CSS Button No Image Css3Menu.com

Baseball Prospectus home
  
  
Click here to log in Click here for forgotten password Click here to subscribe

There will be a very short planned maintenance outage of the site tonight (7/22) at 11 PM ET

<< Previous Article
Prospectus Feature: Th... (05/01)
Next Article >>
Aim For The Head: Drop... (05/03)

May 2, 2002

The Cliff

Tim Salmon's Decline

by Chris Dankberg

You never see it coming. Player X is having a solid career, peaking in the .300/.380/.540 range for a run-of-the-mill franchise. He has a minimal history of injuries--the average aches and pains, an occasional stint on the DL, but nothing worse than that. He hits the other side of 30 as an accomplished player and is generally considered one of the better, more consistent players in the game.

Then, all of a sudden, it happens: the player just collapses. At first, it just looks like a slow start, but as July rolls around, the slow start has turned into an off year and the fans and media are more unforgiving.

Come the off-season, optimism abounds. "Anyone can have an off year," says the player. Then, for the second straight year, there's a slow start, and the player beings to drop in the batting order. He can't explain his lack of production: he's healthy, he's seeing the ball fine, and he's still drawing walks. He's not striking out any more often. He just can't hit.

If you're an Angels fan, you recognize Player X as Tim Salmon. What's scary is how much his last 14 months resembles the path trod by Dale Murphy a little more than a decade ago.

In 1987, Murphy hit .295/.417/.580 for the Braves, rapping 44 home runs. Life was good for the 31-year old outfielder, who was on pace for the Hall of Fame. Then, despite being completely healthy in 1988, Murphy hit just .226/.313/.421. League offensive levels declined precipitously from '87 to '88, but no amount of context could hide the collapse of Murphy's offense. His walk rate declined slightly that season, but it was only a minimal decline.

Looking back, there doesn't seem to have been any reason for Murphy's precipitous drop except that he could no longer hit the ball hard. There were no injuries. No problems off the field. Nothing. His strikeout rate remained pretty much unchanged, while his walk rate held steady at a lowered level.

Age     Avg    OBP    SLG   BB/PA   SO/PA
20     .262   .333   .354   .097    .125
21     .316   .316   .526   .000    .105
22     .226   .284   .394   .067    .250
23     .276   .340   .469   .077    .156
24     .281   .349   .510   .079    .211
25     .247   .325   .390   .087    .173
26     .281   .378   .507   .120    .192
27     .302   .393   .540   .114    .160
28     .290   .372   .547   .085    .194
29     .300   .388   .539   .105    .198
30     .265   .347   .477   .101    .204
31     .295   .417   .580   .124    .196
----------------------------------------
32     .226   .313   .421   .086    .186
33     .228   .306   .361   .085    .219
34     .245   .318   .417   .075    .207
35     .252   .312   .415   .075    .154
----------------------------------------
78-87  .279   .362   .500   .097    .193
88-91  .238   .312   .403   .080    .192

Murphy would never again hit the way he did in his mid-1980s prime, moving on to be an unproductive right fielder in Philadelphia before walking away after 42 lousy at-bats with the expansion Rockies in 1993. It was an ignominious end to his career, capping a six-year stretch in which Murphy essentially played his way out of the Hall of Fame.

Tim Salmon has yet to put up the four-year stinkaroo that Murphy managed in Atlanta and Philadelphia, but he's well on his way towards doing so. For a while, Salmon was known as the best player of his current generation never to play in an All-Star game. A plus defender in right field, patient at the plate and a good power hitter, Salmon was a prototype for the modern outfielder. He was underappreciated when the Angels were a factor in the mid-'90s, finishing seventh in the MVP voting in both 1995 and 1997.

Salmon struggled with a foot injury for a while, but rebounded strongly and had put it totally behind him by the beginning of the 2000 season. He hit .290/.404/.540 that year for an Angels team that surprised many by finishing above .500 and in the third place. That winter, he was rewarded for his consistent performance with a new contract extension.

Then came The Cliff.

Age     Avg    OBP    SLG   BB/PA   SO/PA
23     .177   .283   .266   .109    .250
24     .283   .382   .536   .126    .221
25     .287   .382   .531   .120    .234
26     .330   .429   .594   .139    .174
27     .286   .386   .501   .126    .184
28     .296   .394   .517   .129    .204
29     .300   .410   .533   .150    .177
30     .266   .372   .490   .145    .194
31     .290   .404   .540   .146    .204
----------------------------------------
32     .227   .365   .383   .158    .208
33     .169   .294   .254   .153    .176
----------------------------------------
92-00  .291   .394   .527   .135    .199
01-02  .220   .356   .366   .158    .204

Like Murphy, Salmon's walk and strikeout data remain virtually unchanged. The falloff is entirely in his ability to hit the ball well for average and power.

The Cliff season is a rare phenomenon, affecting only a handful of players. A player can show Cliff-like symptoms and slowly embark on a journey to below replacement level, but that's usually a result of injury or a massive erosion in a walk or strikeout rate. A true Cliff season, however, occurs without any foreshadowing or significant injury.

Now, it's too early to write Salmon off completely. As noted, his plate discipline remains intact, and that's a good sign. But the parallels to Murphy's sudden collapse are clear, and as Salmon continues to ground weakly to shortstop and fly out to center field, it's going to be more and more difficult for the Angels to ignore the demise of their long-time lineup anchor.

Related Content:  Tim Salmon

0 comments have been left for this article.

<< Previous Article
Prospectus Feature: Th... (05/01)
Next Article >>
Aim For The Head: Drop... (05/03)

RECENTLY AT BASEBALL PROSPECTUS
Fantasy Article My Model Portfolio: Three-and-a-Half Months ...
Notes About Baseball, 7/22
Premium Article What You Need to Know: Boston Gives 'Em A Li...
Premium Article Minor League Update: Games of Monday, July 2...
Premium Article Moonshot: Accounting for Count
Premium Article Prospects Will Break Your Heart: What Did I ...
Premium Article Transaction Analysis: Headley Chased

MORE FROM MAY 2, 2002
6-4-3: managing.com
Premium Article The Daily Prospectus: The Daily Prospectus: ...
The Cliff
The Daily Prospectus: Around the AL

MORE BY CHRIS DANKBERG
2002-07-22 - Rebuilding Gone Awry
2002-07-22 - Rebuilding Gone Awry
2002-05-02 - The Cliff
2002-05-02 - The Cliff
More...