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We all know that it’s been a rough couple weeks to start the year for Marlon Byrd. He’s had just two hits and two walks in 34 plate appearances. He’s looked lost at the plate, able to make contact only if he swings at an early fastball. Even then, it almost always nets a soft ground ball.

Still, it amounts to little more than an awful nine-game stretch. In Byrd’s solid 2010 season with the Cubs, he had an 11-game stretch in May during which he hit just .111/.200/.111. He had another 12-game stretch from June to July where he hit just .178/.245/.200. There was a 14-game stretch in August where he hit just .222/.263/.315. And then, in his final 19 games, he went just .216/.237/.284.

He finished the season with a solid .293/.346/.429 line.

We could perform this exercise with any number of players – from the Albert Pujols to the Ryan Theriots – and we would uncover similar rough stretches. Those rough stretches are magnified when they come at the beginning of the season, but they tend to even out over the course of an entire year. None of this should be surprising to you.

But with Marlon Byrd, I’m slightly less comfortable chalking these terrible nine games up to a mere statistical fluke for at least three reasons.

First, there’s the matter of how he’s looked in those nine games. He hasn’t merely been getting unlucky, despite what his hilariously low BABIP might suggest. Byrd isn’t having good at bats. He isn’t seeing the ball well, and he’s hitting it meekly when he does make contact. Moreover, it’s fair to wonder whether some offseason changes to Byrd’s body – he lost a ton of weight thanks to diet and exercise – have changed his approach at the plate. It’s not hard to imagine that a drop in bulk could change a guy’s swing plane, such that he’s having trouble making the same kind of contact he’s used to.

We’re not talking about a drop in power. We’re talking about a change in approach. And when that change involves a professional baseball player trying to make solid contact with a tiny orb zipping by at 95 mph, even a small change can have a dramatic effect. With Byrd, I fear that’s been the case.

The second reason I’m not sure we’re looking at a mere early-season statistical fluke: the pitch Byrd took to his face last year. We want to believe that a tough guy like Marlon Byrd would be unaffected by that kind of injury – he made it back later in the year, and he stepped right up to the plate like it was nothing. But the numbers were down a bit. After the injury, Byrd hit just .255/.311/.380. Before the injury, that line was .308/.346/.419. The decline was marked, and noticeable. It, too, could be a statistical coincidence, but it’s fair to wonder.

Finally, there’s Byrd’s age. At 34, going on 35, Byrd is no longer a young player, and, increasingly, guys in their mid-30s are vulnerable to a cliff-dive in skills. It can happen in an offseason, particular one filled with other changes.

I like Marlon Byrd. I’ve always like Marlon Byrd. I hope that he pulls out of this funk, adjusts, and gets back to hitting the way he did in 2010. I’m just not sure it’s in the cards.

  • Fishin Phil

    I like Byrd as well, but I hope he goes on a month long tear so we can trade him.

  • Jay Anderson Jr

    I like Marlon Byrd, but I would much rather watch Campana trying to score from second on an infield single then Byrd take another at bat. Odd are better that Campana scores then they are that Byrd gets on base.

    • Richard Nose

      He’s gotta get to 2nd before he can score form 2nd.

      • Drew

        But hes really really fast

        • hansman1982

          Maybe Campana could try and hit the ball with his hand – get a HBP every time up…

          • ShootTheGoat

            It’s all about his scrappiness…Wouldn’t you just love to have an entire team of just scrappy players? Lol

            • hardtop

              you jest, but the truth is, the latest sabermetric break through the computing devices have been computing is “the scrappy factor”.  what do you think the cubs have been spending all their money on?  there will surely be a movie made about Theo once the scrappy metric is perfected and revealed to the baseball world….  its going to be called “speed ball”

              • Frank

                or “Scrapshot”

                • hansman1982

                  Apple is introducing their latest item:

                  iScrap

                  take that one for what it is worth…

              • DocPeterWimsey

                Scrappy Doo! will be the mascot!  Tragedy will then ensue when the Cubs put Scrappy Doo on the WS Rings, only to have Hannah Barbarah sue the Cubs for copyright infringement and claim ownership of Wrigley in the resultant lawsuit…..

