For those of you who perpetually see a half-empty glass and think your slumping players can't turn things around, let's briefly look at some memorable comebacks. Two years ago, Cliff Lee was relegated to the minors, but he came back to win the AL Cy Young last season. Michigan State's football team once rallied from 35 points down in the second half to beat Northwestern. Bill Cosby returned to star in Ghost Dad after his performance in Leonard Part 6. I could go on.
Still, you have to be smart when sorting out who you should trust versus who will burn you again, like when I bought Shaq-Fu:Da Return despite being thoroughly disappointed with Shaq Diesel. Did you know Shaq has a greatest hits album? I wish I was kidding.
Jeff Francouer: Allow me to list (in no particular order) the areas where Francouer has significantly improved since his miserable 2008 effort: He has two steals. And...um...that pretty much covers it. You could argue the decline in his strikeout percentage (K%) would also qualify, but over his last 25 games, "Frenchy" has been punched out in over 22 percent of his at-bats. He continues to chase nearly 35 percent of pitches outside the zone, and he either puts the ball in play or is behind 0-1 after the first pitch nearly 70 percent of the time. When not striking out, Francouer enjoys sudoku, walks on the beach, and hitting ground balls, which he is doing a lot lately. Perhaps that explains why he has 11 extra-base hits and just two in his last 94 at-bats. The fact that he is owned in more leagues than Marlon Byrd, Ben Francisco and Juan Rivera can only be explained by the fact Francouer has a large family who plays fantasy baseball, or his owners have just given up.
Aaron Hill: Could Hill finally be slowing down after his torrid start? If his last eight games are any indication, the answer is yes. He has just three hits in 32 at-bats (two of them homers of course) and has fanned seven times. Overall though, his strikeout and walk rates are near his career norms, and his Batting Average on Balls In Play (BABIP) isn't inflated. What does scream out is his 16.1 percent Home Run-to-Fly Ball Rate (HR/FB), which dwarfs his previous high of 8.6 percent in 2007. It doesn't take a genius to know that Hill is unlikely to keep up that pace and hit 40 bombs. Another potential warning sign is a significant increase in swings at pitches outside the zone. Hill is currently offering at 31.0 percent of such pitches, which is almost 10 percent higher than his career mark. While I don't expect Hill to completely crap out, your window to sell high may be closing.
Ryan Ludwick: A burning question entering this season was whether the 30-year-old Ludwick could replicate last season's breakout performance. Barring the legalization of performance-enhancing drugs or the advent of MTV Rock and Jock rules, Ludwick will fall well short. Admittedly, he was slowed by a hamstring injury which landed him on the DL, but things have been ugly since his return. In 11 games, he's batting .111 with one extra-base hit and nine strikeouts. His BABIP has dropped over 100 points since 2008, but some of that can be attributed to a 10 percent drop in line drives. That, in turn, explains why he has just four doubles as opposed to 40 in 2008. Ludwick is seeing fewer fastballs, which has him chasing a lot more pitches as he presses to turn things around. While his overall contact rate has improved, solid contact is another matter. He'll still end up with 20-plus homers and 80 RBIs, but it's unlikely he'll reach his .269 career average.
Nick Markakis: With 23 homers and 18 steals in his first full season, it seemed like Markakis was a 20-20 lock in the years to come. However, in 2008, his stolen base total fell to 10, and he has just one so far this year. That being said, his other numbers have been solid, but maybe the losing has started to beat him down. Over his last 20 games, Markakis is hitting .198 and has scored just four runs, a far cry from the pace that led to 106 runs last year. So what has changed? For starters, both his walk and strikeout rates have declined. Markakis is also hitting more fly balls, albeit with a lower HR/FB rate, and his overall contact rate has improved. Brian Roberts' recent struggles haven't helped Markakis' run-producing opportunities, but things will turn around. You shouldn't let that stop you from playing up his recent woes to his frustrated owner.
Russell Martin: What do my 22-month-old daughter and Russell Martin have in common? For one, they have the same number of home runs this year. While the lack of pop for Martin is troubling, that isn't the only thing. His K% is over 20 for the first time in his career, and he's hitting an extraordinary amount of ground balls. In fact, over his last 11 contests, he has a Ground ball Percentage (GB%) near 77. Over that same stretch, Martin has failed to drive in a run and has just one extra-base hit. Given his insane workload over the past couple seasons (nearly 2,500 innings), it's only natural for his performance to drop off. If you own Martin, you'll never get the value you may have paid for him in a trade, so you just have to hope things get better and enjoy the steals.
Bengie Molina: In an ongoing effort to compare my daughter to major league backstops, I don't think she would get along with Bengie since he doesn't share her love of walks. His two free passes on the year give him a robust 1.0 walk percentage on the season, but given his history, that isn't too startling. Still, Molina is on pace to post his worst average since 2002, due in part to a BABIP about 20 points lower than his career mark. Part of that could be because he's already hit more infield pop-ups than all of last season. It could also be because his success is completely dependent on his batting average thanks to his inability to take a walk. It's tough to walk, though, when you swing at 49.2 percent of pitches outside the strike zone, a number that makes Jeff Francouer look like Tony Gwynn. Still, at nearly 35 years of age, Molina's track record would indicate an improvement is coming, and when it's all done he'll post 18 homers, 75 RBIs and an average around .270.
Yadier Molina: The good news is Yadier has already drawn 10 times as many walks as his brother. The bad news is since he's hitting .182 over his last 24 games, walking is his best chance of getting on base. His .314 BABIP in 2008 was an anomaly given his career numbers, so a repeat was unlikely. A couple other stats suggest Yadier has started to develop an oddly high opinion of his speed. First, he already has three steals after entering the season with four for his career. Second, I'm not sure if Tony LaRussa gave him the Willie Mays Hayes speech, but he's hitting the ball on the ground an awful lot these days. His GB percentage is up nearly 10 percent from last season, which for a catcher won't translate to long-term success.
Joel Hanrahan: Round Two of the Joel Hanrahan as Nats closer era ended this week, and despite the fact that the job was given to Mike MacDougal, Round Three won't be any time soon. Sure, MacDougal was released by the White Sox earlier in the year and stunk at Triple-A, but would you hand the late-game keys back to a guy who averages 4.10 BB/9? In fact, Hanrahan's BB/9 has never been under 4.30 at any level. Sure, his BABIP is abnormally high and accompanies a low strand rate, but his control issues and the general lack of save opportunities in Washington will hold his value down even after the inevitable MacDougal implosion. Hanrahan has allowed at least one baserunner in 20 of 27 appearances, so there's no reason I can see to hold on to him. If you're looking for available saves look at Leo Nunez, who may have some value because of...
Matt Lindstrom: How's that for a segue? Even with his last blown save coming on April 24, Lindstrom's hold on the closer job is getting more tenuous with each outing. Over his last nine appearances, he has allowed at least one baserunner each game and posted an 8.59 ERA. He also has nine walks in just 7.1 innings, and control has been Lindstrom's biggest issue, with a gaudy 7.03 BB/9. His inability to find the strike zone has hitters swinging at 10 percent fewer pitches than last season. The Marlins have had other solid options in the pen like the aforementioned Nunez, and Lindstrom recently got a vote of confidence (read: death sentence) from manager Fredi Gonzalez.
All statistics through June 9.