Goatriders of the Apocalypse

Production Lines of the Apocalypse

A question that keeps getting asked in one form or another this off season is "just how good would DeRosa be as the everyday right fielder?"  There are very specific ways of looking at it, and very broad ones.  Because nothing beats Thanksgiving like heavy reading on a fringe Cubs blog, and since my preference is to post this large body of work on the day in which the least amount of people are likely to read it, I thought I'd take a look at the Cubs position players and how they compare to the league averages.  However, to justify this beast of a post later on, I will link back to it with great regularity.

First and foremost, let's talk about our concept of League Average. In this incredibly boring article, we will be comparing the Cubs position players against the League Average at their position between wiping tears of shame from our cheeks because of the great sadness we feel at having absolutely nothing better to do.  Call it dedication.

Offensively in 2008, it's pretty safe to say that the Cubs were better than league average.  I mean, they were awesome.  Compare them with all of Major League Baseball:

League: .264 AVG, 300 2B, 30 3B, 163 HR, 753 R, .333 OBP, .749 OPS
Cubs: .278 AVG, 329 2B, 21 3B, 184 HR, 855 R, .354 OBP, .797 OPS

It's obvious that the Cubs were above average overall.  That would also be a strikingly obvious reason as to why they won 97 games last year.  But let's take it one step further and break it down by position:

At catcher:

League: .255 AVG, 31 2B, 1 3B, 15 HR, 74 RBI, .324 OBP, .713 OPS
Cubs: .284 AVG, 37 2B, 2 3B, 26 HR, 93 RBI, .353 OBP, .836 OPS
Overall OPS: 2nd in MLB

In other words, the Cubs were at a decisive offensive plus at catcher in '08.  Taking it a step further, it's probably not debatable to say that the Cubs were above average defensively at catcher, too.

At first base:

League: .271 AVG, 35 2B, 2 3B, 26 HR, 98 RBI, .352 OBP, .816 OPS
Cubs: .296 AVG, 47 2B, 3 3B, 23 HR, 97 RBI, .365 OBP, .845 OPS
Overall OPS: 12th in MLB

While Derrek wasn't one of the worst first basemen in the game, it's pretty safe to say he's no longer among the baseball elite.  Furthermore, defensively Lee was off his game in '08.  He might be an average defender, but he's probably not above average.

At second base:

League: .275 AVG, 36 2B, 4 3B, 13 HR, 72 RBI, .338 OBP, .747 OPS
Cubs: .300 AVG, 39 2B, 2 3B, 17 HR, 91 RBI, .378 OBP, .836 OPS
Overall OPS: 4th in MLB

The DeRosa-Fontenot Duo dramatically outperformed the league average in '08 although DeRo falls a little short of being considered one of the elite at his position.  Defensively, the Cubs are probably average-at-best at second base, and possibly just a little below average.

At third base:

League: .265 AVG, 35 2B, 2 3B, 21 HR, 86 RBI, .335 OBP, .771 OPS
Cubs: .283 AVG, 48 2B, 1 3B, 32 HR, 129 RBI, .372 OBP, .891 OPS
Overall OPS: 3rd in MLB

Aramis Ramirez and his bat is incredibly important to the Cubs.  Defensively, he's average, if not slightly above average.  A-Ram is an elite third baseman and is tremendously valuable to the Cubs offense at this point.  He should be the #3 hitter next year.

At shortstop:

League: .275 AVG, 34 2B, 5 3B, 11 HR, 63 RBI, .326 OBP, .714 OPS
Cubs: .303 AVG, 26 2B, 4 2B, 2 HR, 53 RBI, .379 OBP, .744 OPS
Overall OPS: 11th in MLB

Ryan Theriot pretty well falls into the "average" range.  And for the point I'm building toward, his numbers would for the most part be "below average" if he played at second base.  Theriot outhit many of baseball's shortstops and he outwalked them, but he was out-slugged and out-defended - in fact, Theriot would fall onto the "below average" side of the defensive coin.  If he lands next year somewhere between his '07 and '08 numbers, he probably won't hurt the team, but he won't be a real asset, either.

