Slump or Done: Which Players Will Rebound, Which Ones Are Washed Up?
Baseball is a sport with a lot of numbers, and these numbers tell many different stories. They tell tales of triumph and tragedy, of heroes and of goats.
It's not hard to tell the heroes and the goats apart. Generally speaking, the heroes are the ones with big numbers, and the goats are the ones with small numbers.
Things get truly interesting when goat numbers are attached to a name that is typically associated with hero numbers. That's when we start asking two very simple questions: What's wrong, and will this last?
We are gathered here today to ask these questions about a key group of struggling players who are used to putting up big numbers. To answer them, we'll take a look at the stats and expert opinions, and we'll come up with logical conclusions about what we're seeing.
Let's start the show.
Heath Bell, RP (Miami Marlins)
Heath Bell has been pitching much better as of late. He hasn't allowed a run in six of his last eight appearances, and he hasn't blown a save this month.
Nevertheless, Bell's ERA is an even 8.00, his WHIP is over 2.00 and he has just 12 strikeouts in 18 innings pitched. He hasn't been the elite closer the Miami Marlins paid for.
Jack Moore of FanGraphs wrote about Bell's struggles when they were at their worst back in late April, and he pointed out that the key problem was Bell's lack of swinging strikes; at the time, his swinging strike rate was 4.9 percent.
Guess what? It's actually gotten worse. Heading into Monday's action, Bell's swinging strike rate was down to an even 4.0 percent. Coupled with a 5.29 K/9 and a 7.41 BB/9, it's apparent that the old dominant Bell has all but disappeared.
Bell has always insisted on challenging hitters with his fastball, and the good news for him is that he still has good velocity. The problem is that he's just not getting it by hitters, especially not when he throws it in the zone. Hitters are swinging at balls in the zone against Bell, and they're making contact better than 95 percent of the time.
In short, Bell is still challenging hitters, but he's not beating them. They're beating him.
The Verdict: Washed up
It's simple—Bell can no longer get away with what he used to be able to get away with.
Roy Halladay, SP (Philadelphia Phillies)
Roy Halladay isn't pitching like Roy Halladay usually pitches. He has a record of 4-5, and his 3.98 ERA is pretty high by his standards.
Much has been made of Halladay's velocity, which hasn't been the same this year. ESPN Stats & Info published a helpful breakdown earlier this month comparing Halladay's velocity this year as it has been in years past.
Concern over Halladay's velocity is overblown, as his success in recent years has more to do with his ability to locate and his ability to change speeds. The bigger concern right now is why he is losing velocity, and that has everything to do with his sore shoulder.
Jim Salisbury of CSN Philly has reported that Halladay is dealing with a "sore" right shoulder that Phillies pitching coach Rich Dubee says has been "lingering." He's due to see a doctor on Tuesday about it.
This shouldn't come as a huge shock. Halladay is 35 years old, and he's pitched more innings than any pitcher in baseball since the start of the 2006 season. There were concerns about his stuff during spring training, and things have only gotten more concerning since the start of the regular season.
The Verdict: Slump
It's too soon to say Doc Halladay is washed up. Let's see how he performs after getting a clean bill of health before we get all doomy and gloomy.
Ubaldo Jimenez, SP (Cleveland Indians)
Ubaldo Jimenez has picked up in 2012 right where he left off in 2011, and that's not a good thing. He may have a 5-4 record, but he has a 5.79 ERA and a 1.79 WHIP.
On Monday, Indians blogger Ryan McCrystal pointed out something that's both remarkable and not really surprising: Jimenez has the worst ERA of any pitcher in the majors with at least 20 starts since the Indians acquired him from the Colorado Rockies last year.
The folks at ESPN Stats & Info (scroll down a bit) pointed out earlier this month that Jimenez's velocity is way down, and that's translated to fewer swings and misses.
The more specific numbers (which you can find on FanGraphs) tell the whole story. Jimenez's average fastball was 95.8 mph in 2010, and it's down to 92.1 mph this year. His swinging-strike rate is down to 5.9 mph.
It's not just velocity, either. Jimenez's control has been a mess, and that's a reality that is reflected in his hideous 6.75 BB/9.
