Odds for Struggling MLB Stars Returning to Dominance Down the Stretch

Rick Weiner@RickWeinerNYFeatured ColumnistAugust 26, 2013

Odds for Struggling MLB Stars Returning to Dominance Down the Stretch

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    Slumps don't discriminate.

    Whether a player is a youngster trying to establish himself or a veteran who has enjoyed a lengthy career in the major leagues, every player in baseball goes through a slump at one point or another.

    Not even the biggest names in the game are immune from sinking into a funk, though not all funks are created equal.

    Some only last a few days, others a few weeks.

    Yet this season, for a handful of established stars, slumps have lasted well over a month—and there haven't been any signs of an end in sight.

    What are the odds that they'll be able to return to their former glory over the last five weeks of the regular season?

    Let's take a look.

    *Unless otherwise noted, all statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and current through games of August 24.

Asdrubal Cabrera, SS, Cleveland Indians

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    Up until he landed on the disabled list in early June with a strained right oblique, Asdrubal Cabrera was having a mediocre season, hitting .254 with a .745 OPS.

    Since coming off the disabled list on June 24, Cabrera has hit .219 with a .610 OPS. The numbers get even uglier after the All-Star break, with Cabrera managing only 24 hits over 121 at-bats (.196) with a .554 OPS.

    It's been an ugly year for the two-time All-Star.

    When the Cleveland Plain-Dealer's Paul Hoynes asked him about his struggles recently, Cabrera did his best to stay positive: "What do you want me to say? I've hit a lot of balls hard right at people. I've got nothing to say. I've just got to keep doing what I'm doing and good things will happen."

    A quick look at Cleveland's remaining schedule, which includes 19 of the team's final 33 games coming against teams with a losing record, would lead you to believe that good things are about to happen for Cabrera.

    But looks can be deceiving, as Cabrera's performance against three of those teams this year proves:

    Team (Games Remaining)BAOBPOPSXBH (HR)RBIBB/K
    Chicago (AL) (6).229.240.5532 (1)51/14
    Houston (4).400.5001.0001 (0)01/1
    Minnesota (5).122.182.3773 (0)13/7
    Totals.191.230.5175 (1)64/22

    Per FanGraphs, Cabrera is swinging at more pitches out of the strike zone than he ever has before, part of the reason he has a career-worst 79.1 percent contact rate this season.

    To put that in its proper perspective, only two shortstops in baseball this year—Detroit's Jhonny Peralta (75.9 percent) and Washington's Ian Desmond (75.7 percent)—have made contact less often.

    For what it's worth, Cabrera's teammates, including Justin Masterson, the ace of Cleveland's pitching staff, have faith in their struggling teammate, as he told Hoynes:

    As he goes, we go. I think he will be a key part as we go down the stretch. He's been playing tremendous defense for us. He's not hitting as well as he'd like and he's being put in those position to do it.

    People don't talk about him too much, but he's one of the biggest leaders on this team. He's got the most tenure here of anyone with the Indians. He's our guy. He'll continue to work through it.

    It's going to be fun to see. I think you'll see him carry us throughout the next couple of months.

    Despite Cabrera's struggles against some of the teams that remain on the Indians' schedule, I like his chances of turning things around over the final month of the season—better than some of the other players on this list, at least.

    Odds of Cabrera Returning to Dominance: 30-to-1

Prince Fielder, 1B, Detroit Tigers

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    On pace to set or tie career lows in batting average (.261), home runs (25) and runs scored (80), 2013 has not gone according to plan for Prince Fielder.

    Not only is Fielder on pace for some career-low numbers, but he's also in danger of breaking some pretty impressive streaks: six consecutive 30-home run seasons and four straight years with an on-base percentage above .400.

    It's fair to wonder whether Fielder's girth has begun to catch up with the 29-year-old slugger, something most people expected to happen as he hit his mid-30s, not as he sat less than 10 months away from his 30th birthday.

    It's also easy to forget that Fielder, like all ballplayers, is a human being and not a machine. Things going on in players' personal lives can weigh heavily on their minds and affect their performance on the field.

    Teammate Torii Hunter alluded to an off-field issue potentially impacting Fielder's performance earlier in August with comments he made on the "Ryan and Rico Show," Detroit Sports 105.1's midday program.

    When asked about the story generated by Hunter's remarks, Fielder quickly said that it was a non-story: “Yeah? Well I’m gonna turn the story off. It’s fine. Everything’s fine.”

    Clearly, everything is not fine.

    According to the Detroit Free Press, Fielder filed for divorce from his wife of eight years, Chanel, on May 28.

    With custody of his two sons yet to be determined and his estranged wife seeking for her legal fees to be covered—and temporary financial support—the five-time All-Star has had plenty on his mind besides baseball.

    While Fielder hasn't used his personal issues as an excuse, a drop in performance coinciding with his divorce filing can't only be a coincidence:

    April 1 to May 2749.275.402.89621 (9)42
    May 28 to August 2479.254.314.71726 (11)46

    Whether he can get back on track over the final month of the season rests entirely on Fielder's ability to put his off-field issues out of his mind for a few hours every day and deal with the task at hand, something that is easier said than done.