At left field:

League: .269 AVG, 34 2B, 4 3B, 22 HR, 86 RBI, .343 OBP, .785 OPS
Cubs: .282 AVG, 43 2B, 2 3B, 35 HR, 109 RBI, .348 OBP, .856 OPS
Overall OPS: 8th in MLB

These numbers are actually a little low for the Cubs.  If Soriano stays healthy over a full season - and he's bound to sooner or later - then left field becomes an even bigger asset for Chicago.  Defensively, Soriano is plus and minus.  He has a plus arm and will lead the league in assists if he doesn't get hurt, but he's got a minus glove that leads to errors and heartbreak.  The Cubs are above average at left field with a healthy Sori.

At center field:

League: .267 AVG, 33 2B, 5 3B, 18 HR, 77 RBI, .333 OBP, .752 OPS
Cubs: .290 AVG, 37 2B, 4 3B, 23 HR, 101 RBI, .374 OBP, .858 OPS
Overall OPS: 3rd in MLB

Strange how center field has become a home for more homerun hitters these days.  On average, your center fielder is expected to yield more offensive bounty than your catcher, second baseman, and shortstop.  It's also strange just how much of a positive CF was for the Cubs in '08.  Reed Johnson and Jim Edmonds made for strange bedfellows and delivered unto the Cubs the Secret Ingredient to their recipe of success, even though they were defensively below average.  CF is unlikely to be a position of strength for the Cubs in '09, depending heavily on the sophomore season of Kosuke Fukudome.

At right field:

League: .270 AVG, 37 2B, 4 3B, 21 HR, 87 RBI, .347 OBP, .797 OPS
Cubs: .250 AVG, 30 2B, 2 3B, 15 HR, 71 RBI, .350 OBP, .731 OPS
Overall OPS: 26th in MLB

Ah, at last, the one position in which the Cubs were decisively below average.  Fukudome started out with a singing bat, but he ended the year with a howling fanbase - even though he has above average defensive skills.

So, what's the point of this?  Well, I'm going to reiterate a few key figures for you:

Consider the following:

League: .275 AVG, 36 2B, 4 3B, 13 HR, 72 RBI, .338 OBP, .747 OPS
Cubs: .303 AVG, 26 2B, 4 2B, 2 HR, 53 RBI, .379 OBP, .744 OPS

This is what happens if the Cubs move Theriot to second base - if we're lucky.  Theriot as a second baseman hits fewer doubles, fewer homers, drives in way fewer RBI, and has a below-average OPS.

League: .270 AVG, 37 2B, 4 3B, 21 HR, 87 RBI, .347 OBP, .797 OPS
Cubs: .300 AVG, 39 2B, 2 3B, 17 HR, 91 RBI, .378 OBP, .836 OPS

This is what happens if we're lucky if the Cubs move DeRosa to right field permanently.  The Cubs almost turn a minus into a plus.  But what if, rather than bat .285 with 21 HR, 87 RBI, and an OPS of .857, DeRosa reverts to his career averages of .279 with 13 homeruns, 64 RBI, and an OPS of .770?  The Cubs would remain below average offensively in RF, and they'd now also be below average defensively.

League: .267 AVG, 33 2B, 5 3B, 18 HR, 77 RBI, .333 OBP, .752 OPS
Cubs: .250 AVG, 30 2B, 2 3B, 15 HR, 71 RBI, .350 OBP, .731 OPS

This is how Fukudome compares to the rest of the league's CFers.  Overall, it's close enough that he'd almost fall into the "average" range, but not quite.  The Cubs would still be losing a lot of offense from 2008.

In other words, if the Cubs sign Furcal, move Theriot to second base, and put DeRosa in RF, they go from this figure:

Above Average: 5, Average: 2, Below Average: 1

to this figure:

Above Average: 4, Average: 1, Below Average: 3

That's not the direction you want your team to head in if they are interested in staying competitive.

Therefore, I'm going to suggest that if Theriot starts on the Cubs next year, he should do it as a shortstop.  I'm going to suggest that if DeRosa starts on the Cubs next year, he should do it as a second baseman.  And if the Cubs want to improve offensively, then they really need to hope for the following things to happen

  • An entirely healthy season by Soriano - as the cleanup hitter
  • A Fukuseason to remember
  • A Geovany Soto immune to the sophomore slump
  • A new right fielder who hits that damn ball real good

The Cubs cannot, nor should they count on Theriot to put up similar-or-better numbers (which isn't to say that he'd be a disappointment if "only" ended up playing near his career averages), nor can the Cubs count on DeRosa to shatter all expectations again (which doesn't mean he'll be a disappointment if he only bats .280 and hits 13 or 14 homeruns).  It's just that they need to look elsewhere to find next year's offensive surprises, simple as that.

