Goatriders of the Apocalypse

2008 Season Recap: Micah Hoffpauir/Daryle Ward

Hoff/Ward

Like the man once said, a good pinch hitter is hard to find.  (I'm not sure who "the man" was, but rarely has somebody ever been so right.)

Pinch hitting is weird.  I realize how ridiculous it seems to write that, but baseball is big, and random, and in isolation the biggest turd can look like solid gold and the greatest player can look like Vance Law.  I'm rambling now, but I would bet that there have been more than a few players throughout the course of baseball history who had the talent, ability, and mentality to be Hall of Famers, but never got the chance because they started their careers 11 for 90, got demoted, and wound up teaching gym somewhere in Iowa.

So, if 90 at bats are too small of a sample size to determine whether or not a player "belongs," then what's fair?  150 at bats?  250?  For a pinch hitter, 150-250 at bats over the course of the season might be all the chances he gets, and if he goes cold for two months then you can bet that his final line will look worse than Lindsey Lohan after an all night coke binge*.

(*allegedly.)

Here, I'll give you some examples of good pinch hitters gone bad.  Lenny Harris.  A Dusty Disciple, Lenny came to Chicago in 2003 with a pinch-hitting pedigree.  In 2002, Harris batted .305 in 197 at bats for Milwaukee, with 8 doubles, 2 triples, 3 homers, and a .766 OPS.  Then, he came to Chicago, only to realize after getting half way there that he'd left his bat back home, but it was too late to go and get it.  In 131 at bats for Chicago in '03, Harris batted an anemic .183, with just 3 doubles, 1 homer, and an OPS of .484.  The Cubs then cut the cord, and he signed on with the soon-to-be World Champion Fish - who he batted .286 for, prompting them to renew his contract, and when he retired in 2005, he left a .314 hitter in 70 at bats that year.

All of that brings us to the actual subjects of this article.  Micah "The Hoff" Hoffpauir, and Daryle "Badonkadonk" Ward.  Both men can play first base, and when necessity calls, they are also allegedly capable of chugging across the thinly cut outfield grass in order to catch flyballs.  In other words, they are defensively shizzzz-itty. Therefore, their value to the Cubs comes from their batting skills.

In 2007, Ward carried a mean club.  In 110 at bats, the man batted .327 with an OPS of .963.  He hit 13 doubles, 3 homers, and drove in 19 RBI.  Then, in 2008, he ... well, he didn't.  His batting average plummeted to .216 in 102 at bats.  His OPS dropped to .721.  He hit 7 doubles, but 4 homers, and drove in 17 RBI.

Actually, Ward's numbers this past season are odd in that way.  In 8 fewer at bats, he hit 1 more homer and drove in only 2 fewer RBI, but he was a total failure as a pinch hitter.  But are 102 at bats enough to really tell the story?  How will he do next season if he gets 102 at bats elsewhere?

It's conceivable that Ward will succeed for another city in 2009, in fact I think it's likely.  But his decreased ability to reach base was a problem in 2008, and for that reason the Cubs turned to Micah Hoffpauir.

Micah Hoffpauir

Talk about your success stories.  A year ago, The Hoff probably spent his winters working a second job while hoping to save up enough money to buy an awfully nice ring for Sarah May, his finacee with a heart of gold (who was also a hooker).  Then, Hoffpauir puts up Epic Numbers at Iowa, and at the age of 28 gets the call to the show for the first time ever.

In 72 at bats - 29 fewer than Ward - Hoff got 3 more hits than Ward, he hit 1 more double, and he scored 6 more runs.  In fact, Hoffpauir did so well in his limited stint at the Major League Level - .342 AVG, 2 HR, 8 RBI, .934 OPS - that fans actually began to clamor for the Cubs to find a way to deal Derrek Lee so his clear offensive superior (that's Hoffpauir, in case you're confused) could have a crack at first base for the Cubs.

