The continuing debate on Mike Fontenot
Poor Mike Fontenot. All the little guy ever did was hit the ball - well, except for a couple of months in 2007. But even as Mark DeRosa has been dealt, second base has remained the prime position that fans would like to see upgraded, even over the lesser-than-adequate offensive stylings of Fontenot's Cajun partner in crime Ryan Theriot.
Anyway, at this point I really think that Fontenot should get a chance to fail, and I've got a whole bunch of reasons. In no particular order ...
- In 479 career at bats, Fontenot is a .290 hitter with an OBP of .369 and an OPS of .826. He's hit 34 doubles, 5 triples, 12 homers, and driven in 69 RBI in that time span. For whatever reason, some people will argue that it doesn't mean much because Fontenot has had his success as a backup - ie he hasn't seen regular play. This really flies in the face of what we've seen from baseball. It's actually a lot harder to consistently hit the ball while not starting regularly.
Put it to you this way ... Fontenot had 243 at bats last year. Of all the major leaguers to have between 200 and 300 at bats, do you know how many had a better OPS than the Font? One. Mike Napoli.
- Projections are not the end-all be-all, but if they weren't usually accurate then they'd stop making them. I've always argued that the problem with projections is that they can't take into account the career year or the bust year. (How many statisticians thought Andruw Jones would evaporate like he did?) But for whatever it's worth, Fontenot is projected by 4 different experts to have an OPS of .768 or better, with 2 of the 4 projecting that his OPS will be better than .810.
They also anticipate that he'll match or surpass his career average for homeruns (between 12-15) and he should have an OBP anywhere between .342 and .363. In other words, everybody seems to think he'll be successful, or at the very least slightly above average for a second baseman.
- Age. Fontenot is playing in what is typically perceived to be the prime of his career. Who knows, he might be out of baseball in 5 years, but right now if he's going to have an outstanding season he's in the right time frame for it to happen.
- Need. The Cubs have one of the most complete lineups of our lifetimes. Top to bottom they have good hitters and threaten the opposition with hitters 1-8 (or 9 on days Carlos pitches). The team does not need to try to upgrade at second base, be it Orlando Hudson or Brian Roberts. They have the ability to sit back, play, and determine that way their exact needs as the 2009 season progresses. Maybe they'll discover in June that Theriot's numbers were a fluke last year. Maybe they'll realize that they need another starter, or a few more middle relievers. Maybe they'll have momentum from Game 1 to game 162.
The point is, they are in a position of strength and that allows them to allow a few questions the time to answer themselves, rather than to ppreemptively answer them in order to avoid a potential catastrophe. Maybe Fontenot won't be able to put up good numbers as a starter, but even if he doesn't the Cubs will still have one of the best offenses in the NL in 2009. They will also have the ability to swing a trade for a different second baseman in July - maybe even for Orlando Hudson, wherever he winds up.
Anyway, I have rarely felt so happy with a Cubs team as I do with the '09 model. Really the one player I think might be the "weak link" is Theriot, but even he should be capable of doing his job effectively in '09.
Regardless, the Cubs look to be moving for more relief help if anything, and the rumors about acquiring Orlando Hudson have been discounted, at least for now. Fontenot has earned his chance. I for one can't wait to see what he'll be able to accomplish.