What's wrong with Albert Pujols? Is Jason Heyward in the midst of a sophomore slump? Is Carl Crawford doomed?
These are the questions on many baseball fans' mind as we pass the one-third marker of the 2011 MLB season. Every year there are good players who suddenly collapse, but it seems like this year there have been more high-profile meltdowns than usual.
Some older stars are starting to show their ages. Some were playing over their heads last year, and more still are just having trouble making good contact or choosing the right pitches at which to swing.
But many of them are just struggling because of bad luck.
Earlier this week, I looked at some hitters whose success to date was being fueled by good luck. Now it's time to look at the other end of the spectrum: slumping players whose struggles aren't fully their faults.
In this slideshow are 15 big names who haven't been living up to expectations largely because of really bad luck.
Batting average on balls in play (also known as "BABIP" or "hit rate") is exactly what it sounds like—the proportion of batted balls hit within the confines of the baseball diamond that fall for hits. The league average is always right around .300.
BABIP takes years to stabilize and become reliable because it is particularly prone to being affected by random chance. Some players—powerful line-drive hitters and speedy ground-ball hitters, for example—have the ability to maintain hit rates significantly higher than the mean, but most big, year-to-year fluctuations are just luck.
Thanks to The Hardball Times' Simple xBABIP Calculator, we can get an idea of what a player's hit rate would be in a luck-neutral environment based on factors like power, speed and batted-ball profile.
In order to calculate the context-neutral stats for the players on this list, I substituted their xBABIPs for their BABIPs to find their adjusted batting averages. I then used their walk rates to find their expected on-base percentages and applied their Power Factors to calculate expected slugging percentages.
Finally, I calculated each player's expected OPS+ to compare with his actual OPS+. It's an imperfect method for comparing offensive production, but it's quick, easy to compare and gets you in the right ballpark.
Take these numbers with a grain of salt—the assumption that the BABIP-xBABIP disparity is fully due to luck isn't always necessarily correct. But a big drop-off in hit rate—like the one Geovany Soto suffered in 2009, bookended by two otherwise similar seasons in 2008 and 2010—is usually a sign of random fluctuation, not declining talent.
Actual numbers: .240 average/.355 on-base percentage/.442 slugging percentage, 129 OPS+ (.263 BABIP)
Adjusted numbers: .275/.390/.507, 157 OPS+ (.308 xBABIP)
Longoria's done pretty well for himself when he's been on the field in 2011—he's on pace for 10.0 WAR in 162 games.
It's scary to think that his true talent level is actually better.
Actual numbers: .257/.367/.535, 141 OPS+ (.242 BABIP)
Adjusted numbers: .298/.408/.608, 174 OPS+ (.297 xBABIP)
Ignore his low average, and you'll see that Teixeira is showing great plate discipline and possibly the best power he's ever had.
With better luck, Tex could be having a career year.
Actual numbers: .235/.269/.362, 71 OPS+ (.271 BABIP)
Adjusted numbers: .283/.317/.436, 105 OPS+ (.331 xBABIP)
Crawford's been quite a disappointment in his first season with Boston—they wouldn't have made a nine-digit commitment to him had they known he'd be below replacement value.
His luck-neutral numbers are significantly better than his actual stats, but either way the Red Sox probably expected better.
Actual numbers: .252/.303/.467, 107 OPS+ (.235 BABIP)
Adjusted numbers: .300/.351/.556, 143 OPS+ (.291 xBABIP)
Focus only on the superficial stats, and it looks like the Rangers made a mistake by giving Beltre nearly $100 million this winter.
Factor in his bad luck and stellar glove, though, and he's still an elite player.
Actual numbers: .262/.333/.412, 109 OPS+ (.254 BABIP)
Adjusted numbers: .316/.386/.496, 147 OPS+ (.315 xBABIP)
Entering what was supposed to be a huge walk year, the normally phenomenal Pujols has been incredibly disappointing.
His luck-neutral numbers help somewhat, but even his adjusted OBP and SLG would represent career lows for "The Machine."