Believe it or not, if it's conceivable that Ward could have a great 2009, then it's also conceivable - if not more likely - that Hoffpauir could wake up to reality and realize that he's a life-long journeyman first baseman who needed multiple tries to figure out AAA pitching.

That said, The Hoff was a welcome surprise in 2008, he's certainly earned the chance to be the Cubs pinch hit specialist for next season, but if I was a betting man, I'd lay odds against him making the team out of Spring Training.

Like I said.  A good pinch hitter is hard to find, and part of the problem is that in any given year, a great pinch hitter could put up terrible numbers, and a terrible player could pinch hit his ass off.  I'm not asserting that this was the case with Ward and Hoffpauir in 2008, but let's be honest - it's possible.  Just keep that in mind before you feverishly fantasize about your next Derrek Lee trade.

And

Ward could fail next year and Hoff may excel, right?

When you say Hoff has finally figured out AAA pitching you have a four year line of 1247 AB's, 56 HR's, 304BA, 359OBP, 882OPS. He raised his batting average from 268 in 2005 to 362 last year as well as belting out 25 of his 56 HR's.

On the surface you could come to your conclusion, but you could also deduce that Hoff is ready for prime-time and unless he gets his AB's, how in the hell are the Cubs to know what they really have. Except for an isolated situation, the Cubs are about as willing to play a prospect over a veteran, as it is to snow in July. Many of the big clubs with solid organizations tend to leave the prospects they don't trade down on the farm an extra year or two to get that extra seasoning, and while I'm not saying Hoff will be the next Soto, his LHB should end up being a big plus.

I'm sure that in the decades

I'm sure that in the decades that the current minor league system has existed, there have been players who languished in AAA for 3 or 4 years before being promoted to the majors where they experienced long-term success, but I'd bet you a very large amount of money that you could count them on both hands.

I'm sorry if I'm not impressed that a 28-year-old hit nearly 100 points higher after having had close to 1,000 at bats at the same minor league level. I bet he could bat better than .400 if he played in Peoria.

Actually, when I say "I'm not impressed," that's not true - I was impressed enough to advocate that the Cubs dump Ward and use Hoff as the primary PH/backup 1B/OF guy, and I remain impressed enough to believe that it should be his job to lose in 2009.

But to suggest that he's done anything to usurp Derrek Lee - and I'm not saying that you are suggesting that, Clute - is, in my opinion, dangerously bordering Fantasyland. If Hoffpauir is truly talented enough to outproduce Lee next year, then the hundreds of experts and scouts who have seen him play would have forced at gunpoint their bosses to call up Jim Hendry and make a trade offer that could not be refused. If Hoffpauir is truly so talented that he could help solve the Cubs problems as a lefty batter, then Hendry would have him in Winter Ball right now learning how to play RF. If he is so likely to put up the kind of numbers that people are fantasizing about, then the Padres would be fools to not blow up Hendry's phone and demand him to be an essential part of any trade made.

But the reality is ... it's 50/50 that he'll have a good enough spring to make the team. He's a career minor leaguer who had a brilliant season and 70 fantastic at bats in his rookie year at the age of 28. It'd be crazy not to appreciate that, but to assume any kind of future success based on how Hoff did in 2008 would be a quick way to hurt the team's chances in 2009.

Side note...

The fact you have Vance Law and Lindsey Lohan in the same blog entry is tres bien. Well done, sir.

You make a

good point Kurt, that opposing GM's haven't been aggressive in pursuing the "Hoff". All I am saying is that Hoff probably won't have to be pinch run for like Ward, doesn't cost shit and another farm hand like Soto, whose AAA numbers before his last year there where nothing to speak of either, is probably a worthwhile move.

As I said before, I'm not even remotely equating Hoff with Soto, but a LH prospect with power that could actually contribute and eventually return if not retained, a missing piece to help the Cubs get over the hump in their quest for the Holy Grail, shouldn't be dismissed in favor of the lard ass Ward.

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