May 2, 2012
Prospectus Hit and Run
Worse Than Pujols, AL Edition
Albert Pujols you know about. The $240 million man has yet to get untracked for the Angels and ended the month of April hitting a paltry .217/.265/.304 without a homer. He's hardly the only hitter who has begun 2012 in a funk, though. In fact, 41 other hitters came into Tuesday with True Averages lower than or equal to that of Pujols' .225 in at least 65 plate appearances, i.e., enough to qualify for the batting title. Sure, those are small samples sizes, but we're 14 percent of the way through the season, with one page of the calendar wadded up into a ball, so it's not like we can't at least gawk at the outliers. What follows is a look at a half-dozen AL hitters—none of them as good as Pujols to begin with, admittedly—who are struggling to an even greater degree than the Angels slugger, and where they and their teams might go from here.
All statistics are through Monday, and all players are listed in alphabetical order to protect the guiltiest. I'll be back with a companion set for the NL later this week.
Gordon Beckham, White Sox (.153/.231/.203, .148 TAv)
Where Do We Go From Here? Beckham is hardly the only White Sox infielder who is flailing miserably. Alexei Ramirez (.207/.233/.264, for a .188 TAv) and Brent Morel (.178/.221/.205, for a .194 TAv) have been indescribably awful as well, and either could have merited a spot here. Neither of those two is riding quite the same downward trajectory as Beckham, though.
Even while averaging just 3.86 runs per game, the Sox entered Tuesday 11-11, tied with the Tigers for second in the AL Central. Manager Robin Ventura has given 23-year-old rookie Eduardo Escobar four starts at second base thus far, but he's not much of a hitter; last year, he batted .266/.303/.354 at Triple-A Charlotte, and his weighted mean PECOTA (.243/.268/.320) suggests he'd be hard-pressed to match those numbers in the majors. The Sox might want to consider optioning Beckham to Triple-A to stop the bleeding and preserve his service time and Tyler Kuhn a look. The 25-year-old, a 15th-round pick from 2008, has hit just .275/.311/.360 in about two months of Triple-A (197 PA split between 2011 and 2012), but he tore up the Southern League last year (.341/.401/.464 in 470 PA) while playing for Birmingham, and his ability to play second, short, third, and left field could make him a useful offense-oriented utilityman if Beckham is able to turn things around.
Brennan Boesch, Tigers (.231/.255/.352, .202 TAv)
Where Do We Go From Here? The Tigers aren't getting much from any of their corner outfield types. Delmon Young was hitting just .242/.311/.333 before he was arrested on a hate crime harassment charge and suspended for a week. Ryan Raburn (.148/.220/.185) has been awful whether playing second base or left field; the only reason he's not being written up here is that he's got too few plate appearances to qualify. Andy Dirks has hit .281/.303/.531, albeit in all of 33 PA, this after batting a more representative .251/.296/.406 in 235 PA last year, while Clete Thomas was lost to the Twins on waivers, and Don Kelly (.240/.345/.240) is forever out of his element when he strays into an outfield corner. Far from being a thousand-run juggernaut, the Tigers simply don't have the depth to withstand a key regular underperforming, particularly at a corner position, so you can bet Boesch will get every chance to hit his way out of this.
Eric Hosmer, Royals (.188/.274/.388, .225 TAv)
Where Do We Go From Here? Hosmer's woes against lefties aside, there isn't much to suggest this is more than bad luck. He managed a .314 BABIP last year as a rookie, and he should be able to approach a similar figure given a large enough sample. He came into Tuesday in an 0-for-15 funk, but prior to that he had actually enjoyed a hot stretch, going 8-for-23 with three homers and four walks in a six-game span. The Royals are off to an abysmal 6-15 start, but the best thing they've got going for them is the core of their lineup—Alex Gordon, Billy Butler, Mike Moustakas, and Hosmer. They've got nothing better to do than wait for him to come around soon enough.
Casey Kotchman, Indians (.149/.240/.254, .177 TAv)
Where Do We Go From Here? In signing Kotchman, the Indians supplanted Matt LaPorta, who in three years of big-league action totaling 1,008 PA had hit a meager .238/.304/.397. While Kotchman flails in Cleveland, LaPorta's currently burning Triple-A Columbus and the International League to the ground, hitting .380/.451/.759 with eight homers in 91 PA; then again, he's always hit well for the Clippers, .323/.408/.586 in 574 PA spread out over parts of four seasons. Still, it's tempting to think the 27-year-old former first-round pick could give the Indians' offense a jolt; while the big club ranks sixth in the league in scoring, they're 12th in slugging percentage. LaPorta won't provide the defense that Kotchman—who was signed in part for his glovework to back up a low-strikeout staff—can, but it's not out of the question he can help.
Mark Reynolds, Orioles (.143/.260/.206, .188 TAv)
Where Do We Go From Here? Reynolds is already bouncing around the lineup; he's made 10 starts at third base, eight at designated hitter, and one at first base. Chris Davis is lighting the league ablaze while starting at first (.310/.359/.563), and though the same can't be said for Wilson Betemit, he has at least shown some pop (.241/.268/.481) while starting 11 times at third and another four times elsewhere. Nick Johnson, who's second on the team in starts at DH (six) went into Tuesday 0-for-26—he ran that to 0-for-29 before finally collecting a hit—and he's got even less defensive utility than Reynolds, not to mention a 50 percent likelihood of disemboweling himself on any given grounder.
Reynolds, for whatever his flaws, does have a career .274 True Average in spite of his low batting averages, so he should probably be given the leeway to sort himself out, though given that he's a pending free agent with an $11 million club option, you can bet that the Orioles would just as soon hope that he plays himself into being somebody's deadline acquisition.
Justin Smoak, Mariners (.200/.247/.325, 204 TAv)
Where Do We Go From Here? Smoak now has nearly a thousand plate appearances at the big-league level without coming anywhere close to average production for a first baseman. His whiff rates against curves (25 percent), sliders (18.2 percent), and changeups (14 percent) relative to fastballs (3.9 percent, all figures from TexasLeaguers.com) suggest a significant deficit in pitch-recognition skills. At the very least, he's got no business occupying the Mariners' cleanup spot, where he's batted in every game he's played, and at the most, he should probably be in the midst of a Triple-A refresher course while somebody else—perhaps Alex Liddi, who's filled in at times—mans first for awhile.