What happened to Fukudome in Cleveland?

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What happened to Fukudome in Cleveland?

When the Indians acquired Kosuke Fukudome from the Cubs on July 28 of last year, it looked to be a solid deal that could help a lagging Cleveland offense. Fukudome was hitting .273.374.369 following his final at-bat with the Cubs -- while his power had deserted him, he was still a good on-base guy who could help the Indians' playoff push.

But with Cleveland, Fukudome's numbers plummeted. His on-base percentage fell 74 points to .300 thanks in large part to a decreased walk rate (13.3 percent with the Cubs, 5.8 percent with the Indians) and an increased strikeout rate (16.5 percent with the Cubs, 20.5 percent with the Indians).

Diving deeper into those numbers, Fukudome had major issues against breaking pitches after moving to the American League. About one in every five pitches he saw in 2011 with the Cubs were breaking balls, and against those curveballs and sliders Fukudome was about five runs above average (per FanGraphs).

With Cleveland, he saw only a slight uptick in sliders (10.9 percent to 12 percent) and curveballs (9.6 to 11.4 percent), but combined, he saw a breaking ball in closer to one in every four pitches than one in every five. His struggled at recognizing those pitches, though, whiffing on over 10 percent of breaking balls as opposed to under 10 percent with the Cubs.

Granted, this is over a small sample size -- just 59 games and 258 plate appearances. And Fukudome's most significant struggles came in September, historically his worst offensive month.

But Fukudome hit well below his career August split of .281.364.441, posting a .293.331.414 slash line in the regular season's penultimate month.

I'm tempted to call Fukudome's offensive dropoff the product of a small sample size, normal late-season struggles and perhaps some discomfort with moving to an unfamiliar city for a few months.

If Fukudome exhibits the same pitch recognition issues with the White Sox, maybe his struggles could be chalked up to an unfamiliarity with American League pitchers. With readily available scouting reports, video, etc., the frequency with which pitchers change leagues and interleague play, that's not a claim I'm ready to make yet.

Until further notice, Fukudome should be expected to be a good on-base guy to come off the bench and start when needed. Two bad months in Cleveland, while concerning, aren't enough to cause a panic.

Pitch data was used via Texas Leaguers' database.

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