Like the man once said, a good pinch hitter is hard to find. (I'm not sure who "the man" was, but rarely has somebody ever been so right.)
Pinch hitting is weird. I realize how ridiculous it seems to write that, but baseball is big, and random, and in isolation the biggest turd can look like solid gold and the greatest player can look like Vance Law. I'm rambling now, but I would bet that there have been more than a few players throughout the course of baseball history who had the talent, ability, and mentality to be Hall of Famers, but never got the chance because they started their careers 11 for 90, got demoted, and wound up teaching gym somewhere in Iowa.
So, if 90 at bats are too small of a sample size to determine whether or not a player "belongs," then what's fair? 150 at bats? 250? For a pinch hitter, 150-250 at bats over the course of the season might be all the chances he gets, and if he goes cold for two months then you can bet that his final line will look worse than Lindsey Lohan after an all night coke binge*.
Here, I'll give you some examples of good pinch hitters gone bad. Lenny Harris. A Dusty Disciple, Lenny came to Chicago in 2003 with a pinch-hitting pedigree. In 2002, Harris batted .305 in 197 at bats for Milwaukee, with 8 doubles, 2 triples, 3 homers, and a .766 OPS. Then, he came to Chicago, only to realize after getting half way there that he'd left his bat back home, but it was too late to go and get it. In 131 at bats for Chicago in '03, Harris batted an anemic .183, with just 3 doubles, 1 homer, and an OPS of .484. The Cubs then cut the cord, and he signed on with the soon-to-be World Champion Fish - who he batted .286 for, prompting them to renew his contract, and when he retired in 2005, he left a .314 hitter in 70 at bats that year.
All of that brings us to the actual subjects of this article. Micah "The Hoff" Hoffpauir, and Daryle "Badonkadonk" Ward. Both men can play first base, and when necessity calls, they are also allegedly capable of chugging across the thinly cut outfield grass in order to catch flyballs. In other words, they are defensively shizzzz-itty. Therefore, their value to the Cubs comes from their batting skills.
In 2007, Ward carried a mean club. In 110 at bats, the man batted .327 with an OPS of .963. He hit 13 doubles, 3 homers, and drove in 19 RBI. Then, in 2008, he ... well, he didn't. His batting average plummeted to .216 in 102 at bats. His OPS dropped to .721. He hit 7 doubles, but 4 homers, and drove in 17 RBI.
Actually, Ward's numbers this past season are odd in that way. In 8 fewer at bats, he hit 1 more homer and drove in only 2 fewer RBI, but he was a total failure as a pinch hitter. But are 102 at bats enough to really tell the story? How will he do next season if he gets 102 at bats elsewhere?
It's conceivable that Ward will succeed for another city in 2009, in fact I think it's likely. But his decreased ability to reach base was a problem in 2008, and for that reason the Cubs turned to Micah Hoffpauir.
Talk about your success stories. A year ago, The Hoff probably spent his winters working a second job while hoping to save up enough money to buy an awfully nice ring for Sarah May, his finacee with a heart of gold (who was also a hooker). Then, Hoffpauir puts up Epic Numbers at Iowa, and at the age of 28 gets the call to the show for the first time ever.
In 72 at bats - 29 fewer than Ward - Hoff got 3 more hits than Ward, he hit 1 more double, and he scored 6 more runs. In fact, Hoffpauir did so well in his limited stint at the Major League Level - .342 AVG, 2 HR, 8 RBI, .934 OPS - that fans actually began to clamor for the Cubs to find a way to deal Derrek Lee so his clear offensive superior (that's Hoffpauir, in case you're confused) could have a crack at first base for the Cubs.
Believe it or not, if it's conceivable that Ward could have a great 2009, then it's also conceivable - if not more likely - that Hoffpauir could wake up to reality and realize that he's a life-long journeyman first baseman who needed multiple tries to figure out AAA pitching.
That said, The Hoff was a welcome surprise in 2008, he's certainly earned the chance to be the Cubs pinch hit specialist for next season, but if I was a betting man, I'd lay odds against him making the team out of Spring Training.
