Goatriders of the Apocalypse

2009 Recap: Mike Fontenot

A year ago, I was one of the few who argued that replacing Mark DeRosa with Mike Fontenot at second base would be A-OK, that he'd be able to keep up the good work of his 500 or so major league-level at-bats, play decent defense, and generally avoid suckage.

We all know that's not how it turned out.

Given the results of the 2009, many fans probably wish the Cubs had waived Fontenot instead of Casey McGehee, the former Cub third baseman "prospect" who got some playing time in September 2008. But given what was known at the time, I don't hate team management for making the move they did.

(At the same time, given Hendry's experience/supposed baseball aptitude, it's kind of his job to make the right moves.)

Of course, a lot of McGehee's value was difficult to anticipate at the time of his waiving -- nobody assumed A-Ram would choose to separate his shoulder and miss a bazillion games.

But Fontenot's ability to fill in at third was actually decent. Fangraphs' Ultimate Zone Rating suggests Mike defended like a league average 3B in his time at third.

The problem, of course, was his hitting -- specifically against lefties (.212/.246/.308). What happened to the .909 OPS of 2008?

Why did Font's numbers suffer last year? You don't have to believe me, but I'd argue a good portion of it had to do with luck.

If you're into the stat side of the game at all, you've heard of BABIP, which stands for batting average on balls in play. The metric tries to keep track of how many bloops and bleeders went the hitter's way in a given year. It can function as a sort of "luck" metric for hitters, since it tends to be constant for all baseball players.

To demonstrate, look at the league average in BABIP for the past three years, compared to Fontenot's BABIP. I'll drop his OPS in, too.

2007: League - .306, Mike - .330, Mike's OPS - .738
2008: League - .303, Mike - .355 (!), Mike's OPS - .909
2009: League - .302, Mike - .281 (...), Mike's OPS - .677

One other thing I'd look at: Font's ratio of at-bats against lefties to those against righties over the past three years. From '07 to '09: 1-to-3, 1-to-10, 1-to-6.

Take that for what it's worth I guess -- and, according to me, expect a bounce back next year if Font gets any significant playing time. If it were me, I'd probably give a 2B platoon of Fontenot and Baker another shot to start the 2010 season. We'll see what happens.

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I'd like to be optimistic about Fontenot

But I'm not. The problem with your analysis is that, despite Fontenot's poor luck on balls in play in 2009 and the corresponding drop in OPS, you haven't really addressed the slugging side of the equation.Fontenot's line drop % dropped from 24.1 to 17.5, which explains a lot of the drop in BABIP. Line drives fall for hits about 75% of the time. Line drives are also much more likely to go for extra bases. Fontenot's ISO fell off the face of the earth, dropping nearly 70 points. Font wasn't squaring the ball up last season, and his hitting suffered. Luck probably had something to do with his bad year end stats, but so did his ability to drive the ball. He isn't going to ever be the player we hoped he might be.

Excellent observation. I saw

Excellent observation. I saw the LD% change too, but decided not to pile on with the stat-talk.

You're right, "Little Babe Ruth" is no more. But he's still got a decent glove, and can hit righties to some extent.

He's no Chase Utley, but he's certainly a lot better than Aaron Miles.

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