The Verdict: Washed up
I'll be more specific and say that Jimenez is washed up as a power pitcher. He needs to learn how to be a pitcher instead of a thrower, and it's going to take some time. It's on him to make the proper adjustments.
If he can't, he'll never be an effective starting pitcher again.
Tim Lincecum, SP (San Francisco Giants)
When it comes to Tim Lincecum's struggles, the obvious explanation is that he's having a hard time because his fastball velocity is down.
It is indeed. Per FanGraphs, Lincecum's average fastball velocity is down from 92.2 mph in 2011 to 90.1 mph this year. With a fastball like that, you can't make mistakes, and Lincecum has made a lot of mistakes.
The bright side is that Lincecum is still striking out hitters, as he has a K/9 of 9.79. The not-so-bright side is that he's having a very tough time putting hitters away. He's averaging a career-high 18.5 pitches per inning, and he's walking close to five batters for every nine innings pitched.
Back in April, Dave Cameron of FanGraphs wrote that it was too early to assume that fastball velocity would be Lincecum's biggest problem all season, as pitchers' struggles are usually more complicated than that. Here we are more than a month later, and the problems that Lincecum had at the start of the season are still present. He simply hasn't made progress.
Velocity is part of it, but bad control and an inability to put hitters away are also still plaguing Lincecum. According to Andrew Baggarly of CSN BayArea, Lincecum thinks his composure has been poor as well. He's shown bad body language, and he thinks it's given hitters an excuse to be even more comfortable in the box against him.
The Verdict: Slump
Lincecum won't regain his lost velocity, but I refuse to call him washed up, because diminished velocity is merely one problem among many.
Lincecum will get things figured out eventually. A pitcher with his track record and his stuff is not going to have an ERA of more than 6.00 all season.
J.J. Putz, RP (Arizona Diamondbacks)
J.J. Putz had a great year that few people seemed to notice in 2011. He saved 45 games with a 2.17 ERA and a WHIP under 1.00.
Putz hasn't been as effective this year. He has a 6.35 ERA and a 1.41 WHIP, and he's already blown three saves this year after blowing just four all last season.
The strange part is that Putz has a very high 10.59 K/9, and his BB/9 of 2.12 is a pretty darn good mark for a reliever.
So, what gives?
Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic recently wrote that Putz's problem has been poor command within the strike zone, and the numbers support the idea. Opponents are making contact with nearly 92 percent of the pitches inside the strike zone that they swing at, and Putz currently has a bloated .348 BABIP.
The biggest problem? An 18.2 HR/FB rate. Putz is on pace to give up 14 home runs this year after giving up just four.
Fastball velocity isn't to blame here. Putz's average fastball was 93 mph last year, and it's 92.5 mph this year. That's not an alarming drop by any stretch of the imagination. He can put a fastball like that past hitters, but he has to put it in the right spot.
I don't see Putz repeating last year's numbers, but his BABIP and HR/FB rate will come down once he starts commanding the ball better.
Alexei Ramirez, SS (Chicago White Sox)
The White Sox are performing very well on offense this season, but one guy who has yet to get in on the fun is Alexei Ramirez.
I belong to a very small army of people who actually appreciate what Ramirez has done in his brief career, but he's been absolutely awful this season; through 48 games, he's batting .216/.240/.268. He's never been a great hitter, but he's never been this inept, either.
White Sox hitting coach Jeff Manto said recently (via the Chicago Sun-Times) that Ramirez is in a "weird funk."
"He’s swinging at bad pitches, yet he's lining out all over the place," said Manto. "Once he narrows down his strike zone, he'll be fine."
Manto has a point. Ramirez is indeed swinging at pitches outside the zone more often than he usually does, according to FanGraphs. Despite that, he still has a 17.9 percent line-drive rate that's not that far off from the 19.3 percent mark he posted last year.
Still, Ramirez is pressing. He's seeing fewer pitches per plate appearance, and he's walking less and striking out more. He may be suffering from bad luck, but his poor approach at the plate isn't helping.
The Verdict: Slump
Ramirez typically gets better as the season gets deeper into the summer. He won't put up astonishing offensive numbers, but the White Sox can expect to get better numbers than the ones they've gotten to this point.
Alex Rodriguez, 3B (New York Yankees)
There was a time when Alex Rodriguez was the best all-around player in baseball at any position.
