Chances are you can't. This is a big reason why rewarding a 20-something starting pitcher with more than a hundred million dollars guaranteed is a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you don't scenario.
And thus, at least a few of us expected Carlos Zambrano to have this kind of year. The amazing thing is that, despite nagging soreness issues, and despite his workout regime being questionable, he hasn't had to undergo major surgery. Maybe he won't have to. Probably it's only a matter of time. Still, Carlos has become a polarizing figure amongst Cub fans, and this year has not helped his cause at all.
After all -- Carlos Zambrano went on the DL for swinging a bat too hard during batting practice. Apparently this is something that ace pitchers do not do, although he was hardly the only Cub pitcher to get hurt doing something stupid. Ryan Dempster -- he of the 17-win 2008 season -- broke his toe jumping a fence. Where was the outrage?
In fact, the microscope Zambrano has been under might be just a bit unfair. Is he an ace? Hell yes. Has he pitched like one lately? No. The Moose only managed 9 wins in 2009, the worst of his career, resulting in threats of early retirement if he ever plays this badly again.
But think about it. His ERA was 3.77 -- the lowest it's been since 2006. He walked too many guys like usual, but he struck out 22 more batters in nearly 20 fewer innings from last year. His numbers weren't actually all that bad, the only problem is that the wins weren't there.
When you're an ace, the wins have to be there. When you're an ace, the ERA has to be lower than 3.77. When you're making 16 million a year, you need to pitch 200 innings. When you're the guy the team calls on to break a losing streak, you need to reliably dominate the opponents without suffering from brief mental breakdowns.
Except for one thing ... Zambrano could have had an ERA 1 run lower, he could have avoided missing a single start, he could have been the model of mental health, and with the Cubs offense as it was he would have struggled to win even 12 games in 2009. An ace is a lot of things, but he's not a miracle man.
So, what is in store for Carlos Zambrano in 2010? More breakdowns of both the physical and mental variety? Or will he step up and deliver a year like the kind we thought he'd have two or three seasons ago?
I'll only say this: whenever Rob has decried that Zambrano is not an ace because he isn't Maddux in the clubhouse and because he's nutty on the field, I've brought up a single name: Roger Clemens. From 1993 to 1996, Clemens went 40-41, he failed to reach 200 innings in a season all but once, and he essentially wrote his exit story from Boston. After that, he buckled down, got into impeccable shape (through chemical means, admittedly), and pitched himself to several Cy Youngs. In the process, Clemens stopped traveling with his team, he stopped going to work on days he didn't pitch, he threw a baseball bat at Mike Piazza in the World Series, and he was seen across the board as a total, undeniable prick.
So what's an ace? Is it Greg Maddux, the impeccable professional? Or is it Roger Clemens, the asshole with a golden cannon for an arm? I submit to you that it can be both, and the only thing Carlos Zambrano needs to do is toss 200 innings in 2010 and maintain his mechanics in order for even Rob to re-qualify him as an ace pitcher. Because if he does those two things -- regardless of whether or not he gets suspended, travels in a padded cell, or breaks through walls with his head -- then he will be a sub-3.00 pitcher with damn near 20 wins.
But whether or not that's likely to happen is a completely different story.
Well, ok, not really. I have beaucoup other issues, sure. But I don't really have the same ones as Milton Bradley.
If it appears we've taken a bit of a siesta, it wasn't intentional. Both mine and Kurt's 'real jobs' have kicked in big time this week, so neither of us had the ability to get out here much. But that will soon change.
Drum roll, please....
Post Season Recaps are coming!!
The Goat Riders of the Apocalypse will jump out here en masse and provide the type of post mortem we are known for. Well, that is, if we ARE known. My dream - that I am going to run into a total stranger someday who reads GROTA - has not come true yet. Hell, if you are a Central Illinois resident, and just happen to be lunching at a Bloomington-Normal establishment, and you notice a guy who looks like a tall, swollen Jim Hendry, take a chance, go up to him, and mention you read GROTA...make my day!
Anyway, we will break down the most miserable 83 win season any of us could have ever envisioned. How DID we win 83? It's a miracle, I tell you. So are we - constant daily content all winter long! Stick with us, leather. We're going places.
Gettin' to it early today, in hopes of being able to devote the afternoon with glad Ronnie the Pizza Boy tidings...ALSO, READ THIS! In its entirety. Just DO it! I command you!
Much was said earlier this year, by me, as well as others, about the Highest Paid Cub in History, Alfonso Soriano. I don't begrudge him a cent of his money, no no no. I also don't hold it against Hendry and the Cubs for signing him as they did, not a bit. I will always maintain, even if he enrolls in the Andruw Jones School of Conditioning this off-season, and never contributes a thing ever again, that the Soriano Signing was a significant milepost in Cubs History. In the winter of 2006-7, only three years removed from what should have been the 2003 National League Pennant, the Cubs were in an all-too-familiar postion, that of league doormat.