                • JustSwain

                  It’d be worth it. I’ve had people ask me “Aren’t you afraid that when the Cubs win the World Series it will only be a portent of the apocalypse being nigh at hand?” And my response to that is the same; “It would be worth it.”

  • Todd

    Byrd and Jarmillio are fantastic together right? RIGHT? Sorry…
    I would like to see Byrd get out of this funk because I think he can be useful not only to the Cubs record but to the younger players and if he is in a funk, he is probably only focused on himself. I haven’t read anything on what Rudy J is doing to “fix” this issue. I could have overlooked everything, but I’d be interested to hear/see what is being done to remedy this slump.

    Maybe he should just go out and do what Gracie did when he was in a slump…..

    • Spencer

      This is an interesting point. We don’t really hear much about Rudy at ALL. The most I’ve heard about him is that he helped Vernon Wells in the off season. I wonder what sort of stuff he does with the Cubs. He’s supposed to be one of the best, right?

    • ty

      Todd–Gracie did the same thing every night. He is our tv guy for Diamondbacks and is trippin on the mike every game. He just says anything and gosh only knows when he blows that gig.

  • hansman1982

    The interesting thing is that he had a good line in the first half of the games he came back from the DL – his season average held around .305 until the final 38 games when he was atrocious. His BABIP did jump from good (.338ish) to crap-tacular (.230ish) and I didn’t look at the peripherals yesterday but I am not as worried as I was yesterday morning. Granted he looks about like I would at the plate right now, but its just a slump at the beginning of the year. If this were June and he had been hitting .260 going into this slump it would be barely noticeable.

    • JustSwain

      When you check the month by month split, it was only July in which he came back strong. By August he was already starting to slump, and both his .avg and BABIP dropped, or rather plummeted might be more accurate. Look at the trend, he is strong in July, bad in August, worse in September, and even worse here in April. I’d love for the guy to come back, both as a Cubs fan, and a Marlon Byrd fan, but something is going on with him, and its not bad luck.

  • Dick McCheesedoodle

    It’s not always a soft ground ball. So far Byrd is carrying a line drive rate of 26.1%, higher than any full season % he’s put up.

    His BABIP is .083. 083! Getting an .083 BABIP while hitting over a quarter of your balls in play for line drives is pretty impressive. In a season that promises to be a vast expanse of nothingness, I’m looking forward to seeing if Marlon can keep it up.

    I heard Rudy J has instructed Marlon to hit those line drives 10 more feet to one side of a fielder.

    Edited to change the first line drive to ground ball. Regrets.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      I saw the line drive percentage. But, not to be a fuddy duddy, my eyes don’t buy it. I’ve seen the vast majority of Byrd’s at bats this year. He ain’t lining out a quarter of his outs.

      • hardtop

        absolutely brilliant.  let never this mans grasp of the english language be questioned! a true master of the plume.  honestly? who among us knew how to spell ‘fuddy duddy’?

        dude, you kill me.

        • ferrets_bueller

          From “Dick McCheesedoodle” to ‘fuddy duddy,’ ’tis indeed an interesting day, linguistically, on BN.

      • Dick McCheesedoodle

        So, not like Al Oliver, amirite?!

        • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

          Whoa, and I didn’t even notice the handle! I love it. Dick McCheesedoodle. Just fantastic.

          • JustSwain

            Dude, don’t be cruel, thats his real name.

            • Caleb

              @justswain
              lolz

    • Drew

      For Rudy’s sake, I hope either you’ve been mis-informed or I’m interpreting your post wrong. Either way I seriously doubt Marlon has been instructed to “aim” where he is hitting. Instead, I would hope he is working on hitting the ball where it’s pitched.

      • ty

        Drew–you bring a smile sir!

  • Puma0821

    I don’t remember anything jumping out but does anyone remember how he looked in spring training and how he did?

