Since 2000, Carlos Lee has been very consistent. While he’s always been slightly overrated, he learned early in his career to walk enough and make enough contact to really be a valuable hitter. Of course, he’s given a lot of that back in left field, particularly since he’s been an Astro. He averaged 151 games, 29 home runs, 101 RBI, 87 runs scored, and a 0.291 batting average from 2000 to 2009. Most projection systems had him doing it again, hitting 0.290 with 25-30 home runs in 2010.
So far in 2010, it’s not been pretty. It took him 26 games to hit his first home run; he now has 5, 3 of which he hit in the past week. His walk rate is the lowest since his rookie season, and his strikeout rate is the highest it’s been in 6 years. His BABIP is way down, a function of his line drive rate being cut in half; most of the shift has been toward flyballs, of which he’s hitting fewer out of the park than he ever has before. He’s seeing fewer fastballs and isn’t hitting any type of pitch well. He’s being thrown fewer strikes than ever, and to make up for it, he’s chasing a lot more pitches. This could be the result of his teammates being as bad as they’ve been in his career.
Based on the pitchf/x data compiled from TexasLeaguers.com, he’s swinging less and whiffing more, and the actual charts show exactly what he’s swinging at. Changeups seem to be the major culprit, as he went from swinging and missing at just 5.5% of changeups he saw in 2009 to 14.9% this season.
For comparison’s sake, here’s Joe Mauer’s 2009 swings.
Do I think that, at age 34, El Caballo is done? No. I think he’ll be ok…but just ok. They days of Carlos Lee being a significantly above average hitter are over. He’ll probably finish the season at 0.260 with 22 or so home runs and 85 RBI and gladly collect the 37 million dollars he’s owed the next two years. The Astros are bad, and an aging sunk cost is not going to help them get better soon.