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.

Grady Sizemore(notes), Cleveland Indians

Data: .221/.286/.316, 0 HR, 11 RBI

Malfunction: Just a few years ago, Grady Sizemore was considered one of the best young players in baseball, bursting with power, speed, and nearly limitless talent. But after an injury-plagued 2009, in which he went on the DL two different times with elbow problems and finished with a sub-.800 OPS for the first time since he was a rookie, his health and production became an open question. After a terrible April, the question remains whether or not he can get back to his previous All-Star form.

Diagnosis: Anthony Castrovince, the beat writer for the Indians, speculates thusly: "Sizemore used to generate a lot of topspin when he made contact. Trouble is, such a swing can put a great deal of stress on the elbow upon contact, and all that stress caught up to Sizemore last year, prompting arthroscopic surgery. What you're seeing this year could be a byproduct of Sizemore attempting to shorten his swing and get more backspin on the ball." Elbow surgery is a frightening prospect for any hitter, and it's not surprising that Sizemore would try to change his swing mechanics to try to reduce the strain on his elbow. The fix just hasn't quite worked yet.

Reboot Directions: Well, it's still early May, and Sizemore had a great spring —  .364/.500/.614 with 3 homers in 43 ABs — so maybe he's just in a slump. Only Sizemore knows how much pain his swing puts on his elbow, and if he's truly rebuilding his swing, then it'll take some time before he'll be able to see anything approaching results. For right now, he'll need to just keep working out with hitting coach Jon Nunnally, and figure out how he can stay both healthy and productive. The Indians badly need him to give them both.

What other players are currently slumping?

Derrek Lee(notes), Chicago Cubs .221/.345/.354, 4 HR, 15 RBI
Before the season started, I wrote that Lee was likely to remain one of the league's more dangerous right-handed hitters, but he's had frustratingly mediocre results this year. His BABIP is .243, well below his career mark of .322, but his line drive rate of 14 percent is well below his career rate as well. He's also seeing far more pitches than usual and taking more strikes looking than usual, which indicates that he may have trouble pulling the trigger — or he may just be cold to start the season. He should have a few more hits start falling, but his situation in Chicago needs monitoring.

Ben Sheets(notes), Oakland A's 1-3, 7.12 ERA, 1.91 WHIP
Billy Beane was criticized by many for his one major offseason acquisition, $10 million man Ben Sheets. Sheets didn't pitch at all in 2009 and he never pitched more than 24 starts from 2006-2008, so critics were cautious of his health. It turns out they had the wrong fear. He's taken the ball six times so far, hasn't pitched more than six innings in any of them, and he has exactly as many walks as strikeouts: 16. In fact, he was pitching successfully until his last two starts, a horror show in which he allowed a combined five homers and 17 runs in 7 1/3 innings. Sheets blames his location  ("I wouldn't say my location has been this bad maybe since my rookie year") but the default suspicion with Sheets is always injury.

Edwin Jackson(notes), Arizona Diamondbacks 1-3, 8.07 ERA, 1.76 WHIP
Like Sheets, Jackson was pitching decently well until his last two starts, when he allowed a combined 18 runs in 6 1/3 innings. Truthfully, he's not pitching much worse than the man he was traded for, Max Scherzer(notes), who has posted a 6.47 ERA thus far for the Detroit Tigers, but the suspect control that plagued him ever since his first major league callup has returned. His 4.7 K/9 is his worst since 2005, and his 1.4 HR/9 is his worst since 2004, when he was 20. His 93.6 mph average fastball is still fearsome, but he should be striking out a lot more people with a pitch that fast. If he can't put the ball where he wants it, he'll continue to struggle.

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