Like every Major League Baseball season, 2009 has already had its share of slumps and breakout years. With that in mind, I’ll break down three players who are struggling and three who are shining.
Chicago White Sox
The Cuban èmigrè has yet to replicate any aspect of his successful rookie season in 2008. Although he manned the keystone position for almost all of last season, manager Ozzie Guillen moved Ramirez to shortstop – and while the defense has sufficed, his line of .211/.246/.263 has Sox fans concerned.
Although some of Ramirez’s struggles may be the result of bad luck as evidenced by a .231 batting average on balls in play (BABIP), much of that can be explained away by a four percent drop in his line drive percentage accompanied by an increase in ground balls. Many, especially in saber metric circles, had the foresight to predict this, mainly due to Ramirez’s propensity for swinging at every pitch he sees.
Kansas City Royals
Like Ramirez, Aviles is having trouble replicating a breakout rookie season. After two very ordinary (and below average) seasons in AAA in 2006 and 2007, Aviles tore the minors apart for fifty games before being recalled to woebegone Kansas City in mid 2008.
Hitting .325/.354/.480 with a solid glove, Aviles looked like he could be a productive middle infielder for a Kansas City team in dire need (Tony Pena Jr. comes to mind). But Aviles has fallen back down to earth, and is hitting .194/.221/.269 in 32 games. Much like Ramirez, Aviles is doing himself no favors with poor plate discipline. At this point, it looks as though Aviles may have been a flash in the pan after all.
The National League Rookie of the Year in 2008 is batting .204/.324/.269. Soto looks to be getting himself together, as a 6-16 stretch in his last home stand gives Cub fans some level of reassurance. That being said, a sample size that small shouldn’t allay all fears.
Soto’s four extra base hits raise concern, especially considering his lack of power in every season prior to his 2007 season in AAA. Could Soto be reverting to his Yadier Molina-esque lack of power? Probably not, but if Soto is still slugging .300 or lower by July, he needs to be re-evaluated.
Foolishly dealt by the Mariners in the Erik Bedard deal, Jones is finally fulfilling the potential he showed in the minor leagues. Batting a full .100 points higher than 2008, Jones looks like the best center fielder in baseball. Producing at a clip of .370/.426/.669, Jones is walking more, striking out less, and has hit one less home run (8) than he hit in 2008 (9). He’s bound to slow down, but there’s no reason to believe he can’t be a perennial all star – starting this season.
Finally freed from Dusty Baker’s young player shackles (where he was held so Scott Hatteberg could slowly fade away), Votto is dominating in every aspect of the game. Although he broke out to a degree last season, Votto looks like the best NL first baseman not named Pujols.
Batting .366/.470/.589, Votto is spearheading a Red team that is somehow still three games above .500. While, like Jones, his numbers will fall (especially the average), his slugging percentage will continue to rise, and his on-base percentage will only fall as much as his average, as his walk rate is sustainable. At this point, Votto could be the NL’s Justin Morneau.
Probably the flukiest of the three, Kubel is finally fulfilling some of the promise he showed in the minor leagues. Hitting .336/.372/.555, Kubel is benefiting from an extremely high BABIP of .376, and is not paying for a sizable reduction in walk percentage. While walking less is okay as long as players strike out less and Kubel has done that, he shouldn’t expect the same bounces all year long. A BABIP of .376 is highly volatile, and will plummet by midseason – more than likely.
As with any judgment this early in the season, we must be cautious to not put too much stock in a small sample size. Of course, we shouldn’t expect Kubel to bat .336 all season, or – Ramirez to have a on-base plus slugging percentage below .600. Perhaps, after a long summer at home, this topic will be revisited in September.
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