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What's eating Carlos Lee?

I guess the title to this article is the inverse of what we're usually wondering with the hefty Mr. Lee, but it remains a viable question to ask as we head into week number three on the season. For all of his shortcomings, Carlos Lee is a professional hitter in the purest sense of the phrase. Not even the "true" professional hitter Matt Stairs can hold a candle to what Carlos has accomplished over the course of his career. At this point his baseball life, it's doubtful that Lee approaches All Star status again, but he should still be a viable hitter in the Astros' lineup for as long as he calls Houston home.

There's something to be said for that kind of reliability, even if we moan and groan on occasion because of his large contract or apparent unwillingness to shape up and play defense. Reliable is a word you could use to describe Lee thus far in 2010, but more in the sense of his being a reliable out. His tough times have been made glaringly apparent due to the lack of Lance Berkman in the lineup as well as the rough start for Hunter Pence. For all his warts, Carlos has almost always taken good at bats and has rarely looked rattled. So far this season, that statement couldn't be any further from the truth and as a result, the Astros lineup has produced less than three runs per game thus far. His being our most potent bat underscores this difficulty scoring.

So where is he struggling exactly? I think that it would surprise nobody who has watched the Astros as intently as we have to see that Lee isn't catching many breaks offensively. JD noted during Friday's game that Carlos has been absolutely stinging the ball but finding few holes and fewer hits. Even on Saturday when he collected a hit early on, Lee's second AB saw him drive a ball deep into the left field corner, only to have the wind hold the ball up in the air and allow Alfonso Soriano to hop over to the ball and catch it.

Both JD's observation and Lee's poor BA are shown in his amazingly low BABIP of .136, far lower than his career average of .290. Couple this fact with a line drive rate (3.5%) seven times lower than his career average, and we should expect a rebound in his offensive statistics in the coming weeks. It's not even that Carlos Lee is slumping, it's the fact that he's in the midst of a slump to end all slumps.

Where Carlos is not helping himself is in his plate discipline. Never someone to walk a great deal, he usually does a good job of striking out very little and remaining disciplined at only swinging at pitches that he can do some damage with. Through the early parts of this season, he has abandoned his career tendencies and swung at pitches outside the strike zone 36.9% of the time against a career average of 23.1%. He's swinging less at strikes as well, and his overall contact rate and swinging strike percentages are tremendous outliers thus far in 2010 in the negative sense.

Overall, it's been a disaster for El Caballo. It's not that he has struggled in one area of his game offensively, it's that the percentages, and his own poor approach has worked against him to create this mess. However, unless there is something physically wrong with Carlos that he's not letting on, or if age is catching up with his bat speed all at once, we should expect him to start exhibiting his normal offensive tendencies at some point soon. The fact that he's hitting the ball hard again and striking out less hopefully means this process is already starting to occur.