Using the best technology available today, SlumpBot .200 identifies a few players who are currently having trouble and then offers solutions for recovery.
Data: .247/.294/.397, 15 HR, 65 RBI (.157/.165/.241 since joining White Sox)
Malfunction: And you wonder why the Jays gave this guy away for nothing? Since joining the White Sox, he's 13-for-83 and he's 3-for-27 with no walks or RBIs in September. For now, Ozzie Guillen has his back — "I guarantee you when Alex starts with us next year, sees how we work and gets comfortable, Alex will be fine" — but Guillen isn't exactly known for emotional consistency any more than Rios is known for offensive consistency. The Sox have to hope that he'll come around, since they owe him $60 million over the next five years, but this could get really ugly.
Diagnosis: Rios is a very talented hitter, and even when he's perceived to be playing well below his potential, he's tended to be very productive. In previous years, his mediocre walk rate has been offset by high batting averages (helped by a .320 career BABIP) and decent power. Over the past three years, he's hit .296/.347/.489, very respectable for a corner outfielder, particularly a defensive wizard like him. But right now, he's lost at the plate and hitting coach Greg Walker thinks his mechanics have gotten out of whack:
"The last thing you want to be doing as a hitting coach in September is working on mechanics, but whether it's pressing or the mental approach, he's had some pretty consistent misses and most of them have ended up with the problem starting in the legs."
Reboot Directions: September definitely isn't the time to relearn how to hit. But they won't gain much from benching him. For now, they may be stuck penciling his name into the lineup and not getting much production for their troubles. Ken Williams has taken a lot of interesting gambles during his tenure as GM, and many have paid off handsomely. At the time, the Rios pickup looked like a savvy move, acquiring a player whose team had soured on him but who was a five-tool talent with major defensive and decent offensive production. Right now, it's just looking like trouble.
What other players are going through a rough patch?
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Data: .268/.390/.438, 16 HR, 63 RBI
Malfunction: Chipper Jones is 37, but until recently he refused to act his age, winning his first batting title last year in his 15th year in the big leagues. His continued good hitting seemed to come at the expense of his health, as a series of nagging injuries has kept him from out of the lineup. He hasn't played 140 games since 2003. Those nagging injuries finally seem to have carried over into his onfield performance. While his first half was decent, his second half has been terrible: he's hitting .234 with a .746 OPS in the half, and since August 15 — his last day over .300 — he's nine for his last 77.
Diagnosis: Perhaps more worrisome than the slide in batting average is the slide in power. His isolated power — his slugging percentage minus his batting average, a measure of how often he hit an extra-base hit rather than a single — has dropped precipitously in the last three years, from .273 to .267 to .210 to .171 this year. His walk rate is as good as ever; he's walking in 16.9 percent of his plate appearances, equal to last year and tied for the second-highest of his career. He's striking out a bit more than usual — 14.2 percent of his plate appearances. His Batting Average on Balls in Play has fallen precipitously, as you might expect given the precipitous drop in batting average; just as his batting average is 96 points lower this year than last year, his BABIP is 96 points lower this year than last year. That will probably bounce back. The power, however, may not.
Reboot Directions: It would have been silly to expect Jones to hit .364 again. Still, the story of an aging ballplayer walking more, striking out more, and hitting less as he gets older is so common that it's become a stereotype. It looks like Father Time has finally caught up to Larry Wayne. (That, and the sorrow of never being able to hit at Shea again.) Jones signed an extension in the offseason which will keep him in Atlanta through 2012, with an option for 2013. The Braves have to hope that he'll be able to give them a bit more than this throughout the length of that contract.
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Data: 14-6, 3.87 ERA, 1.158 WHIP
Malfunction: As good as Lester has been, that's how bad Beckett has been recently. In his last five starts, he's given up 27 earned runs in 31 1/3 innings, lowlighted by an Aug. 23 blowout where he gave up five homers and eight earned in eight innings to the hated Yankees. That might have been forgivable, but in the starts immediately before and after, he respectively gave up seven earned and five earned to the Blue Jays. He's incredibly talented, but it's frustrating for a guy with such amazing stuff to be so inconsistent from start to start, not to mention season to season.
Diagnosis: Beckett's fastball has hardly mellowed with age; he's still averaging more than 94 miles an hour with the cheese, and over 90 with his cutter. His rate stats remain excellent, as he's striking out 8.4 per nine and walking only 2.4 per nine. His control has remained terrific even as he's faltered of late. In those horrible past five starts, he's struck out 31 while walking only eight. If anything, the 12 homers suggest he might want to try throwing fewer strikes, or at least catching a bit less of the plate..
Reboot Directions: According to FanGraphs, Beckett is throwing his fastball much less than in previous years, while increasingly throwing his cutter and curveball. Perhaps he should try to simplify and concentrate on blowing hitters away with his four-seamer, rather than trying to mystify them with the slower stuff
His $12 million option for 2010 just vested, so the Sox have him for one more year. They'll have to figure out if they want his expensive salary in their plans going forward. Past World Series heroics are all well and good, but what will he have done for them lately?
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Zach Duke(notes), Pittsburgh Pirates Apparently, winning without striking anybody out is a little harder than it looks. After a surprising 3.29 ERA in the first half, Duke has come back to earth in the second, as he's given up 88 hits in 60 innings and put up a 5.55 ERA. His first half success was a nice story, but almost impossible to sustain. Sooner or later, he was bound to come back to earth.
Tony Gwynn(notes), Jr., San Diego Padres It might have been easier if his dad had named him "Bobby" or something. Junior Gwynn is batting .183 since the beginning of August with just two extra base hits, and two caught stealing to go with three stolen bases. He's fast, but he can't particularly hit, and it's hard to believe he would have gotten 300 ABs this year if he weren't a guy in San Diego named Tony Gwynn.
Kurt Suzuki(notes), Oakland Athletics: Kurt Suzuki isn't a bad player. He's a catcher who occasionally hits. It's not really his fault that he's a decent position player on a team almost devoid of them — his only real competition for team MVP is Rajai Davis(notes), which tells you all you need to know about their lineup. Unfortunately, Suzuki has gone from decent to downright bad over the past month or so, as he's batting .228 with a .645 OPS since Aug. 1. His walk rate has also dipped. Catcher bat attrition is legendary, as I wrote about Russell Martin(notes); the A's have to hope that his bat is just going through a temporary coma.