As fans, we need to recognize that the abilities of our team's players have limitations, and we're only setting ourselves up for disappointment if we expect consecutive seasons of miracles.  Jim Hendry doesn't need to - nor will he - blow up the roster to fix what's wrong with the team, but shifting a couple of guys around and giving more starting time to the journeyman backup infielder who had huge numbers won't cut it either.  The Cubs need to find a way to get a Bradley, or acquire some lefty bats via trade.  Otherwise, they're at risk of headed from Very Good to Very Average.

Great research.

There's a lot of interesting information here that we can look at; well done to you, sir. At the same time, there are (of course) a couple of issues I would point out.

First, you've gotta stop comparing RBIs. As this blog pointed out in the Lee/Dawson comparison, that stat has much more to do with where one hits in the lineup, and the effectiveness of the hitters around a guy, than the actual player himself.

There are a lot of other stats out there - runs created, WPA, etc. - that would be better to look at, but it's really hard to pick one. At least, it is for me. So I'm not gonna go there. (For the record, I tried yanking some RCs from baseball reference, but once I got them into a post they looked like crap and didn't really reveal a whole lot so screw it.)

Next, I think your points about how Theriot would stack up against the rest of the league at 2B instead of short are interesting. But all the metrics you use are of one type - offensive.

The main benefit I'd point out in moving Theriot to second? Shorter throws to first, so the arm isn't as big a deal. Let's be honest - the kid gets on base, even when his batting average is down. He had more BBs than Ks. He's going to contribute offensively (albeit in his own special way, i.e. SLG < OBP). But moving him from SS to 2B lessens his defensive liability.

With DeRosa, you do acknowledge the drop off that would happen defensively, so that's good. The only problem is, if Fukudome will in fact be moved to CF, it appears that the Cubs will be at a disadvantage in right field defensively regardless of who we end up signing to play there. So, take that as a given.

From there, as you also point out, if Mark were to replicate last year's numbers in 2009 we'd be all set in right field. But rather than worry about the possibility of regressing to career average, I'd look at the past three years. The Marcel projection system at FanGraphs.com is based on just that information, and projects DeRosa at an OPS of .800. That'd give us about an average right fielder. Fine.

On top of all this, however, is a need to find some at-bats for Mike Fontenot, who right now plays one position - the one that we're (or, I'm) already trying to give to someone else.

The Cubs have a problem that people haven't really been talking about because we're so worried about signing a right fielder. We've got three guys who, if they were to be given starting roles, SHOULD be playing at second base, in Fontenot, Theriot, and DeRosa.

The situation should be resolved by moving one of those three players in a trade, to upgrade elsewhere on the field. This should be made even easier to do by the fact that all three guys had outstanding years in 2008.

Kurt, I may have just changed stances on the idea of trading Mark DeRosa. He'd open up payroll, and if we sign a right fielder, we have the personnel in house to play the spots he did in 2008. Fontenot's a lefty so we need him, and I'd really rather keep Theriot at short than spend big bucks on a replacement.

Now I'll be spending my Thanksgiving holiday figuring out a place to move Mark DeRosa. Thanks, GROTA! And Happy Turkey Day.

I'm glad you're open to some

I'm glad you're open to some possibilities.

The question at hand is really "will the Cubs be better with DeRosa in RF," and the answer stays "no" because the Cubs are going to just shift around the guys they currently have minus the offensive production they got out of CF last year.

In other words, no matter how you cut it, even if everybody out there matches their production - and projections - from last year, they're not a better team offensively. And if Theriot and DeRosa both return to the mean - as they should - then the Cubs are losing offense, even if Soriano stays healthy.

In a really roundabout way, what Hendry is REALLY trying to do is replace the offense the Cubs will have lost from the departure of Jim Edmonds. Offensively, the Cubs had the 3rd best output from center field of any team in baseball last year, which is just plain shocking.

