pinkie, rather than his wrist, like Troy Tulowitzki(notes) did last week. Still, hand problems have a way of nagging throughout a season, which could keep Ethier from feeling completely comfortable at the plate. Right now, he's going through an ordinary slump, perfectly normal after the hot streak he had at the beginning of the season. But he'll have to be monitored closely to make sure that he's just slumping because of bad luck — and not because of a recurring hand injury.
Kevin Millwood(notes), Baltimore Orioles 1-8, 5.12 ERA, 1.49 WHIP, 2.69 K/BB
It has been a tough year in Baltimore, to say the least, and Millwood has a lot of slumping teammates. But Millwood might be having the worst month of any of them, and that's saying something. In four starts in June, he's given up 23 runs in 22 2/3 innings, all of them earned. He has also given up 38 hits, including seven home runs and four doubles. What's wrong? Well, his K/BB on the season is quite decent, so he still has control and he's still striking people out. But his once-formidable fastball has lost a lot of mustard, and he's been throwing a lot more sliders and changeups to make up for it. Hitters have just been teeing off. It's hard for a 35-year old pitcher to pick up fastball velocity, but he's going to have to go back to working off his fastball, because his offspeed stuff just isn't giving hitters much of a challenge. Right now, he's just throwing batting practice for his opponents.
Lance Berkman(notes), Houston Astros .239/.342/.385, 6 HR, 29 RBI
Most of what I wrote about Millwood's teammates could be said of Berkman's fellow Astros: this team is a mess. And Berkman seems to be mired in Todd Helton(notes) Syndrome, as a middle-aged slugging first baseman loses everything but the ability to take a walk. That on-base percentage looks nice, but his power numbers are awful, especially considering that Minute Maid Park isn't exactly cavernous. His strikeouts are on the rise, too. I won't make the mistake of counting Berkman out — I did that five years ago and have learned my lesson — but he's entered the diminishing returns part of his career. He's already missed games this year with injuries to his knee and groin; he's not an everyday player any more, and he probably needs to be a DH. The sooner he gets out of the field, the likelier his bat will recover a bit.
Ian Kinsler(notes), Texas Rangers .282/.380/.359, 1 HR, 19 RBI, 6 SB
Speaking of injuries, Ian Kinsler has been on the DL five times in his five years in The Show, most recently for an ankle sprain in April. There isn't much wrong with Kinsler's numbers this year on the surface. But his vanished power is very distressing, considering that he's he hit 30 homers last year and has a career SLG of .467, more than 100 points higher than this year. In this case, it could be bad luck. He's still hitting some doubles, but his homer rate has simply plummeted. If he was hiding an injury, he probably wouldn't be making contact as often as he has been. In this case, Ranger fans would do well just to wait. The power will likely return.