  • SouthernCub

    He seems to have no plan in place when he steps in the batters box. The last game vs the cardinals he looked absolutely lost, w/ no idea of how the pitcher was trying to pitch him. Its a shame, he appears to be the worst right now, but hes not alone. The rest don’t seem to have much more of a better approach at the plate than he does. Maybe its Jaramillo, maybe its not, but something needs to change soon. Its almost embarrassing.

  • gratefulled

    Marlon Byrd reminds me of James Kirkland. They both have put so much emphasis on bulking up that they have somewhat neglected the ideal physique for both of their sports. Just because you are bigger and stronger does not improve your skills. It’d be great if he was on the Olympic weight-lifting team, but he’s not. There is a reason golfers do not put on enough muscle mass in order to drive the ball 500 yards.

  • RY34

    byrd won’t get to or above the mendoza line all year, just cut him already. has anyone noticed that tyler colvin is hitting like .350 and andrew cashner has an era of about 2.70, both for the major league club. only in cubdom!

    oh yeah and carlos pena is hitting like .350 as well with 3 homers and 10+ rbis too.

    • cubfanincardinalland

      Colvin has been coming off the bench and is not a full time player. I’ll take our new third sacker over him in a heartbeat, guy is going to be a player.
      Cashner already lost one game by walking the bases loaded, and he is pitching in a park where it is pretty much impossible to hit a home run at night. Rizzo might be the best player in the minor leagues right now, and you could make a case he is the best position prospect in baseball right now. He’s 22.

      • ferrets_bueller

        He might be the best AAA player, but I think Jackson or Trevor Bauer is the best player in the minors right now. They’re both ML ready, IMO. Rizzo is always going to kill AAA, its major league fastballs that he has yet to prove that he can hit. I still predict a somewhat tough rookie season for him, unless he’s already working on adjusting his swing.

        • http://www.viewfromthebleachers.com Norm

          Rizzo nor Jackson are all that close to being considered best in the minors.

        • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

          Harper? Trout?

          • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

            The debate over who is the top position prospect in baseball starts and ends with those two.  And I’m not sure that Trout, as good as he is, belongs on the short list.

            • http://www.viewfromthebleachers.com Norm

              You’ll definitely have some people taking Trout over Harper, but yeah, it starts and ends with them right now.

            • ferrets_bueller

              I would argue quite the opposite. Trout> Harper, in all facets but Power. And even then…Trout has 20-30 HR power than will translate, Harper’s power might not translate very well, if he can’t make contract…

            • DocPeterWimsey

              This could easily wind up being a Bird vs. Magic argument in the end.

          • hansman1982

            Nope, he is sticking to his guns…Jay Jackson is the best player in the minors.

          • ferrets_bueller

            I thought the ‘other than harper and trout’ part was implied, haha.

        • ty

          Bueller-Bueller- You see major league fastballs in Triple A–Breaking pitches are scarce.

          • DocPeterWimsey

            Even in AAA, you see a lot more guys who have speed on their fastball but not location.  If anything, then the trend over the decades has been for more guys coming to proball because of their breaking pitches rather than their fastballs.  The great power of a fastball against a wooden bat is neutralized by an aluminum bat: the “sawed off” jam shot popup in the pros is a bloop over the infield in college.  So it’s more important for HS and college pitchers to flat out miss bats with breaking stuff.

            This is one aspect of the aluminum bat that is often overlooked: it’s not just making batters look better than they would with wood, but it makes pitchers pitch differently than they would against wood.

            • JustSwain

              I totally agree. Aluminum bats change approach, swing mechanics, timing…they aren’t preparing you for playing real baseball. I batted .600 my sophmore year in HS just because I could shoot any pitch right back up the middle with an Aluminum bat. If they had spray charts in HS I would have hit more like .200. With a wooden bat, I was a pure pull hitter. The reason? My timing was different with a wooden bat and I’d try and get out in front of pitches instead of waiting back and putting a weak swing with an aluminum bat. My case isn’t typical, but it illustrates how a (largely untalented) player can hit completely different with a different type of bat.

