Take me to the River

The first two months of the season are winding down and most players are either near their career norms or headed that way.  But there are some players who are inexplicably well below expectations.  Here is a list of some of the more obvious examples and my diagnosis of what has gone wrong.

American League

Craig Monroe
Monroe has been a terror on lefties for his entire career.  Even in his brief exposure in the majors - just a little over a season - he has a .895 OPS against them.  Last year, he hit .293 with an OPS of .968 against them.  It has been right-handers that he has struggled with, hitting a paltry .206 with a .595 OPS against.  This year, he's fallen through Alice's looking glass and is temporarily trapped in a bizarro reverse world.  He's hitting .306 vs right handers, .167 vs lefties.  Fortunately, the sample is small and Monroe has a history of strong second half performance.  He will see a lot of left-handed pitching in his division and his solid showing against right-handers thus far may be an indication that he's ready for full-time duty. 

Kevin Millar
Two things to know about Millar: he is a streaky hitter and for the last three years, he's hit over .300 with men on base.  So far this season, he's not hitting with men on base and appears to be in one of his 2-3 month long slumps.  It happens.  However, it shouldn't be permanent.  When he starts hitting, it comes in floods as it did in 2002 when he hit over .375 in August and September.  There is a concern if the Red Sox sign Raul Mondesi as to how he will get playing time, especially when Trot Nixon comes back, but if they do sign him, it may be more of a sign of concern about Nixon's health than it is about Millar's current lack of production.. 

Brad Fullmer
There doesn't appear to be anything physically wrong with Fullmer.  His surgically repaired knee certainly wasn't bothering him in spring training when he hit .391.  The biggest change appears to be the way pitches are starting him off in the at bat.  Last year he hit .448 on the first pitch.  The year before, .378.  This year, he's hitting .250.  Opposing pitchers are either starting him off with junk or stuff off the plate.  The deeper into the count, the less comfortable and less aggressive he appears to be.  He's been pretty good at making adjustments in his career and the improved walk/strikeout rate should end up being a bonus.  He's a good rebound candidate.

Derek Jeter
I was surprised to see just how close to the plate Jeter is standing these days and just how obstinate he appears to be about making an adjustment.  Pitchers are busting him inside with just about everything and he can't get the barrel of the bat on anything but bad mistakes.  Jeter won't continue to hit .200 the rest of the season, but unless he moves back from the plate a little, he won't come anywhere near .300.

Mark Kotsay

There was a time when Kotsay looked like he was going to develop into a star, but back troubles have derailed that train and this may be all we're left with.  Now it is his knee that is causing problems and there just doesn't appear to be any end to the nagging injuries.  The talent and skills are there but his body just doesn't appear to be capable of coping with the stress and strains of being an everyday player.  He'll probably be more productive as a 4th outfielder/DH.

Bernie Williams
Williams missed almost all of spring training after his emergency appendectomy and basically used the first month of the season as his spring training against competition that was already at full speed.  No wonder scouts said his bat speed looked slow.  Looking at his May numbers - .276 average, .802 OPS, 3 homers - shows a player who may be finally returning to form.  The days off from playing the field when he DHs should help him stay healthy.  While a return to his career levels might be a bit much to expect - .303, 23 homers - something in the .290s and high teens in homers is a very real possibility.

Likewise, Mark Teixeira, Jerry Hairston, Ben Broussard and Desi Relaford should rebound from their early season injuries.

Luis Matos
Simply put, Matos isn't as good as he looked last year.  He had never hit better than .300 before last season at any level.  While his strikeout rate has always been pretty good, his walk rate has never been: he's  never topped 40 walks in any season.  His power output was also somewhat of a surprise as he's topped 10 homers in a season just once, back in 1999 as a 20 year old split between over 550 at bats in the Carolina League and the Eastern League.  The speed is real, but anything more than 15 homers will be a surprise this year.

National League

Morgan Ensberg
A cold start by Ensberg and a hot start by Mike Lamb limited Ensberg's opportunities, but his bat is starting to come around.  The projections for 30 home runs were probably overly optimistic and based more on his 8-homer output in June of last year than his 2-4 homers in four other months.  He'll hit, but a home run total around 18-20 is where he should finish.

