2009 Recap: Micah Hoffpauir
I could make this short-n-sweet: the Hoff - not as bad with the glove as we feared, nowhere near as good with the stick as we hoped.
Ah, but that ain't fun, is it? And, since it appears that Micah Hoffpauir actually seems to have a place in the Cubs 2010 plans, let's look at what we might expect.
He raked like a man in Iowa for about 3 years - the times I saw him there, I felt sorry for him. He seemed to be majors-ready, but with Derrek Lee in his way at first base, there was no real need for him. And yes, I understand that those same three years, Lee didn't do very much for us. Lee first broke his wrist, then had the misfortune of having his daughter come down with a degenerative eye disease, but his wrist healed and there seemed to be progress of a sort concerning his daughter's disease, so we all waited for him to bounce back to something close to his 2005 breakout year, and waited.
In the meantime, the Hoff was right there, and many of us wondered out loud, with various levels of seriousness, if perhaps he shouldn't take Lee's place on the team. As it turns out, there was a few reasons why not. Firstly, Lee's main problem wasn't his wrist or his family - it was his neck. I would assume the Cubs knew that, although we did not. Second, Lee has a huge contract, and he had no trade value. Third, as it has been reported here often, Lee is as close to a clubhouse leader as we have.
Fourth, and most importantly, the team wisely did not make a rash decision based on the Hoff's sizzling late season cameo in 2008. While the man does have the smooth swinging motion that so many left-handed sluggers seem to have, he also has big holes in that swing. The league adjusted to him this year, and from May to July, he simply sucked. Whereas Lee bent the league over in 2009, and those of us tinkerers who wanted to replace him with the Hoff looked pretty damn stupid.
But at the end of the year, the Hoff seemed to make the re-adjustment he needed to make to stay at this level. He was sent back down to Iowa, and when he came back in September, he finished up with a .259/.359/.444. Not exactly Pujols numbers, or even Lee numbers, but definitely trending upward.
This may be the reason why Hendry decided to keep him and trade Jake Fox. This could turn out to be a mistake - for some reason, I keep seeing sine and cosine functions. The math geeks out there know what I am saying right now, but for the rest of you: Micah got his first big taste in 2008, started his 2009 in Chicago, hit well in early, then struggled mightily as the league adjusted to him, then he re-adjusted and his trend curve rose again. Fox is simply one "phase" behind on the curve. He got his first big taste when he came up in May, hit well for two months, but finished poorly when the league adjusted to him. I would figure that Fox will re-adjust himself and bounce back strong in 2010, for Oakland.
Some say you don't need two backup first basemen - Kenny Williams isn't one of them, but some say it. And yes, The Hoff is left-handed, so although Fox may in fact have a somewhat higher ceiling (my guess is that he will end up with .030 more SLG with a similar OBP than Hoffpauir in the long run), the braintrust traded him and kept Hoffpauir. I'm not sure we couldn't use both men as pinch hitters, occasional fill-ins at first base and the corner OF positions? That would mean we wouldn't have room for that 7th infielder (Fontenot?) or that 5th outfielder (Johnson?) Big whoop.
I see why they kept the Hoff - deep down, Sweet Lou still believes he is short on left-handed hitting. So the Hoff Power remains on the North Side. Maybe he takes that next step this year, maybe gets 250 PA, hits .275/.360/.490, and perhaps takes Lee's place in 2011, when Lee's contract expires? That's the ceiling. Maybe he ends up back in Des Moines in June? Let's hope not.