Justin Smoak (1B - SEA): Smoak went 0-2 on Sunday and is now mired in a rather extended 36-179 slump that has seen his average fall from .315 to .240 and has pushed his OPS down over 200 points. The interesting thing about Smoak's slump is that his skills haven't shown much deterioration at all. Prior to the slump Smoak had posted a 15-16% BB Rate, 24% K Rate, ISO in the .240's, with an underwhelming 12% LD Rate. During the slump Smoak's BB and K Rates have remained nearly identical as has the LD Rate, and the only difference has been an ISO that has decreased from great to very good (.190 ISO since). A .223 BABIP is a big part of the story with Smoak's extended slump and while we can point to that as the differentiator from his hot start (.363 BABIP then), his poor LD Rates suggest we should expect a lower BABIP. This has been the case since Smoak entered the big leagues (.262 BABIP), but isn't consistent with his minor league track record where he posted BABIPs consistently above .300. On the whole, Smoak has made some nice improvements in his sophomore season (improving his EYE, growing his ISO) but the extremely low LD Rate is a bit of a statistical oddity. Given Smoak's minor league track record, I expect over time he'll start squaring more balls up and increasing the LD Rate. For the time being though, Smoak owners may have to settle for an unexpectedly low batting average to go with expectedly limited run production thanks to the weak supporting cast in Seattle. Long-term I'm still a big believer in Smoak, but in redraft leagues he's probably just a 1 category player at this point.
Adam Dunn (1B - CHA): Dunn took another 0-4 on Sunday that included another strikeout. This outing came against Rodrigo Lopez as Dunn has now gone 0-18 with 11 K's in his last 5 starts in inter-league play. These outings have come against the likes of Rodrigo Lopez, Livan Hernandez, Matt Garza, Tom Gorzelanny, and Aaron Cook. I can excuse an 0-4 with 3 K performance against Matt Garza, but the remaining pitchers on the list are back-end of the rotation pitchers with questionable ability to miss bats (with the exception of Gorzelanny). I've tried to remain patient with Dunn on the one team I own him, but I'm nearing the end. Dunn's contact rates are at the same low levels he faced last year and with a strikeout rate over 43%, its incredibly difficult to provide value. One thing in particular that has me concerned is that Dunn has seen an increase in the number of fastballs he's seen this year. For his career Dunn has made a living off of mashing fastballs. On average over the last four years, Dunn has posted run values above 30 on fastballs, while posting negative run values (below average production) on all other pitches. From 2006 to 2010 Dunn's fastball exposure steadily declined as pitchers were terrified to challenge him, dropping from 60% down to 54%. This season 64% of the pitches he's seeing are fastballs, an indication his bat speed is down and opposing pitchers are no longer afraid of challenging Dunn. To me, this is the biggest indication that Dunn's skills have collapsed and the biggest reason I'm concerned he won't be coming back to form in the 2nd half.
Joe Nathan (RP - MIN): Matt Capps had a difficult weekend as he blew the save in explosive fashion on Saturday night and needed to be pulled from another save appearance on Sunday. Meanwhile, Joe Nathan has quietly looked like his old self since returning from the DL, allowing just a solo HR in 4 appearances while striking out 4 in those 4 IP and not walking a batter. Nathan himself has indicated he feels much more confident in his stuff since returning and is trusting his FB much more. This is good news for a pitcher who has historically worked heavily off of fastball command. While the Twins have indicated they're standing behind Capps as their closer currently, I'm of the belief Nathan eventually gets the role back. The closer's role has always been Nathan's in Minnesota and by the end of the year I expect him to have regained it. Savvy owners will stash now.
Jeremy Hellickson (SP - TB): Hellickson continues to get really strong results with pretty ordinary skills. Early in the season we expected it was a short-term issue and eventually Hellickson's great skills that he demonstrated in the minor leagues would catch up to his performance, smoothing some of the inevitable regression in his BABIP and LOB%. Somehow though the gap continues to widen. On Sunday Hellickson struck out just 2 batters over 7 1/3 innings, but was able to limit the Cardinals to just 3 ER's on 6 hits and a walk. It marks the 4th time in the last 5 starts Hellickson has failed to strike out more than 3 batters and as the season has worn on the K Rate continues to trend in the wrong direction. Month-by-month is looks like this: 6.61 K/9, 6.27 K/9, 5.63 K/9. Hellickson's been able to get away with the middling K Rate during the season because of some good fortune on balls in play (.229 BABIP) and balls not leaving the yard 7.5% HR/FB Rate. Unfortunately there's evidence the tide may be starting to turn in each indicator. Hellickson's HR/FB Rate normalized a bit in June (10.6%), while he also allowed the highest LD Rate of any month (20.8%). The BABIP didn't come back to haunt him in June, but with consistently high LD Rates it will over time. Early in the season I believed Hellickson's peripherals could catch up to the performance, but after seeing his K Rate decline three straight months I'm beginning to believe he's a premier sell high candidate.
Travis Snider (OF - TOR): The Blue Jays designated Juan Rivera for assignment after Sunday's win over the Phillies and with the extra roster spot cleared announced their intentions to recall Travis Snider prior to Monday's game. Snider struggled mightily earlier this year hitting just .184/.276/.264 in 99 PA's with the Blue Jays before being demoted. Since he was sent down to AAA he's tightened up his strikeout issues (cutting the K Rate to 16%) while posting a solid .333/.403/.488 line. Crushing minor league pitching has never been an issue for Snider but the improvements in contact, if carried over to the majors could be a significant step forward. I believed strongly coming into this season that we'd see a breakout campaign from Snider and while that was clearly misguided, he still possesses a rather large upside. In leagues where I have some roster room I'm going to take a chance on Snider's upside. He's been considered an elite prospect, ranking in BA's Top 10 heading into 2009 and was widely regarded as a better long-term prospect than Adam Lind. He's flashed elite power and strong walk skills at different points in his brief major league stints, but his contact issues have always derailed his production. If any positive strides have been made in that regard, Snider could put things together very quickly. He's a must add in deep mixed league (14 team and deeper) as his upside won't come around often on the wire, and a speculative add for those in 10 and 12 team leagues.