Didi Gregorius was the American League’s Player Of The Month in April. Since then, he’s been in what baseball calls a “slump,” and his batting average has dropped by almost 200 points. How is that possible and why does baseball uniquely punish its player so severely? The answer, right from the horse’s mouth, may surprise you.
The Google Dictionary defines the word slump as “undergoing a sudden severe or prolonged fall in price, value, or amount.” Didi Gregorius defines a slump much better though by these numbers:
How does one explain this? Did Didi Gregorius suddenly forget how to hit? Before you answer that, though, ask yourself if Lebron James has ever forgotten how to shoot a basketball. That one gets a resounding no as James recently recorded his 867th consecutive game of scoring 10 or more points in an NBA game. Or, can you recall an NFL quarterback who suddenly “forgets” how to throw a screen pass?
Only in baseball do we see the rare occurrence of the slump. It’s opposite, the hitting streak, is also just as infrequent. In fact, according to Baseball Almanac, only 25 players have managed to get a hit in 30 or more consecutive games.
That group, of course, is led by Joe DiMaggio‘s feat of hitting in 56 straight games in 1941. Since then, the closest any player has come to that mark was when Pete Rose hit 44 games before he was stopped, meaning he fell at least two weeks short of reaching DiMaggio.
Didi Gregorius is not alone on the other side of the ledger, though. Does anyone recall, for instance, the 0-32 slump Derek Jeter had in 2004? Or, that Mickey Mantle had a 0-20 slump in 1960, and Willie Mays had a 0-24 slump in 1965 (but still won the MVP). And what about Reggie Jackson‘s 77 for 397 epic slumps in 1983 (which at one point was a 0 for 35)?
Hitting streaks seem easier to understand, though. A batter sees the ball from the moment it leaves the pitcher’s hand, looking as big as a beach ball. Everything seems to hit the sweet part of the bat, almost like a dream the hitter doesn’t want to awaken from. Almost always, we get quotes from hitters on a streak saying, “I feel good” or “I’m seeing the ball really well.”
Which would make you think everything is the opposite when a hitter goes into a slump. Surprisingly, Didi Gregorius and others say that’s not true. Here’s what Gregorius recently told the New York Post:
But there are other factors weighing against hitters like Didi Gregorius that weren’t present only a decade or so ago. “The pendulum is switching,” New York Mets manager Terry Collins said. “Pitchers are throwing harder. Guys are throwing 94 to 98. Bullpen. Rotation. Years ago, 92 was a hard fastball. Now it’s an average fastball. Guys might even say it’s a tick below.” (Masslive.com).
To be factored in as well is the hitter’s penchant for the home run. Since 2015 when he hit only nine home runs, Didi Gregorius rise has gone from 20, then to 25 last season, to a pace he’s setting this season to hit as many as forty home runs.
What’s the possible connection to slumps in baseball? Trying to get what hitters call “lift” on the ball by altering your swing produces home runs, but not necessarily balls hit to the gaps ot line drives to just past a third baseman’s glove. Just recently and for the first time, there are more strikeouts than hits in the major leagues. And the overall batting average for hitters this year? – a measly .244.
Ballplayers will go to any length to combat a slump, though. They’ll borrow a teammate’s bat believing the hits are in there. They’ll take batting practice until they have blisters on their hands. Or, they’ll stretch it to the comical end of things by not changing their underwear until the slump ends, a move that doesn’t necessarily ingratiate them to their teammates.
Others, like Didi Gregorius, take a more philosophic approach:
How can the game be fun when you are batting a buck thirty in your last ten games, though? That one’s easy, it’s winning. Which is something the Yankees have managed to do despite Didi Gregorius and his failing efforts to help a team that does not rely solely on his bat to win ball games.
To be sure, baseball is a professional sport filled with oddities and anomalies. The Hall of Fame is filled exclusively with hitters who failed seven out every ten at-bats. And who can explain the ability of Bartolo Colon to get hitters out with a barrage of 89 mph fastballs, albeit at the tender age of 45?
And yet, as sure as we know the sun will rise in the East and set in the West tomorrow, Didi Gregorius will not hit .134 for the rest of the season. And somewhere along the line, the hits will start falling in again, and fielders won’t seem to be everywhere. And the most prolonged slump of his career will be behind him as quickly as it came.
Go figure. It’s baseball.
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