Derrek Lee
I have absolutely no idea why Derrek Lee isn't hitting up a storm in Chicago.  True, he has a history of slow starts, but that usually takes the form of a low batting average, not a lack of power.  He is on pace to set a career record for doubles, so maybe the power is still there but the line-drives aren't quite carrying out of the park.  Still, moving from one of the toughest parks for hitters to one that has been historically good for them should have helped more than it has.  There's just no reason for his lack of power thus far, so it's a good bet to be a mirage and we'll see a strong finish from Lee.

Chipper Jones
This is the first year since 1994 that Jones has suffered any significant injuries.  Hamstring injuries affect hitters in different ways and tend to linger a bit even after the player returns to action.  With Jones, it appears to be his ability to reach pitches on the outside half of the plate that has been most affected so while he should be decent from here on out, slight drops in his final batting average and power numbers are a reasonable expectation.

Geoff Jenkins
Like Derrek Lee, Jenkins home run power has been noticeably absent, but his power overall is still there.  It's just taking the form of a career pace in both doubles and triples.  The triples are especially surprising since he's never hit more than 4 in a season and he's on pace for 11.  He will revert to being Geoff Jenkins soon: home runs, nagging injuries and everything.

Ryan Klesko
Klesko appears to be the first hitting victim of Petco.  In the first homestand, he absolutely crushed several pitches that in any other ballpark would have been in the seats.  But in Petco they fell short of the fence.  The cool, heavy sea air at night was the culprit and Klesko has let it get to him.  The weather will warm up in San Diego and the ball will travel a little better in June, July and August.   But the damage to his confidence appears to be done and it may take a trade to get it back.  His game is better suited to the American League where he can DH and play first or outfield occasionally and the Padres are rumored to be looking to make such a deal.  The change will go a long way to fixing him.

Jose Vidro/Orlando Cabrera
Many pundits said the Expos would miss Javier Vazquez more than Vlad Guerrero, but that doesn't appear to be the case.  The concept of line-up protection has been debated extensively - although there has never been a study that looks at the effects on all hitters, only the effect on star hitters - but this might be a case where Vidro and Cabrera are pressing to make up for the absence of Guerrero, especially with Carl Everett being out of the line-up so much.  This may be an issue all year as Everett isn't the type of hitter you build a line-up around, although both hitters should see at least some rebound the rest of the way.  Assuming the Expos end up in the DC area next year, both Vidro and Cabrera will rebound with a financially more robust line-up around them.

Alex Cintron
I mentioned this in my NL preseason preview, but guys who have a career slugging percentage in the .350s who suddenly and unexpectedly slug .500 don't usually continue to slug .500.  Cintron's average is lower than expected, but the power is about right. 

And one guy who doesn't yet have a league...

Raul Mondesi
Of the teams that have been mentioned most prominently in the pursuit of Mondesi, the Os make the most sense.  They would be able to DH Gibbons full-time (thus keeping him healthier) and trade either Brian Roberts or Jerry Hairston for some pitching help.  It would also give them the best defensive outfield in the American League.  Adding Mondesi makes short-term sense in Anaheim, but when Tim Salmon, Darin Erstad and Garrett Anderson return, someone who is accustomed to playing regularly will have to sit the bench.  Signing Aaron Boone makes much more sense for the Angels.  In Boston, Mondesi would move Millar to first base temporarily until Trot Nixon returns, and then Nixon to DH, David Ortiz to first and Millar to the bench.  It helps their outfield defense but it's questionable how much it helps them overall.  Millar's career on base percentage is almost 30 points higher and their career slugging is almost identical.  It also puts Ortiz' limited range at first in play more often.  And if Red Sox fans aren't complaining enough about the lack of clutch hits from non-Vartiek/Ortiz/Manny hitters now, wait 'til they get a few months of Mondesi, who has still never driven in 100 runs in a season despite playing for some pretty good teams.  The Cardinals also appear to be a decent fit but the NL team that has the best fit for him is the Giants.  However, it's doubtful he'll sign with a team that has almost no chance at making the postseason.