Just Win Posted July 8, 2005 Share Posted July 8, 2005 BERARDINO: Down in the slumps, and Lowell can't get out What do you make of a slugger who can't hit? Published July 8, 2005 MIAMI GARDENS ? The great Davey Concepcion once found himself hitting a woeful .157 on May 8, so he did what any slumping player might consider. In an effort to get hot, he climbed into an industrial-size clubhouse dryer at Wrigley Field. In full uniform. Unfortunately for the Reds' shortstop, a goofball pitcher named Pat Zachry happened by and thought it might be funny to hit the "on" switch. A startled Concepcion made several revolutions in the dryer before his panicked teammates figured out how to turn it off. "It burned my arms, burned my hair," Concepcion recalled this week during a visit to Dolphins Stadium. "But that day I got three hits." He finished that 1976 season hitting .281 with 69 RBI and won a second consecutive World Series ring with the Big Red Machine. From the moment he climbed out of that dryer, he hit .304. If only it were that simple for Mike Lowell. For the first time in four years, he isn't preparing to head off to the All-Star Game. What's worse, the Marlins' third baseman is suffering through one of the worst seasons any three-time All-Star has ever experienced. Bats flip. Helmets fly. Eyes roll. Fists clench. None of it seems to lessen Lowell's misery. Not even a good-luck rub on the shoulder from Concepcion the other day could ignite Lowell. Oh, he got three hits that night, but he followed up with an all-too-familiar 1 for 5. "He's a nice guy," Concepcion said. "He doesn't deserve the type of year he's having. Maybe he cares too much. He can't leave it behind. You can't keep it on you all the time. You have to let it go." That's hard to do when you're still stuck on three home runs halfway through the season, when you have one homer in your past 248 at-bats dating to April 13, when your combined on-base and slugging percentage ranks you in the bottom five of major league regulars. Not the bottom 5 percent. The bottom five. And here's the worst part for Lowell: This thing has been going on for more than a year. Since July 3, 2004, Lowell has taken 571 at-bats and has hit just 11 home runs. The player whose stat line most resembles Lowell's in that span is Phillies third baseman David Bell. Bell's batting average is 26 points higher, his on-base percentage is 16 points higher, his slugging percentage is 12 points higher, his RBI total is the same and he has hit two more homers. Bell has taken five fewer at-bats. Bell, mind you, is a solid, winning player, but he is not a $32 million investment the way Lowell was. Rather, Bell is finishing out a three-year, $16 million deal with the Phillies. Also since last July 3, Lowell has been outhomered by 179 different big leaguers, including a stunning array of non-sluggers. Among them: Damion Easley, Jose Castillo, John Mabry, Randy Winn, Olmedo Saenz, Benji Molina, Marcus Thames, Jason La Rue, J.T. Snow, Mark Bellhorn, Rafael Furcal, Jorge Cantu, Khalil Greene, Omar Infante, Bill Hall, Ty Wigginton, Carl Crawford, Ronnie Belliard, A.J. Pierzynski, Ray Durham, Placido Polanco, Jimmy Rollins, Juan Uribe, John Buck, Eric Byrnes, Joe Randa and Coco Crisp. So the question is posed to two major league scouts: Is Lowell still considered a power hitter? The first scout made a comparison to Rockies first baseman Todd Helton, another perennial all-star whose homer total is stuck in single digits. "I know he's in a funk," the scout said of Lowell. "There are hitters all over the game going through some funks." But the second scout? Well, he minced no words. "No," he answered to the power question. "I look at him the same way I do Sammy Sosa." No-longer-Slammin' Sammy has just nine homers in Baltimore, but at 36 he is five years older than Lowell. "Don't get me wrong, I love Mike Lowell," the second scout said. "But it's a business. I just think his bat has slowed down. No doubt about it. I don't care what the hitting coach is telling you guys. This isn't something that's just showed up. He's scuffled since July of last year." Just three of those 11 homers have come against right-handed pitchers, none of the power variety (Tomo Ohka, Kevin Correia and Salomon Torres). This week against the Brewers, Lowell couldn't pull the 93 mph fastballs of Wes Obermueller. This, of course, is the type of no-name pitcher he used to crush. But that was back when he was averaging 28 homers and making All-Star teams. Maybe Lowell gets back to that level. Everyone who knows him certainly hopes so. Maybe for the first time in his career he hits more than 10 homers in the second half. But where exactly is the indicator that might happen? Where is the ray of hope? "I don't see him snapping out of it anytime soon," the second scout said. "Any time guys can't get to the good fastballs, they compensate. When they do that, they become vulnerable to offspeed pitches, and then they start fighting it mentally." Baseball people seem to think the Marlins would consider trading Lowell and installing Miguel Cabrera at third. Only one problem with that: Lowell is still due nearly $22 million through the 2007 season. How much of that amount would the Marlins have to eat to move Lowell? The second scout, who works for a contending club, let out a heavy sigh and a sad laugh. "They'd have to eat it all for me," he said. "I don't think he's worthless at all, but $22 million, that's a lot of cash, man. They didn't pay him all that money for his defense." Even the first scout, the one who invoked Helton, said he "would have some reservations" about taking on Lowell's contract. "Based on where he's at," he said, "it's a concern." This is one tumble no one saw coming. Quote Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
Join the conversation
You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.