Paul Konerko's struggles continued on Sunday afternoon against the Royals, with body language to match. With runners on first and second and two outs in the fifth inning, Luis Mendoza jammed Paul Konerko into a groundout to short. Konerko slumped his shoulders and set his bat down before running to first, which gave Alcides Escobar plenty of time to gather the ball, throw off line, and let Billy Butler tag him out 10 feet in front of first.
Konerko has been demonstrative about his displeasure all season, even when he was butting up against .400. It just took a different form. On any just-missed-it flyball, he'd turn his head away and fling his bat to the side before starting his way down first, as if he couldn't even stand to look at his failure.
When he's hitting choppers, his disappointing takes on a sadder form. He's following the path of the ball downward, which means his head and shoulders sag along with it. And those (e)motions make his slumps so very sad to watch.
It's been a while since we've seen Eeyore. He's hitting .222/.292/.311 over the last month. To find a month that bad, you have to go back to May of 2008, when he hit .191/.283/.255.
Of course, back in 2008, his thumb was so banged up it required a cortisone shot. It wasn't until an unrelated injury put him on the DL that he was able to gather himself physically and give the Sox a hitter again.
Given that he underwent a minor wrist procedure in early June, it's logical to think something might be physically hampering him. That could be true, but nobody is using that excuse, and it's not a perfect theory by performance alone. And if you consider the other possibilities for root causes, they all have their flaws and/or unknowables.
The wrist procedure
Konerko underwent surgery on his wrist in early June to fix a bone chip. The procedure didn't remove the chip -- it just merely moved it to a less painful place after jamming a needle into his wrist for 20 minutes.
The problem and surgery is nothing new to Konerko. He dealt with the same problem last year, and it didn't knock him off his game. He started a five-game hitting streak while dealing with the pain, and, after returning to the lineup, extended the streak to 13.
It's a different story this year. He had problems swinging the bat in the days leading up to the procedure, and went 1-for-16 with five strikeouts. After missing three games, he came back and reached base in 11 of his first 21 plate appearances his first five games back. Since then, he's been mostly dormant.
The wrist comes to mind,And when Konerko talks about it, it sounds like something that really sucks:
"It’s kind of a weird thing because it’s a small little thing that’s not a big deal. But when it gets into that joint, I can’t swing a bat. That makes it a little tough." [...]
"A lot of guys have this in their elbow from wear and tear, it’s a little small thing, but when it gets in that joint it kind of cripples me, and so we’re going to [take care of it] when the season is over, and that will be the end of that saga."
However, there really isn't any reason for Konerko to be playing through pain, at least since the Sox acquired Kevin Youkilis. Robin Ventura could fill out a lineup card without his name for a few days. Given that Konerko has said he feels fine, and nobody else is pointing to it, we'll have to take his word (or lack thereof) for it.
Pitchers attacking him differently
I'm not seeing it. Pitchers have always tried to attack him up in in, which is why he gets hit in the face or the bill of his helmet on a semi-regular basis.
Hawk Harrelson said it during Sunday's broadcast, and it seems right to me: When Konerko is off track, it's because he jams himself, and ends up hitting a lot of stuff on the ground to the left side. It certainly looks like that in June:
The pitches that he can put the barrel on are on the outer half -- but even then, he's only able to hook them into left field. To the untrained eye, it's almost like he's a bit jumpy with pitches over the center of the plate, which puts the pitch more in on his hands than it should.
This could be related to an injury -- perhaps if his wrist isn't right, he's compensating by getting started earlier or trying to use more of his lower half, something along those lines. But this could also just be the way he falls out of form with regards to timing and balance, the way 99 percent of hitters do from time to time.
No Greg Walker
‘‘With all due respect to any coach I’ve had in the past or any coach I would have in the future, Walk is my hitting coach,’’ first baseman Paul Konerko said. ‘‘He’s taught me to be smart enough to know what to listen to and not to listen to. Walk’s my guy.’’
Konerko is a Walker man from way back, and for good reason. Given that he was one of the few players to actually improve under Walker's supervision the last few years, it's possible Walker's absence might make a bigger impact when he falls into a rut. Of course, this assumes that I have some idea of how and why hitting coaches make an impact. That might not be the case.
Regression, simple but severe
Even after the disheartening month, Konerko is still hitting .321/.398/.512. That's nearly a carbon copy of his line from last year, and if his streaks and slumps were more evenly distributed, everybody would be more than pleased with his production to date.
So ... maybe it's just a slump.