Early season slumps are no fun for anyone. They’re the cause for mostly pointless questions. What’s wrong with the player? Is he hurt? Chances are, the answers to those two questions are nothing and no. A slump cares not for the calendar. It dispenses ill fortune at seemingly random intervals. We can more easily fall into the trap of overreacting to an early season slump, though, because it more definitively shows up in the numbers. There might be no better example of this right now than Hanley Ramirez.
After producing three straight MVP-quality seasons, Ramirez got off another quick start in 2010. He went 12 for his first 39 with three doubles and a homer, plus eight walks. Then came the slump. During his next 62 PA he managed just 12 hits, including only two extra base hits, and six walks. That brought his season triple slash down to .279/.386/.395. The OBP remained excellent, of course, but Ramirez struggled to make solid contact. Yet there was no reason to panic. The numbers might have looked bad, but that’s only because the slump reared its head in April.
We can look back to last season for a similar situation. From May 14 through May 29, Ramirez stepped to the plate 58 times and went 11 for 51 with five extra base hits, but just six walks. While he displayed a bit more power during last year’s slump, his average and OBP looked almost the same. The biggest difference between the two, though, is in the timing. On the day before he broke out of his slump last season his triple slash read .318/.399/.547, which is excellent by any standard. This year, because the slump happened before he could rack up numbers, his triple slash looked considerably worse.
An even better example of this effect comes from Johnny Damon. Last season he ended with a triple slash of .282/.365/.489, and was generally considered one of the most productive Yankees. Yet from September 3 through the end of the season, Damon hit just .215/.319/.278. That’s far worse than Hanley’s slump, yet it hardly made a dent in Damon’s final line. At close of play on September 2 Damon had a triple slash of .293/.373/.524. The former is clearly better, but because the slump came after Damon had accumulated excellent numbers through August it didn’t greatly affect his season totals.
The strangest part of Hanley’s numbers is how he altered them over the weekend. He went 6 for 9 with a double and three home runs. All the sudden, a .279/.386/.395 line turns into .316/.409/.526. That looks a lot more like Hanley. It took two stellar games after an early season slump to recover. One more and he’ll be right up where he was last year. The early season slump hurt, for sure, but it’s no more telling than a mid-July swoon. The only difference is how it shows up in the numbers.
Mark Teixeira has experienced a similar phenomenon in his first two Aprils as a Yankee. Last season he didn’t get off the interstate for good until May 13, the Yankees’ 33rd game of the season. Through that date he hit .202/.331/.430. The rest of the way he hit .313/.396/.596. This year he’s still on the interstate, though his luck might be changing. He ended April with a .136/.300/.259 line, and two games later is at .189/.336/.311. That’s not quite the boost Hanley got, but it’s a start. The Yankees have just played their 24th game, so if he goes 2 for 4 tonight, bringing his average over .200, and he never goes back, he’ll be a bit ahead of last season.
It’s natural to get concerned about a player’s production early in the season. We have been baseball-less for five to six months, and want to see our team’s best players help it win ball games. What’s sometimes tough to digest is that slumps can happen at any point in the season. If that comes early, it’s going to look much worse on paper. The good players will rebound, though. We’re already starting to see it from Ramirez and Teixeira.
Joe also writes about the Yankees at River Ave. Blues.