    Detroit closes out the season with 13 games against losing teams: the Mariners, Marlins, Twins and White Sox.

    While Fielder has only hit a combined .258 against Chicago, Minnesota and Seattle this season, I believe he will return to his MVP-caliber performance of years past down the stretch—and carry that into the playoffs.

    Odds of Fielder Returning to Dominance: 10-to-1

Ichiro Suzuki, RF, New York Yankees

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    While much has been made of Ichiro Suzuki's 4,000th career hit as a professional—and rightly so—it overshadows the fact that the 39-year-old is having one of the worst seasons of his career in 2013.

    Age certainly has something to do with that.

    Counting his time with the Orix Blue Wave in Japan, Ichiro is in his 22nd year as a pro, with a ton of wear and tear on his body. As he nears his 40th birthday, his skills are simply not what they used to be.

    That said, luck has also played a part in Ichiro's struggles this season. His .291 BABIP might not seem terrible, but when you consider that his career mark is more than 50 points higher—.344, according to FanGraphs—it's a major drop.

    Granted, Ichiro hasn't reached that .344 BABIP in a full season since 2010, when he posted a .353 mark with Seattle. But he had a .333 BABIP with the Yankees last season and had his OPS above .700 as recently as July 20.

    Since then, he's hit .241 with a .536 OPS and .260 BABIP, further evidence that Ichiro's struggles this year are more luck-related than anything else.

    Of course, it's impossible to forecast when Lady Luck will shine her light on Ichiro once again, but with Derek Jeter expected to return to the lineup on Monday—likely moving Ichiro down to the ninth spot in the team's lineup—he may feel some pressure lifted from his shoulders.

    Is Ichiro ever going to return to the days of contending for batting titles and MVP awards? Of course not.

    But with less pressure and some luck, there's no reason why he couldn't finish the season strong.

    As with Fielder—call this a gut feeling more than anything else—I believe that we'll see some vintage Ichiro down the stretch.

    Odds that Ichiro Returning to Dominance: 30-to-1

B.J. Upton, CF, Atlanta Braves

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    August 7 was a banner day for 29-year-old B.J. Upton, as his .198 batting average and .602 OPS marked the highest that either statistic has been all season long.

    Yep, it's been that bad for Upton in his first season with the Braves, and there's absolutely no reason to believe that things are going to get better anytime soon.

    While Upton is trying to be more selective at the plate, swinging at less than 50 percent of the pitches that he sees, according to FanGraphs, he's not making solid contact when he does swing. He's hitting more balls on the ground than in the air, and nearly 21 percent of those fly balls aren't leaving the infield.

    That's not good for anyone, especially someone with Upton's natural abilities.

    Ideally, the Braves would have finished the season with Upton platooning in center field with Jordan Schafer, minimizing the time that Upton spent on the field. To his credit, Upton had no problem with that scenario when asked by Carroll Rogers of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

    I’m just rolling with it. If I’m in the lineup, I’m in there.  If I’m not, then I’m not.  I don’t really have an argument.  What’s my argument?  I don’t.  So he’s (manager Fredi Gonzalez) going to play who he wants to play and that’s fine with me.  Like I said, as long as we win, I’ll support my teammates regardless.  We all have the same goal, that’s to get a championship, get a ring.  Wherever I can pitch in to help, I’ll do it.

    But with Jason Heyward potentially missing the rest of the regular season after surgery to repair a broken jaw he suffered against the Mets on Wednesday night, Atlanta has to play Upton and Schafer at the same time.

    Upton's swing clearly isn't right.

    The bottom line is that Atlanta, like everyone else, has been banking on Upton's potential, not his production.

    It's the potential that he flashed in 2007, when he hit .300/.386/.508 with 24 home runs, 82 RBI and swiped 22 bases.

    Incidentally, that was the last time that Upton finished a season with an OPS above .800. 

    The last time he finished a season with a batting average above .250? It was 2008.

    At this point in his career, B.J. Upton is what he is, and that's a mediocre ballplayer who gets paid like a superstar.

    Odds of Upton Returning to Dominance: 100-to-1

Matt Wieters, C, Baltimore Orioles

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    While Matt Wieters has seen an uptick in his production since the All-Star break and his power numbers remain solid (on pace for 24 home runs and 79 RBI), the 27-year-old catcher is hitting only .226 with a .265 on-base percentage in August.

    With 26 of Baltimore's last 36 games coming against divisional opponents—including the team's 20 final games—the odds of Wieters breaking out of his slump go down significantly. Take a look at how he's performed against the division so far in 2013:

    Boston.132.214.4251 (1)44/7
    New York.256.293.8317 (2)52/6
    Tampa Bay.314.3791.0669 (5)156/13
    Toronto.179.238.4953 (0)43/7
    Totals.228.290.73319 (8)2815/33

    Only four of those 26 games come against Tampa Bay. Take the Rays out of the equation and you're left with Wieters posting a .190/.246/.336 slash line against the bulk of Baltimore's competition down the stretch.

    That's not good, and not only does it reduce Wieters' chances of breaking out, it doesn't help Baltimore's chances of making its second consecutive playoff appearance.

    Odds of Wieters Returning to Dominance: 75-to-1