June 23, 2009
Much has been made about the struggles of Vernon Wells this year. It's hard not to notice when a guy signed to a lucrative long-term contract is hitting .248/.304/.383 almost three months into the season, but for those with memories that go back further than 2008, this shouldn't be that shocking. In 2007, Wells hit .245/.304/.383 over a full season, and his 25th percentile PECOTA forecast resembles his current line. He's not driving the ball, just like he struggled to do in 2007. His HR/FB and pop-up rates look similar to that year, which is also bad news for Jays fans and fantasy owners hoping for a rebound.
At least he's managed to go 11-for-11 in his stolen-base attempts, which has helped move him from the realm of "total disaster" into…well he's still a disaster, but there are far worse players you could have on your team. In fact, according to Value Over Replacement Player, Wells has been the fifty-eighth worst regular in the majors among those with a minimum 200 plate appearances. Is there any hope for those that are struggling more than Wells?
Player PA AVG/ OBP/ SLG SB VORP Brian Giles 254 .191/.277/.271 1 -14.6 Chris Davis 238 .194/.248/.410 0 -11.8 Dioner Navarro 217 .218/.242/.322 1 -9.9 Willy Taveras 249 .224/.274/.278 14 -9.8 Garrett Atkins 229 .207/.288/.310 0 -9.2 Emilio Bonifacio 296 .241/.288/.292 12 -9.0 Jeff Francoeur 268 .245/.281/.333 4 -9.0 Emmanuel Burriss 220 .238/.292/.267 11 -8.2 Orlando Cabrera 300 .235/.284/.301 2 -7.4 Eric Byrnes 201 .220/.261/.371 7 -6.3 Josh Fields 217 .227/.306/.320 2 -6.3 Jimmy Rollins 311 .217/.261/.338 10 -6.2 Jason Kendall 227 .228/.323/.269 1 -6.1 David Ortiz 268 .213/.310/.370 0 -4.5 Chris Young 245 .204/.272.3801 1 -3.6 Ramon Hernandez 252 .242/.323/.347 1 -3.6 Howie Kendrick 201 .231/.281/.355 6 -3.3 Ryan Sweeney 225 .249/.313/.323 4 -3.1 Gerald Laird 211 .223/.319/.324 1 -2.7 Yuniesky Betancourt 237 .249/.275/.327 3 -2.5 Casey Kotchman 215 .268/.326/.381 0 -2.4 Kelly Johnson 246 .226/.292/.380 2 -2.3 Daniel Murphy 216 .250/.324/.362 1 -2.1 Chase Headley 239 .228/.305/.358 6 -1.8 J.J. Hardy 257 .213/.296/.333 0 -1.8
Chris Davis' sophomore season has not gone as well as his first effort, when he hit .285/.331/.549 and displayed some massive power potential. With a .216 ISO (despite few extra-base hits outside of his homers), he still has that power potential, but he's striking out far more often. Whiffing 42.4 percent of the time, Davis has already crossed the 100 strikeout threshold, and his overall performance has suffered for it. What's most disappointing about this is that Davis' swing is just what you want when he does make contact: he hits a ton of fly balls and plays in a park that rewards him for that, and he has his second straight year with a HR/FB rate north of 20 percent because of it. The problem is that nearly one-third of his hits have been homers; that's cool if you're Adam Dunn and you're also walking a bunch, but Davis only has two of the three true outcomes down at present, and walks ain't one of them.
Davis' contact is down to 56.8 percent, which is easily the worst in the majors among qualifiers. He swings outside of the zone the seventh most as well, but lacks the contact skills of those around him like Adam Jones, Pablo Sandoval, and A.J. Pierzynski. His obvious need is to lay off of those pitches outside of the zone and force more pitchers to throw in the strike zone against him, where he can do some damage, or, at worst, end up taking walks to make up for those singles he is not picking up. That might be asking too much out of the 23-year-old Davis in 2009, as the kind of shift in approach and patience he would need to display to improve is more like an overhaul than a tweak. You may want to dump him in 2009, unless your league somehow doesn't count average or OBP, and if you really need those homers.
I had decided to pretend as if the D'backs' Chris Young didn't exist for awhile, in the hopes that when I notice him again he will have developed just like we all want him to. Of course, things happen with your own team, and then you need someone to play center, and there's Chris Young and his .204/.272/.380 line wrestling with his potential for league supremacy atop several league's waiver wires. His current line is awful, but take a peek at his April/May showing: .178/.220/.313, with four steals in six attempts. He's actually picked things up in June by hitting .276/.400/.569 with seven steals in seven attempts, bopping as many homers as he had the first two months combined, and producing an equal number of walks and strikeouts-17.1 percent of his plate appearances apiece. Since he was drawing walks 4.6 percent of the time before, and whiffing 27 percent of the time, this is the kind of change we should take note of. Young has burned me and many others in the past, so I have a hard time saying that you should believe that he's turned a corner, but if you're like me, and in a situation where a disgusted owner has cast him aside, you may want to find room on the back of your roster. Just in case.
Kelly Johnson has not been able to replicate his 2008 campaign because the line drives that helped make him so good just aren't coming off of his bat this year. He's hitting more fly balls at the expense of his liners, and Johnson isn't the kind of hitter that can send fly balls into the stands with regularity. He needs those liners to keep his average and doubles totals up, but now that he's at a league-average rate of around 20 percent rather than last year's lofty 24.7 percent, his average and BABIP have fallen significantly. Looking a little deeper gives us a mixed view of whether Johnson can rebound. His current liner rate is below his career mark of 22 percent, so simple regression would mean he could bounce back just from heading in that direction. Johnson has become a little less patient the past two years though, swinging at more pitches outside of the zone, and as a result seeing his walk rate dip. He dropped from 4.1 pitches per plate appearance to 3.8, and is now down at 3.5.
If he isn't seeing as many good pitches to hit, but is swinging anyways-and making contact-then he's letting pitchers control the at-bat, and is making himself more of an easy out. This would have been more apparent last year if Johnson had not suddenly gotten red-hot in September and finished the year with a 22-game hitting streak, during which he hit .398/.429/.643 and brought his line up from .263/.332/.403 to .287/.349/.446. Johnson's been more like an unlucky version of those first five months from 2008, and unless he starts to wait for his pitch to drive, things won't change. Knowing this though, there's a chance he could turn it around if the Braves can get him to tweak his approach.
J.J. Hardy has had an odd season in 2009. He's hitting just .213/.296/.333, significantly less valuable than he has been the past two seasons. Somehow, however, not much has actually changed between then and now, as Hardy's batted-ball data looks similar to last season's, he's seen essentially the same breakdown of pitch types, and he's actually been a little better about not swinging at pitches outside of the zone. He is making less contact on some of those pitches out of the zone that he does swing at though-while this hasn't caused him to strike out more, it certainly hasn't helped him control the at-bats. When he does make contact, he's not driving the ball well, as his seven doubles and 8.0 percent HR/FB rate can attest to. While things looked like they had picked up in May (.313/.400/.488), Hardy has fallen back in June and performed even worse than at the start of the year.
Shortstops have a collective .255 EqA as a group, while Hardy is down at .226. That's below replacement level for all hitters, and bordering on it for shortstops as well. Another month like his May would pull him from that abyss, and given that he has a .239 BABIP and has shown power both this year and in the past, I have a hard time believing he won't do that. His season line might end up ugly due to his awful April and June performances, but if he can move closer to the average during the remainder of the season, he'll have much more value for you.
A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider .