Ko-su-ke for M-V-P
Over in the comment section of a "Roster Talk" post I did recently, vigilant Goat Reader faustus1500 posed a question about the identity of the Cubs' most valuable position player this season. According to Fangraphs, a site I'm very fond of, that distinction belongs to one Kosuke Fukudome, a guy Kurt recently had a few words about whom to say.
faustus wondered aloud (or rather, textually...?) if Kosuke was more or less valuable than the Cubs current 1B, Mr. Derrek Lee.
To address faustus' question, I will consider a concept that is extremely valuable in determining a player's value to his team--replacement.
Imagine, if you will, a 2009 Cubs season in which Derrek Lee ended up missing a ton of time.* Who would play at first?
(*Note - I realize Aramis Ramirez actually DID miss a bunch of games, and is himself the most reasonable choice for Cub MVP. However, this discussion focuses on Cubs who actually were healthy this season. Just thought I'd clarify that.)
If Lee were hurt, we'd likely see a lot of Jake Fox at first base (earlier in the season we might've seen a Fox/Hoffpauir platoon). Based on how Jakie Q. has been swinging the bat this year, do you think the Cubs would miss Lee's bat that badly? Maybe yes--and maybe no.
Additionally, how do you think Lee's replacements would fare defensively? While it's true that, over the course of the season, Gold Glove McLee will probably save a few errant throws from ending up in the dugout, I think Fox/Hoff/whoever could probably play adequate defense at first. I mean, all you have to do is stand there, right?
Now, think about what we'd do if Kosuke went down. For the sake of simplicity, let's assume Reed Johnson were healthy while the Fukster was down. That'd put a platoon in center, with Reed facing lefties and some righties, and Fuld getting a look against some other righties.
Offensively, Fuld has had a pretty amazing 2009 thus far. But I can't honestly say I'd expect him to keep that pace up. I bet his numbers would end up looking pretty similar to ReJo's, who has an overall slash line of .252/.327/.395 so far this season.
Then there's the larger issue of center field defense. Sure, Reed has made some fantastic plays on balls hit deep, but you've got to admit that Kosuke has a distinct advantage over ReJo in speed, lateral range, and arm strength.
faustus is right that Lee has come up huge for this team at times when they desperately needed it. But because of the position he plays, it's easier to find a replacement for his bat. While I've been pleasantly surprised with Sam Fuld's excellent '09 numbers, I shudder to think what might have been if he were needed to play every day.
Maybe y'all disagree. But for me, it's not too difficult for me to see why Kosuke Fukudome might be the 2009 Cubs' most valuable position player.