The Oakland Athletics have scored the third-fewest runs in the American League this year, and one of the main reasons is the punchless performance of first baseman Daric Barton. The lefty hitter appeared to break out last season, batting .273/.393/.405 while reaching the double digits in home runs. But in 2011, Barton has a .212/.325/.267 triple-slash. He has yet to hit a single round-tripper, and his .055 Isolated Power isn't far above that of the average pitcher (.040 ISO). Barton's bat has been so bad that the Athletics just sent him to Triple-A to work out the kinks.
Barton is enduring a lost season at the plate because he can't seem to make solid contact on breaking stuff. He was about average against curveballs and sliders last season, posting a .270 wOBA. In 2011, however, Barton has a .100 wOBA versus breaking balls and has yet to pound out an extra-base hit. Only Bill Hall (released by the Astros) and Xavier Paul (designated for assignment by the Dodgers) have fared worse against curves and sliders.
While Barton is known for his superb strike-zone judgment, he hasn't been able to lay off breaking balls near as well this season. Check out his swing rate on curves and sliders thrown out of the strike zone in 2010 and 2011:
Barton's outside swing rate on breaking stuff in 2010
Barton's outside swing rate on breaking stuff in 2011
Barton chased just 12.6 percent of curveballs and sliders thrown out of the zone in 2010, well below the 31 percent average for non-pitchers. This year, Barton has gone fishing out of the zone 27.4 percent of the time against breaking balls (34.1 percent average for non-pitchers).
If Barton wants to help lift the Athletics' offense and return to the majors, he's going to have to solve his problems with breaking stuff. Otherwise, he could spend his summer helping the River Cats chase another Pacific Coast League title.