Slumpbot .200: Something stinks when Oliver Perez pitches

Using the best technology available to us today, The SlumpBot .200 identifies five players who are currently having a bit of trouble and then offers solutions for performance recovery.

Oliver Perez, Mets

Data: 1-2, 9.31 ERA, 19 1/3 IP, 15/18 K/BB

Malfunction: His 9.31 ERA probably says it all, but let's take a closer look: Perez's fastball has gotten slower (down two mph from last year to the high 80s from the low 90s), his command has disappeared, his strikeouts are slipping, his walks are rising and his line drive rate and fly ball rates have jumped as well. Did we miss anything?

Diagnosis: Any time you’re about to be on your way to the minors a month after getting a check for $36 million, you’re doing something wrong. Unfortunately, John Maine, Mike Pelfrey, and Livan Hernandez all have ERAs over 5.00, which means the Mets can’t be quite as patient as they’d like with their $12 million No. 2 starter.

Reboot Directions: Pitching coach Dan Warthen and Johan Santana apparently found a mechanical flaw in Ollie’s delivery and follow through, which Perez summed up as: "Just finish the pitch.” The Phillies will get to see him on Saturday, and they were excellent medicine for Perez last year. He gave up only 1 run in 26 innings against them. If Dr. Santana and the Phils can’t fix him, then the prescription will be a ticket to AAA Buffalo and pitching coach Ricky Bones.

What other four players are currently slumping?

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Alexei Ramirez, White Sox

Data: 13-68, .191/.247/.265, 1 HR, 8 RBI

Malfunction: “The Cuban Missile” has been misfiring. A year after hitting 22 homers and finishing second in the AL Rookie of the Year voting, Ramirez went homerless in his first 15 games. A grand slam hit on April 25 accounts for all of his homers, half of his extra-base hits, and 60 percent of his RBIs this season. (He’s 2-for-11 since the slam, good for an average of .181, 10 points lower than his current season total.)

Diagnosis: Maybe he’s just a slow starter. He had a .329 OPS in April last year, which he then followed with a .755 OPS in May and a .908 OPS in June. Righties hurt him last year — he had an OPS a hundred points higher against LHP — but right now the platoon split is just killing him, as he’s batting .170 against righties. His line drive rate has taken a nosedive, which means he’s not hitting much of anything on the screws. And since he doesn’t strike out much and doesn’t walk much, he’s making contact all the time but nothing’s falling. His walk rate is actually higher than it was last year. However,, when you walk 18 times in 509 PA, there’s nowhere to go but up. Considering last year, you have to assume the hits will eventually come, but he has to start hitting the ball hard.

Reboot Directions: Presumably the warm weather will do him good — Chicago in April isn’t exactly the Caribbean — as long as he can stay out of Ozzie Guillen’s doghouse. He may also want to get in the cages and face a few more right-handed fastballs.

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Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies

Data: .179/.313/.393, 3 HR, 5 RBI, 17/11 K/BB

Malfunction: Tulo was benched on Monday in the midst of an 0-19 slump, but came in during a late-inning double switch and singled to end his streak. Hoever, he later ended a Rockies rally by grounding into a bases-loaded double play.

Diagnosis: The power and walks are there — check out that crazy .134 isoOBP and .214 ISO, fellas — but he has too few singles and too many strikeouts. It’s almost impressive that he’s OPSing over .700 despite a batting average under .180, and a few more singles would boost his OBP and SLG into the acceptable .350/.400 range (Remember, the difference between .250 and .300 is one hit a week). He’s actually homering much more than usual, so it’s likely that those homers will come down whether or not he cuts down on his strikeouts. However, like Ramirez, he’s not hitting many line drives, and because of his huge strikeout rate and elevated walk rate he’s not putting nearly as many balls in play as he did during his rookie season.

Reboot Directions: If the power and batting eye are legit, the only thing between him and a respectable year is a couple more singles each week. Either way, he’ll need to figure out how to close up the holes in his swing and whiff less. And the next time manager Clint Hurdle decides to give him a day off to get his head in order, he should make sure he means it. Telling a guy to go in cold and win the game with the bases loaded, after you've already told him you're benching him because he can't hit, is not a great way to build his confidence.

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Cole Hamels

Data: 0-2, 7.27 ERA, 4 GS, 17 1/3 IP

Malfunction: In four starts, the 2008 World Series MVP has only reached the sixth inning once. He didn’t pitch on Opening Day because of elbow tightness in spring training, and he’s left his last two starts with a sore shoulder (hit by a Prince Fielder line drive) and an ankle sprain (fielding a bunt by John Lannan). He’s scheduled to make his next start, but he may want to wear a helmet: It looks like the Karma Police are bringing their nightsticks this year.

Diagnosis: Yes, he “has allowed just 2 runs in 8 innings with a 1.00 WHIP and 10 Ks”, but it has taken him two starts and two minor injuries to get there. Tom Verducci labeled Hamels an injury risk at the beginning of the season because of all those innings on that young arm. The last two injuries are clearly of the freak variety, but the elbow tightness in March has to be a greater concern. His first two starts — 9 2/3 innings, 12 earned runs, four homers — were terrible, but may be forgivable as early-season tuneups. For his career he’s averaged more than one homer per nine innings, and right now his K/9 and BB/9 are exactly where they were last year.

Reboot Directions: His innings and pitch counts should be monitored very closely by the team this year. If they want any chance of playing meaningful games in September, they need him healthy the whole way. As long as his strikeouts and walks stay where they are, his ERA will come down, but he can’t strike anybody out if he can’t stay on the mound.

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B.J. Upton, Rays

Data: .151/.297/.189, 0 HR, 1 RBI, 5 SB

Malfunction: Right now, Bossman's playing like a poor man’s Tom Goodwin. Following his 2007 breakout, he had a power outage last year, losing 15 homers and 110 points of slugging, and he had shoulder surgery to repair a labrum tear over the offseason. To say the least, the power is out — like Ramirez he has just two extra-base hits to his name. At least he hasn’t been caught stealing yet, but he’s already missed time with tightness in his quad.

Diagnosis: He always struck out a lot; right now he’s striking out a little more than he did in 2007, actually walking more than he did then, hitting a bunch of line drives, and getting hideously screwed on Batting Average on Balls in Play — his BABIP won’t stay at .235 as long as 21 percent of his balls in play are line drives. (Rule of thumb: Expect a BABIP about 120 points higher than the LD percent. That means he should be hitting 100 points higher on balls in play than he actually is, and more than half of his plate appearances have ended with a ball in play.) So… in other words, the hits will start falling, and his numbers will improve. Eventually. But it’s still an open question whether any of those line drives will go over the fence.

Reboot Directions: The lack of power and strikeouts are the big problems here. When he’s in the lineup, he’s hitting line drives at his usual rate and walking even more than usual. But while his strikeouts are tolerable when he’s hitting a lot, they’re not much good when he doesn’t have any power. Other than that, he’ll just have to continue to strengthen his shoulder and hope the hits will fall.

You can read more of Alex Remington at Chop-n-Change, an Atlanta Braves blog.

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