Now, Wallace Matthews of ESPNNewYork thinks it's time to accept A-Rod for what he is: "a middle-of-the-road major league third baseman."
Pretty much. A-Rod used to be great. Now he's just average.
A-Rod's lack of power this year has generated more than a few headlines, but nobody should be too surprised about it. Starting in 2008, his slugging percentage has declined a little bit every year, and there are a variety of reasons for his power outage this year.
For starters, A-Rod has virtually no power to the opposite field. According to FanGraphs, he has one extra-base hit to right field all season, and that was a home run. His other six home runs and all five of his doubles (only five!) have gone to either left or center.
A-Rod can still hit. He's hitting .279 this season, his BABIP is up over .300 and he has an impressive 21.9 line-drive rate. The problem is that his natural, raw power is gone, and you can see that reflected in his tiny .151 ISO (a measure of a hitter's raw power).
Yes, he did hit two home runs in a game last week, but you have to consider the pitcher. Both of those homers came off Kansas City Royals hurler Will Smith, who was making his major league debut.
Verdict: Washed up
No question about it.
Jimmy Rollins, SS (Philadelphia Phillies)
Jimmy Rollins had a spectacular year in 2007, but he hasn't been the same since, and he's hit rock bottom this year.
Last week, Michael Barr of FanGraphs shed some light on some numbers that go to show just how terrible Rollins has been in 2012. He's performing on the same level as offensively inept shortstops like Jamey Carroll and Cliff Pennington.
Rollins is still being patient at the plate, as he's seeing 3.74 pitches per plate appearance this year after seeing 3.78 pitches per plate appearance in 2011 and 3.72 in 2010. The problem is that his walk rate is down to 7.8 percent, and he's striking out 15.5 percent of the time. As Barr noted last week, most of Rollins' strikeouts are of the swinging variety.
And when Rollins is making contact, he's not hitting the ball hard. His ISO is down to .053, and he has just eight extra-base hits all season long.
The most astonishing thing is that Rollins' IFFB percentage is a solid 20.0. When he's getting under the ball, he's getting way under it.
All signs point to an inability to catch up with the ball.
Verdict: Washed up
Just like with A-Rod, there's no doubt about it.
Mark Teixeira, 1B (New York Yankees)
Credit where credit is due, Mark Teixeira had an excellent series in Oakland over the week, going 8-for-14 with three home runs and three doubles.
It's easy to blame Teixeira's previous struggles on his health, which was completely out of whack for several weeks. He, however, realized that something else was going on.
"I've been putting too many balls in play," he said recently, according to Newsday. "That sounds crazy, but I don't think I've been as aggressive at the plate."
He's not kidding. Teixeira's walk and strikeout rates are both down this season, a sign that he has indeed been putting too many balls in play. Unfortunately for him, his BABIP is a mere .250, and he has an uncharacteristically high 45.3 ground-ball rate.
When Teixeira spoke about putting too many balls in play, his point was that he hadn't been waiting for a good pitch to drive when he stepped up to the plate. Instead of trying to succeed, he was trying not to fail.
Teixeira's fresh approach paid off in a big way against the A's, and that's a very positive sign for the Yankees. They can't afford to have more than one washed-up hitter in their lineup.
Teixeira's days as a .300 hitter are long gone, but he should still be capable of hitting more than 30 home runs on an annual basis.
Rickie Weeks, 2B (Milwaukee Brewers)
Rickie Weeks arguably has been the worst hitter in baseball this season.
That's pretty alarming, seeing as how he's been a pretty steady hitter in recent years.
Weeks' batting average is down to .152 and he's striking out more than 30 percent of the time. Oddly enough, he's also walking 14 percent of the time, and he's seeing a career-high 4.23 pitches per plate appearance.
The problem with Weeks is that he's just not swinging the bat. His swing rates on pitches both inside and outside the strike zone are down, and he's not making good contact when he does swing the bat; his BABIP is a mere .202.
And, just like Rollins, Weeks is hitting a lot of infield fly balls.
There's really not much else to say. Weeks is still young, so you can't blame declining skills for his struggles. He just hasn't had his head right all season.
The Verdict: Slump
It may not happen this year, but Weeks will turn things around eventually. He's not this bad.
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