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.