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.

John Lackey(notes), Boston Red Sox

Data: 4-3, 5.07 ERA, 1.56 WHIP, 1.31 K/BB

Malfunction: John Lackey's performance this year is emblematic of Boston's season. He just signed an $82.5 million contract in the offseason and has an ERA over 5.00, but he's still doing a better job than the recently DL'ed Josh Beckett(notes) and the mystifying Daisuke Matsuzaka(notes). So what happened? Well, his strikeouts have plummeted and his walks have soared. He's missing fewer bats and issuing more free baserunners, and Murphy's Law has been taking over. Not exactly the type of first impression he probably wanted to make in the Hub.

Diagnosis: Lackey's control problems are so out of whack with his career norms — his K/BB this year is literally less than half his career average of 2.64 — that it stands to reason his numbers will improve. The thing is, he hasn't been getting unlucky. His BABIP is .310, virtually indistinguishable from his career mark of .306, and his 10 percent homer-to-flyball ratio is barely higher than his 9.3 percent career mark.

But the more the ball goes into play, the likelier it is that bad things will happen ... and this year, they have. If he can't throw more strikes, and go back to striking out two or three times as many people as he walks, he will not be a successful pitcher. Up until this year, he has always done so. If past performance is any guide, he should be able to right the ship — but much better pitchers than Lackey have fizzled under the pressure of a big contract in an unforgiving media market.

Reboot Directions: Just throw more strikes. And stop giving interviews where he proclaims he's "not at all" worried about his command. His command is the only thing holding him back right now.

Who else is currently slumping? 

Gordon Beckham(notes), Chicago White Sox .196/.294/.243, 1 HR, 9 RBI
What a difference a year makes. From one of the top rookies in baseball last year to one of the worst position players in baseball this year, Gordon Beckham is seeing how tough playing in the bigs can be. Ozzie Guillen has his back for now, but that can change, as the skipper frequently calls out his players in the press. What's wrong? Maybe he's getting unlucky, because his BABIP is an abysmal .239, but he's hitting more balls on the ground and fewer in the air— and that's bad because he has more power than foot speed. He's also taking worse swings, swinging at more pitches outside the strike zone this year than last year. There's a reason they call it the sophomore jinx: young players go through these early-career slumps all the time. For right now, Southsiders will just have to be patient with their young star.

Jose Reyes, New York Mets .232/.275/.304, 0 HR, 13 RBI, 11 SB
Reyes has had an awful year, but he's 7-for-15 in his last three games, so maybe he's finally coming out of his slump. After a lost season in 2009 ended by calf injuries, Reyes has struggled with thyroid problems this year, but the bigger problem is his command of the strike zone. His walk rate is the lowest it's been since his early 20s, as he's walked in 4.7 percent of his plate appearances this year after working a walk in 9.5 percent of PA from 2007-2009. He only has two walks in his last 15 games. That low batting average isn't too worrisome, as it's being suppressed by a .263 BABIP, which will rise. However, his OBP is killing the Mets at the top of the order.

Chone Figgins(notes), Seattle Mariners .198/.309/.259, 0 HR, 13 RBI, 9 SB
In the big-ticket disappointments category, Figgins is running a distant second to Lackey, but the Mariners surely thought that $36 million would buy more offense than this. Right now, he's not doing anything positive other than walk. He's striking out much more than usual, only has nine extra-base hits, and not even Rickey Henderson could steal his way out of a sub-Mendoza batting average. The .260 BABIP will undoubtedly rise, as the speedster has a career mark of .338, but the strikeouts are worrisome, as is the increasing lack of power. Safeco Field is a tough place to hit, but Figgins' groundball-and-gap power skillset should be perfectly suited to it. It might be a two-month blip, but he is 32 and just set a career high in games played and PA last year: his body may be rebelling.


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