It starts with one game, maybe even one at-bat. Maybe the player wasn’t seeing the ball well that day. Maybe there was something physically wrong with him. Maybe he had a mental block. Whatever the reason, a slump has to start somewhere. It’s not always easy to pinpoint the exact moment, but in Gordon Beckham‘s case the bookends look clear.
Despite getting his major league season started in early June 2009, Beckham made a strong run for Rookie of the Year. In 430 PA he produced 2.2 WAR, thanks to a .351 wOBA, but that wasn’t good enough for the win. Andrew Bailey took it home with a dominating season out of the pen. Runners up Elvis Andrus, Jeff Niemann, and Brett Anderson also produced more WAR than Beckham. Still, it was a promising start. The White Sox couldn’t have asked for much more from a player in his first full pro season.
On Opening Day Beckham got a jump start on what could have been a marvelous sophomore season. He went 2 for 4 with a double in Chicago’s 4-0 win over Cleveland. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t last. That double was one of only five extra base hits in April. Beckham ended the month with a .287 wOBA, but that was only the start of his troubles. The real slump started when the calendar flipped to May.
On May 1 Beckham went 0 for 5 with three strikeouts against the Yankees. Considering his April struggles that didn’t come as much of a surprise. Young players struggle, and Beckham was just proving that he was no exception. Yet by mid-month things seemingly got out of hand. Beckham’s batting average dropped below .200, and a few games later his OBP fell under .300. Something was amiss, and manager Ozzie Guillen did not shy away from the situation.
“It’s my job to make every player wearing the uniform the best I can. I never criticize anybody about being 0-for-40, I never criticize anybody to make any errors. I think Gordon is better than what he’s shown. I think there’s a lot of pressure on him.
“Maybe the first time ever this kid go through this. He’s the golden boy. He grew up in Little League, he hit .600. He go to high school, best player, go to college, kick some butt. He go to the minor leagues, erupted. First year in the big leagues, kicked some butt. It’s easy to play this game when you’re good. It’s tough to play this game when you’re down. He’s got all my support.”
He said that after Beckham had another three-strikeout game on May 6. This time he took the slump out into the field with him, committing two errors. For some players this might have been rock bottom. This was not the case for Beckham. His struggles continued throughout May, a month during which he failed to record an extra base hit. In fact, after a double on April 29 Beckham didn’t hit anything better than a single until June 9. The previous night he went 0 for 4, this time with two strikeouts, dropping his line to .199/.279/.237.
After struggling throughout the rest of June, albeit with a bit more power, Beckham finally went to work in July. The month started slowly, but eventually Beckham racked up nine multi-hit games and hit for extra bases 12 times. He walked just three times during the month, which is always a bit concerning, but it also appeared that he was seeing the ball a bit better. That all came together in August when he hit .309/.400/.531, a .388 wOBA in 97 PA. But just as quickly as he turned it around, the situation was turned on its head.
In his fourth plate appearance on a day when he had gone 2 for 3, Beckham was hit in the hand by Cleveland rookie Frank Hermann. The next day he couldn’t grip a bat. The Sox gave him four days off before reinserting him into the lineup for both ends of a doubleheader against Boston. Beckham responded by going 2 for 7 with a double. He played the next day and went 1 for 4, and then played again on the sixth. On the seventh he was scratched from the lineup. He hasn’t played in a game since.
Beckham’s absence couldn’t have come at a worse time. On the sixth, after a win in Detroit, the Sox sat just 3.5 games back of Minnesota in the Central. With Beckham out of the lineup they dropped their next three, moving them to six behind with just 22 games remaining. That’s an awfully large deficit to cover against the streaking Twins. Beckham might not have made all the difference in the previous three games, but he would have had some sort of impact.
By the end of June, 2010 looked like a lost season for Beckham. He wasn’t hitting for average or power, he wasn’t taking his walks, and he looked generally helpless at the plate. Then something changed, and Beckham became a big player in the Sox lineup. His turnaround might have hurt his team early on, but he helped them greatly in the second half. That might be for naught now, but it certainly gives the team something to look forward to in 2011.