Like I said. A good pinch hitter is hard to find, and part of the problem is that in any given year, a great pinch hitter could put up terrible numbers, and a terrible player could pinch hit his ass off. I'm not asserting that this was the case with Ward and Hoffpauir in 2008, but let's be honest - it's possible. Just keep that in mind before you feverishly fantasize about your next Derrek Lee trade.
So far this off season, we've taken a peek at Kerry Wood and a gander at Ryan Dempster, but we haven't even afforded a glimpse toward pinch hitter and bench player extraordinary Daryle Ward. Ward, who is 33, has spent the past two seasons leaving an ass dent on the Cubs bench that nobody could possibly forget, or fail to notice. Last season, in '07, Ward would've been the toast of the town, except he then would have been tempted to eat himself. He batted .327 in 110 at bats with 3 homers, 19 RBI, and an impressive 13 doubles. This year was not his year, though.
In 102 at bats, Ward hit 4 homeruns and had 17 RBI, which compare with his previous season, but he hit only 7 doubles and batted a meager .216. Fans were asking themselves for months about why Lou Piniella failed to cut the guy, as he was clearly not delivering the kind of offensive clout you look for in a pinch hitter. But maybe Lou was just playing the odds. Ward only batted .160 after the break, but 5 of his 8 hits were for extra bases, including 3 homers.
Actually, what we are most likely to forget is that Ward basically spent the season as a walking, semi-running cripple. He went onto the DL on May 18th thanks to a bulging disc, and while he returned healthy his numbers dropped off tremendously soon thereafter.
It's conceivable, then, that Ward will return in 2009 as a healthier and more productive ballplayer. However, realistically, he's not coming back to Chicago. The Cubs don't have a need for him, especially since he wasn't exactly a defensive asset even before his aching back attempted to make a break for it. Besides, the Cubs have the smallest clubhouse in baseball, and that translates into a mediocre buffet table. Ward will look toward greener pastures.
But, hey, let's appreciate the guy. He's just one of dozens to don a Cubs jersey for a couple of years who, three or four years from now, we'll find ourselves saying "wait, when was he a Cub?" In the long run, Ward isn't memorable, but he sure was fun to watch, if only to see if his bulbous ass would swipe the first baseman whenever he rounded the bag in a sprint for second.
Who then, will next year's Pinch Hitter be? I'm thinking Hoffpauir, but don't be surprised if Hendry finds somebody else with a little more experience.
About a month ago, the Cubs were a bad team on the road, the Brewers were surging, and Kerry Wood was nursing a blister from hell.
On this day, after beating the Florida Marlins, the Cubs are one of only a handful of teams with a non-losing road record, the Brewers are eating dust in the rear-view, and Kerry Wood is walking a line once trod by Rod Beck - albeit without the cocaine or hookers. Chicago has now won their last 5 games in a row, including a streak of 9 straight on the road dating back to July 23. Even more impressive, they've also amassed a winning streak of 1 game against Florida in Florida dating back to, like, 2005 or something. That's quite the impressive streak, and it truly examples how the most important win is the one that just happened, the most important game is the one that comes tomorrow, and the past, just like the future, should have no weight in the present. Or at least it aught to. If the Cubs can enter the playoffs with that kind of mentality, then dominance and victory shouldn't be too far off.
Anyway, the game looked pretty well over after Carlos Zambrano coughed up 4 runs in the 3rd, putting the Cubs behind the Fish 5-1. Chicago retaliated with 2 in the 4th off of a DeRosa 2-run homer, and that appeared to be the end of any offense for either team.
Carlos was not at his best, although he managed to buckle down and throw 6 innings on - guh - 119 pitches, 62 for strikes. He walked 5, struck out 6, and probably had a few miniature strokes while flipping out between innings. A solid 2-inning relief appearance by the underrated Chad Gaudin kept the game close, but nobody could have predicted that it would come down to the bat of one man who, having gone 4 for 40 as a pinch hitter this year, stepped up to the plate in the top of the 9th with 2 on and 1 out. Darryl Ward proceeded to hit a homerun, proving yet again that any goat can be a hero for a day. Cub bloggers everywhere, who have long been calling for Ward's release, are probably pleasantly silenced for one night. However, this blog will stick to its guns and insist that Ward leaves baseball for his natural second calling - using his massive posterior as a life-saving emergency floatation device for white water rafters who have toppled into the drink.
