Friday, May 25, 2007

Juggling Act

Three different struggling players, three different teams, three different situations. Andruw Jones, Bobby Abreu, and Carlos Delgado are all struggling at the plate, hurting their teams offenses to different extents, and each was dropped in the lineup this week.

Give credit to Cox, Torre, and Randolph, for not blindly continuing to run the same lineup out every night waiting for each to turn it around. Particularly Torre, who historically is loyal to a fault, however his decision was the easiest since Abreu has the least track record of the group, the Yankees have the most replacement weapons, and the Yanks were most in need of a shake-up. Still too many times managers are afraid to sit an underperforming star player, or skip a starter, based on their past track record, and egos, which eventually hurts the team. Let’s look at these three situations.

Jones and Abreu are in contract years , and Jones especially appears to be pressing. Reports from Atlanta are that he is swinging for a homerun every at bat, and the numbers concur. Jones has 54 strikeouts in 46 games, record pace, and is hitting a paltry .213. Cox has never shied away from sending a message to Jones, once pulling him off the field mid-inning for lackadaisically chasing ball. Hopefully Jones gets the message here, and starts to think hitting, not homeruns and money. He has a world of talent and it’s a shame watching it waste away every year.

Abreu, on the other hand, has declined the last year and half. First he stopped hitting homers, but his many staunch defenders pointed to the walks and OBP, along with a .300 average. Torre stuck him right into the middle of the juggernaut lineup, a move that initially surprised me last year. This year the power is still missing, but the hitting has disappeared and pitchers stopped walking him, going half of May without a walk, and toting a journeyman middle infielder like .316 OBP. Barring a major turnaround, Abreu will be looking for a new team next off-season. Until then, Torre needs to get him going. Maybe hitting lower in the lineup takes some of the pressure off and helps Abreu capture his stroke. At a minimum, it takes a major albatross out of the middle of the lineup.

Delgado’s demise may be the beginning of the natural downward career progression. Far from old at 35 (next month) and a 48-year-old teammate, power hitters can often turn for the worse quick. Rarely will a player with 10 consecutive 30-homer seasons fall so far so quickly, though. Nagging injuries may play a factor, age could contribute, good pitching, or simply a prolonged slump. In any case, with a deep bench and plethora of young players, Randolph needs to start considering right-handed platoon options against good left pitchers if Delgado does not turn it around.

It is too early to measure the impact of the lineup changes. Statistically, none of the teams is hurting offensively, but stats do not always tell the story. Delgado’s struggles began to have an impact on the pitches Beltran was seeing and subsequently swinging at, while both the Yanks and Braves have struggled to score at times this season, and a middle of the lineup rally killer does not help. With the state of the Yankees, and Matsui heating up, its likely Abreu remains down in the lineup most of the year. While Atlanta’s young lineup needs Jones’ power and experience to make a run at the Mets, expect him to turn it around and move back to the customary fourth slot in the next month. Delgado is anyone’s guess, but I suspect if he can string a few good games together Willie moves him back up in the lineup.


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