Using the best technology available to us, SlumpBot .200 identifies five players who are currently having a bit of trouble and then offers solutions for performance recovery.
Data: .208/.298/.302, 0 HR, 12 RBI
Malfunction: From the moment he arrived in Boston, David Ortiz was one of baseball's elite hitters, averaging a 1.014 OPS from 2003-2007. Last year, he fell off that average, but was still one of the better hitters in the league. (Despite Sox Nation's loud gnashing of teeth, his .876 OPS was 15th-highest in the AL last year.) This year, about the only thing he's been able to do is take a walk. Considering that he's a DH, and has batted third for the Sox all year, that's not quite going to cut it.
Diagnosis: An overweight, beloved Boston 1B/DH who completely falls off the map as soon as he hits his mid-30s? Yeah, we've seen this movie before, right Mo Vaughn? This year, Ortiz is striking out more, walking less, fouling off more pitches — which suggests reduced bat speed — and hardly driving anything except his car to Fenway. Red Sox hiitting coach Dave Magadan described what he's doing: "Kind of jumping at the ball, almost cheating to get to balls, then you become susceptible to the offspeed pitch." No kidding.
Reboot Directions: Ortiz had a wrist injury last season, and Boston hasn't dropped him in the batting order yet. He's still confident: "I'll be back," he told the Boston Globe while wearing the above message-sending t-shirt. "Write that [expletive] down." We'll see. Tonight he'll face the Yankees, and he always likes rising to the challenge. However, he's only 2-for-9 against Joba Chamberlain with 3 K and no extra-base hits, so he'll have his work cut out for him. If he can't catch up to fastballs any more, it'll be a long season.
What other four players are currently being evaluated by SlumpBot .200?
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Data: .209/.263/.360, 3 HR, 15 RBI
Malfunction: Part of Lee's problem is expectations: After his career year in 2005 — still the only time he's ever topped 100 RBI, let alone 40 homers — fans expected that he remain one of the premier power hitters in the NL. Instead, he settled back to being the 20 homer, 80-RBI guy he was in his mid-20s. Part of the blame can be placed on injuries, as his power outage seemed to coincide with a 2006 wrist injury (and a neck injury from a home plate collision later that year). He's always been a high-average guy, though, so his Mendoza Line flirtation is way out of character.
Diagnosis: His line drive rate is way below normal too, though, and an elevated K rate and lowered walk rate indicate that all isn't well with his control of the strike zone. However, right now, his batting average on balls in play is about 100 points below his career mark, which means that more hits will probably start dropping in the future.
Reboot Directions: He's already missed games with neck spasms, about which ESPN's Bruce Levine writes, "The only thing Lee can do is ask out of the lineup and wait for it to subside, which he refuses to do." That doesn't bode well for his production, and his grand slam Sunday doesn't make it any likelier he'll follow Levine's advice. Take some time off, Derrek.
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Data: .160/.225/.284, 3 HR, 7 RBI
Malfunction: Hardy is third among MLB shortstops with three homers, but dead last in batting average. And he picked the wrong organization to go through a hideously bad slump, as Alcides Escobar is one of the top shortstop prospects in the minors, and he isn't far off from becoming worthy of a spot in the bigs.
Diagnosis: Thing is, he's usually a slow starter, if not quite THIS slow. For his career, he's .229/.300/.368 through April 30, so it's not like he's never had a cold spring. For his career, April is his worst month, and May is his second-worst. He's a second-half player. But right now, something clearly isn't right. His batting average on balls in play is .177 (it should be around 100 points higher), and his line drive percentage — the percentage of balls he hits fair that are line drives — is just 8 percent, when it should be about twice that. Translation: He isn't hitting anything hard, and consequently nothing is falling.
Reboot Directions: Historically, he heats up with the weather. His walk rate is where it should be, and so is his home run swing, but his strikeout rate and line drive rate are deeply worrisome. Fortunately, he's headed to the Great American Ballpark in Cincy tomorrow, and he has an .866 OPS there, 100 points above his career mark. If anything can help get him on track, that little bandbox in the Queen City will.
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Data: 0-4, 6.04 ERA, 1.376 WHIP, 28 1/3 IP, 20/11 K/BB
Malfunction: Liriano's strikeout rate has declined every year he's pitched in the bigs. In his amazing 2006 rookie campaign, he had 10.7 K/9 innings before his injury; last year, it was 7.9 after being called up from the minor leagues, and this year it is 6.4. One Tommy John surgery later, the 2006 Liriano is probably gone forever. Or, as the local paper put it after a recent victory: "You can take this as an insult or a backhanded compliment, depending on how you feel about the art of pitching: Rarely has Liriano displayed such mediocre stuff, and been in position for a victory."
Diagnosis: His average fastball velocity last year was down four miles per hour from 2006. His fastball seems to be up a bit this year, but he's getting fewer swing-and-misses. He still has a stiffer fastball than most lefties — low 90s — but while the old adjective used about him was "dominant," now it's "crafty." Yet his control doesn't seem to be quite as good as it was in 2006 either, as he's walking more guys and getting fewer strikes.
Reboot Directions: Stuffwise, 2006 Liriano is long gone. 2008 Liriano may be achievable, though. He'll need to get his strikeouts back up, and keep his walks low. Being lefthanded means that he'll keep getting second and third and fourth chances.
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Data: 1-3, 6.23 ERA, 1.385 WHIP, 6 HR
Malfunction: He's 20 and never pitched a day of Double-A baseball. He's a sinkerballer who has surrendered six homers in 21 2/3 innings. He's getting groundballs and not walking anyone, but no pitcher could survive with that home run rate.
Diagnosis: John Sickels may have been right when he said that promoting Porcello straight from single-A was "bat---- insane." He has given up 16 runs, nine of which have come on the longball. If he could cut down on the homers, his 2:1 strikeout to walk ratio and strong ground ball ratio might allow him to be a fringe-successful major league starter, but he clearly isn't ready yet. Writes Phil Rogers of the Chicago Tribune, "The concern with Porcello is that his curveball hasn't been good enough to keep hitters from sitting on his fastball." Clearly, his location isn't where it should be, his pitches aren't where they should be ... there's no reason this guy should be in the big leagues yet. Again, he's only 20.
Reboot Directions: Seriously, send this guy to AA for the experience he needs.