After Ward elevated the Cubs to their first lead since the 2nd inning, Kerry Wood stepped in for his first close save situation since his return from the DL. He made things interesting. He walked Haney Ramirez, he hit Cantu after wild-pitching Ramirez to second, and then he struck out Amezaga to end the game.
The Cubs are now 28 games over .500 and 5 games ahead of the Brewers, who play the Dodgers starting about 10 minutes from now. In all of baseball, only the Angels have a bigger lead over the 2nd place team. I'll leave you with that.
Daryle Ward is now 5-for-41 pinch hitting this season, raising his batting average to .122.
Described as an annual "farm tour", Cubs GM Jim Hendry attended the I-Cubs win last night over New Orleans. If I were a talented player, perhaps a player who has already seen major league action this year, and currently holds a major league batting average over .370, I would be heartened to know that the Big Boss is here to see me rake.
Daryle Ward has a .100 batting average as a pinch hitter. He cannot run nor play the field. If he manages to get on base, we almost always have to employ yet another bench player to run for him. Last night he got a sac fly to drive in a run, and it seemed like a major victory for him. Like the scene in "Little Big League", when Billy Hayward's favorite player broke a 0-for-21 slump with a seeing-eye squibber to right...it's time to put the Fat Kangaroo out of his misery.
Jimmy, bring home more than just some funnel cakes and beef jerky from your trip. Bring us some Micah Hofpauir, and some bullpen help while you're at it. I'm stickin' the fork in Bob Howry. He's done.
We have seven weeks to go before the big dance starts, and comparing 2008 to other past Cubs years, this team has a relatively good chance of making it there. That's one way to avoid pissing off Karma by using the "p" word that rhymes with "gheyoffs". Most of us HERE at this point in time are forward-thinking enough fans to realize that October roster composition is the key issue for the Cubs.
By far, the bullpen is the biggest area of concern, but I do not come today to offer the optimal bullpen recipe. Only the fetching Sarah Wood knows how much her hubby hurts, and whether he can finish the year as our closer. Only the theoretically fetching Mrs. Howry can know whether her hubby is tired, or toast. Only the also theoretically fetching Mrs. Marmol (or, based on input from Kyle, assorted St. Louis casino floozies) know whether or not her hubby has enough sack hangin' in his BVDs to be able to throw that sick twisted slidepiece again and again in the biggest situations.
So I cannot in good conscience come out here today and instruct Messrs. Hendry and Pinella in Optimal Cubs Bullpen Construction.
I also cannot instruct the above-mentioned gentlemen on what to do with K. Fooky. The Dome has earned a firm, warm spot on the bench based on his recent offensive woes. But if you do that, you cripple your outfield defense, thus your overall defense. I am not going to go through the permutations here, but I defy you to suggest an alternative defensive arrangement that wouldn't be a gigantic step backward. Furthermore, while your typical Anglo or Latin redass might respond one way to a benching, I honestly don't know how the Dome would react. All I know is that Japanese think WAY different from us. That's not wrong or right, just different. That is why Uncle Lou is being paid the large bux.
In conclusion, I come today to gently suggest that the 25th man on the roster should not be Daryle Ward anymore. It should be Micah Hofpauir. Micah does everything Ward does, a little bit better. He is a bit better hitter, a bit better runner, and a bit better fielder. Granted he still sucks everywhere but 1B, he is no Lou Brock on the basepaths, and he really does not figure in our longterm plans.
But when going to the big dance, don't you want to bring the absolute best dancers you have? Micah > Daryle, so wish Mr. Ward well with his degerative disks and his hugh jass and send him on his way.
A small gesture, perhaps. But I know my limitations, and this is one area I know I am correct in, and I cannot believe this is still an issue. Uncle Lou wants "veteran presence"? What the hell is Lassie Edmonds, then? One guy hanging onto his career by his fingernails is enough...