    • djriz

      Too soon to judge the Cashner trade a bust (that’ll take about two more years), and most likely we will be signing Colvin to a 10yr/300M contract after his two MVP seasons! (for a team short on outfield power, they couldn’t give him a bigger chance? Like the Stewart risk, but coulda gotten him for less).

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

      Colvin has 7 hits in 20 AB, with 7 Ks.  Not only is he hitting .350, he is also striking out 35% of the time.  That’s not something .350 hitters do.  Either he is going to suddenly stop striking out once every three at bats, or his batting average is going to plummet over the course of the season.  I’d bet on the latter of those two.

      • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

        Or, OR, he’s now Undead Tyler Colvin, and he’ll continue to defy all odds after surviving impalement.

        • JustSwain

          I just read “The Serpent and the Rainbow”, so I’m pretty sure it could happen. Has anyone seen a Haitian Ougan in the Colorado dugout lately?

        • DocPeterWimsey

          Undead Colvin a great example of the difference between valid and sound logic!  (Or a great example of the difference between likelihood and Bayesian probability: your call…)

          At any rate, the undead are lousy for day games, so the Cubs clearly were not going to get much out of Colvin under this model.

    • DocPeterWimsey

      As for Pena’s 3 HR and 10 RBI, at least 2 of those HR (like his opening day shot) would not have gone out in Wrigley on that same day.  His RBI came when he was batting behind Longoria and Zobrist: hell, I’d get a lot of RBI batting behind those two.  (<<– Hyperbole.)

      Maddon is an extremely clever manager.  He now has the high OBP Pena batting #2, taking advantage of all the walks.  For all the hype about the Rays running (and they typically do it well), Maddon has always put the good OBP guys in the top slots over fast guys.  (Obviously, he loves to have both: but ideally every player would give you both.)

  • cubfanincardinalland

    Not to be a smart aleck, but Marlon Byrd has been hitting line drives? I can think of only two possibilities, I have been living in some parallel universe, or that is Marlon’s mother posting.

  • RY34

    Marlon ain’t hit shit all year, except for dead air on a consistent basis. I like the guy too, but at some point production has got to become the most important factor here, bench him already.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

      I hope he retires after this season.  I’d like the Cubs to sign him as a coach or a roving instructor in the minors.  I can’t think of anyone better suited to getting outfielders like Reggie Golden off on the right foot.

  • Deer

    I wonder if Marlon suffered some vision loss after the beaning last year. Otherwise, I can’t explain why he can’t get the ball out of the infield.

  • Bric

    If Byrd were to rehire Conte as his personal strength and conditioning coach I have no doubt his body would bulk back up, his bat speed would increase, and all of those soft line drives would once again become rockets up the middle.

  • Big Joe

    Marlon hasn’t hit “all year”??? Do you realize that “all year” is around two weeks on gameplay? Do you built tornado shelters when it starts to rain, too???

  • Stuart Williams

    Clearly they are playing Byrd to trade him. The problem is that at some point he is untradeable.

    If he is doing this through May/June, they will be forced to cut him. Who would trade for him? Defensive replacement in CF? Not much value.

    Looking at Jackson’s numbers at AAA is not that great when you see crazy strikeout percentages. Is he going to be Carlos Pena/Mark Reynolds in the majors?

    Campana probably deserves the nod if he keeps his pace up. Kinda sad…

  • die hard

    Byrd is done pure and simple. Too bad cause hes a good guy and had some good years and who knows how he was able to light up Texas for a cup of coffee but he did and the Cubs are paying the fee to find out if he has more magic. PT Barnum once again.

  • Caleb

    Here’s an apt paraphrasing of Kyle N’s recent voicemail rant:

    “Yeah, what the hell is up with Byrd? He goes off gluten or whatever so that he feels better, and now he needs to take hitting lessons from Koyie Hill. I say forget how you feel or about losing any weight, go out in old-C.C.Sabathia style and start eating a box of Captain Crunch for breakfast every day. Sacrifice for the team, man!”

    He’s got a point. If he doesn’t get this turned around soon we’re going to hold him down in the dugout and force-feed him burritos. Extra gluten.

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