So I guess the shorthand version of what I was getting at is that moving people around and hoping for them to maintain their momentum probably won't win the Cubs a championship. Finding the way to grab a free agent or two, if at all possible, would help.

Sparkplug

I had been working on a large post about the '09 Cubs, and then linked off the page and it became cyber-ether. The jist was this....
Confession 1...... I love Theriot. There I said it. Mock if you will. I like scrappy players who fall into the "tweener" role. Almost a star, but not quite. Household names if your a team backer. You know the type......Len Dykstra (pre-roids), Shawon Dunston, Mookie Wilson, (my dream nickname, Mookie. Sigh.) etc.

Confession 2...... we won 97 freakin' games! All we gotta do is tweak things here and there. I firmly believe that the playoffs are all about momentum, and we have come in flat the last two years. No mojo. Zilch.

Starting pitching is strong, and so is the pen from the 8th inning on. At least 10 teams are an arm injury away from disaster, and we ain't much different, but we do have capable starters. We may not like them all, but they are there.

The infield works for me with Fontenot at 2nd and Theriot at short. We can't have a freakin' all-star at every position. We can however have a solid team with heart and grit, and I firmly believe those two intangibles win at least a dozen games a year.

The outfield needs a big ass bat in RF. Simple. I also cannot believe that Kosuke is washed up after one season. I think he'll bounce back with a respectable average around 300 with about 11 knocks. This will only come about if he is willing to grow a Ichiro-type scraggly goatee.

Keep Ronny (God help me), and Micah. They have earned a spot on the bench and a role on the team. Resign Blanco at a lesser rate (Jebus, that dude looks scary)

Which brings me to Dero. Outside the Windy City, it is reported that he is the "heart" of that team. Are guys like Geo or A-Ram ready to take that role if he is dealt? I hate to see him odd man out, because I like the fire he has, but If he lands me a big stick in right, I'll make it.

I guess in closing there are guys who can be dealt....the usual suspects. Marquis, Pie, Fuld, Hill, and now that I have come to grips with it, Dero. Just shore up the bullpen and get me that freakin' bat out in RF! Great post, Kurt.

The more I think of it, the

The more I think of it, the more I agree DeRo is the odd man out...
If we want to get younger, we can't keep him.
If we want lefties. He doesn't fit.

DeRosa becomes a trader midseason for prospects. I see that as the only thing possible to a team who needs. Anyone. Unless Soriano gets a midseason suck-injury again.

A question of value.

During the Cubs lifelong quest for the Almighty World Series Title, I've always believed they were behind the curve due to the lack of developing quality prospects.

It's true they've developed some solid pitchers but for the most part they've failed continuously, but for a few exceptions to produce any significant position players.

The Cubs as presently constructed have been built primarily through free agency and even if you're the Yankees, it's a questionable formula at best.

As we can see now, the Cubs like many franchises are finding that payroll is limiting the options they have. However, Hendry can find some payroll flexibility if he looks realistically at some of his regular players.

The Cubs presently have four players from their system, (Cedeneo, Hoffpauir, Marshall & Pie,) that can hardly be classified as studs, but cost nothing. The question for Hendry to ask himself is, how much payroll can be saved and what is lost by trading existing regulars that any of these players can replace.

The rotation certainly appears to be solid but come playoff time, the need for a 5th. starter is Nil. With Marquis scheduled to make $9.75M next year, all if not at least half of his salary could be freed up by trading and replacing him with Marshall.

The R/L balance of the offense is a concern and even if Fontenot won't quite match the career year numbers DeRosa put up last year, Fontenot hits left handed and doesn't take a back seat to DeRosa in the field.This would clear almost $5M.

With the payroll saved by these two moves, the Cubs could go sign one of the most productive LH bats available, Milton Bradley. Now before you start screaming about his health, remember we still have Twirly Bird to spell him defensively in order to keep Bradley healthy. Bradley is younger than DeRosa, has experience in RF and has always been able to rake.

Any thoughts?

it all depends on marquis.

it all depends on marquis. moving him will have to probably be part of a package deal, and right now, what bullets do we have left, and with signing bradley long term (that's the scary part for a guy that hasn't been healthy really... ever).

i guess the hard part is to find two trade partners to take on DeRo and Marquis...

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