Actual numbers: .190/.303/.369, 88 OPS+ (.229 BABIP)
Adjusted numbers: .238/.351/.462, 126 OPS+ (.302 xBABIP)
Reynolds' low average this year isn't a surprise—he hit below the Mendoza line in 2010, too—but his subpar on-base and slugging percentages aren't what the Orioles were expecting.
There'd be no talk of benching him if the winds of fortune would cease their cruelty.
Actual numbers: .214/.317/.407, 99 OPS+ (.232 BABIP)
Adjusted numbers: .272/.375/.517, 144 OPS+ (.314 xBABIP)
The rightful 2010 NL Rookie of the Year has taken a huge step back so far in 2011.
Some would call it the sophomore slump. I call it a 103-point drop in BABIP.
Actual numbers: .210/.306/.309, 69 OPS+ (.236 BABIP)
Adjusted numbers: .286/.382/.422, 120 OPS+ (.332 xBABIP)
Normally lauded as a five-tool stud, Ramirez has looked awful across the board in 2011.
His decreased power and bad defense can't be chalked up to random chance, but the 96-point disparity between his BABIP and xBABIP suggests that most of his struggles are due to luck.
Actual numbers: .251/.328/.483, 114 OPS+ (.229 BABIP)
Adjusted numbers: .322/.399/.619, 168 OPS+ (.311 xBABIP)
With an OPS over .800 and great defense at a premium position, Tulowitzki is an easy All-Star as it stands now.
If he hadn't suffered so much bad luck though, he'd be the leading candidate for NL MVP.
Actual numbers: .201/.253/.306, 54 OPS+ (.208 BABIP)
Adjusted numbers: .280/.332/.427, 109 OPS+ (.298 xBABIP)
Rios rebounded from an awful 2009 campaign with 3.7 WAR in 2010; so far this year, he's looked even worse than he did two years ago.
But the problem isn't a decline in skill—it's bad luck. His adjusted numbers look pretty similar to his 2010 stats.
Actual numbers: .183/.224/.303, 50 OPS+ (.200 BABIP)
Adjusted numbers: .258/.299/.427, 106 OPS+ (.297 xBABIP)
Angels fans should take comfort in knowing that the man with the awful contract who they acquired last year isn't nearly as bad as he's looked so far.
Still, looking at his expected stats, this still was a terrible deal for the Halos. Especially since they had to give up...
Actual numbers: .225/.365/.550, 146 OPS+ (.232 BABIP)
Adjusted numbers: .291/.431/.709, 205 OPS+ (.301 xBABIP)
Say what you want about Napoli's defense, but he's demonstrated phenomenal power and plate discipline in limited action with Texas this year in spite of terrible luck.
His .709 expected slugging percentage is downright scary.
Actual numbers: .175/.241/.316, 53 OPS+ (.186 BABIP)
Adjusted numbers: .269/.336/.487, 125 OPS+ (.311 xBABIP)
Uggla's been a major disappointment to his new team in 2011, to say the least. Playing below replacement level isn't a good way to reward the club that just gave you a $62 million contract extension.
Luckily for the Braves, he should be back to normal when his luck starts to turn.
Actual numbers: .172/.226/.232, 30 OPS+ (.184 BABIP)
Adjusted numbers: .283/.338/.383, 103 OPS+ (.311 xBABIP)
With minus-1.1 WAR in less than a sixth of a season's worth of games, Ordonez has looked pretty well washed up in 2011.
His adjusted numbers would still be by far Mags' worst this millennium, but at least he'd still be a useful player.
Actual numbers: .169/.285/.324, 66 OPS+ (.181 BABIP)
Adjusted numbers: .265/.380/.506, 140 OPS+ (.311 xBABIP)
Is there anyone in baseball this year who's taken more flack than Posada? After shifting to the DH role, he's hitting .169 and has been controversially demoted in the Yankees' batting order.
All because his BABIP is 130 points too low. If not for a season-long bout of miserable, awful luck, he'd be seen as one of the best hitters in baseball.