Credibility had to be regained (or simply "gained", depending on your point of view) and it was going to cost money. For money was the resource the Cubs had, and time was the resource they lacked, with the 100-year-curse anniversary looming. Soriano was THE top free agent that winter; we got him, and along with Uncle Lou and, to a lesser extent, the rotation depth provided by Lilly and Marquis, brought our favorite ballclub to a contending level, amongst our rightful place as a "Have" rather than a "Have-Not".
The Cubs draw far too many people, and sell far too much merchandise, and draw far too high of ratings to ever be considered a Have-Not. Regardless of whether or not the Tribune considers declaring bankruptcy - the Chuck-o-sans and Byrons of the world can further comment on the business wisdom of Sam Zell's latest manuever, but suffice to say that this is the most comprehensive proof yet that the Cubs need to be sold as soon as humanly possible, because Zell don't give a turd about media, news, people, jobs, and he sure doesn't care about the Cubs. Making money and not having to spend money is where it's at with this clown, and even though the Cubs make more money that probably any other franchise in all of professional sport, even it isn't the kind of return Sam Zell is interested in. THIS is the type of greed that is ruining our country, a man worth billions willing to run a 150-year-old media empire into the ground for the return he would reap on its spare parts.
Why have I wasted three paragraphs on the oldest story in the world? Because the story of Alfonso Soriano is always going to be about money. Right now, at this moment, his legs are healthier than they've been since he's come to town. He missed most of June and July due to his wrist injury, but he was available when needed the rest of the way in. I will elaborate why this particular injury was critical to him, but a winter's rest and recouperation should be beneficial. Healthwise, there is reason to believe he will have a big year next year, both in terms of games played and offensive punch, which once again, is what is expected from an $16MM asset in 2009.
I didn't mention defense, did I? No, I didn't. He didn't come up as an outfielder, and much has been made of the moves made by various organizations to shift him from 2B to CF to LF, where he now toils. It is true that he initially balked when Frank Robinson suggested his first move to the outfield with the Nationals, but in hindsight, he really hasn't complained about it since. When he started with us, Pinella placed him in CF, and he started real slow. Not exactly earth-shattering, a new Cubs player starting out slow...happens nearly EVERY time, right? But when you're the $126 Million Dollar Man, this shouldn't happen, says the crowd! He is moved to LF, and his bat heats up, and the crowd deduces that he didn't like playing CF, and that he is a moody, petulant player.
My current theory is that, based on his 2008 performance in LF, that moodiness had nothing to do with his woes while playing center for us. The fact is, Soriano might be the worst fielder we have had since Dave Kingman, and when you consider Matt Murton, Keith Moreland, Candy Maldonado, and Tuffy Rhodes, that is saying a lot. I heard a lot last year about "center field being an easy position to play in Wrigley", to which I say Bunk. There ARE no easy positions in Wrigley, but left might be the easiest. Al has a strong arm, and he showed some quick reflexes a couple of times last year, cleaning up his own drops to throw guys out. But to suggest that he could play anywhere else on the field but left is utterly out of the question, and it isn't a psychological matter, but simply a lack of fielding ability.
Soriano isn't a very coordinated man. This is why he has been such a bust as a leadoff guy. A leadoff hitter needs to be in control of his abilities. He needs to be able to lay off pitches, and handle the bat, as well as run the bases when he gets on. Soriano can't do ANY of those things. He is fast when his legs are healthy, and he can throw the ball well. He has only one other talent, and fortunately it is a big one.
He has world-class wrists. Without them, he has no chance of swinging his choice of lumber, perhaps the biggest bat currently in use today. Without them, he has no chance of reaching the pitches he sometimes hits into the seats. Soriano IS the Wild Thing. At the plate, he is balls out all the time, and thanks to his unbelievable wrist speed, he overcomes his complete lack of control and technique with coiled superhuman strength.
Problem is, in 2008 he was hit by a pitch, breaking bones in his hands close to his wrists. His biggest weapon was taken away from him, which explains his reduced power rates (SLG down .030) after the injury. One small positive was improved plate discipline, as his OBP went up the same .030 after the injury, which left his OPS static throughout the year.
All in all, not a bad year, 29 taters and a .280 batting average, while missing over a month with a broken hand. Not bad for a human, but not quite enough for the $126 Million Dollar Man. His .344 OBP wasn't too bad, either, but once again, it ain't quite enough for your leadoff man.
I have lived in fear the last two years because of my perception of Soriano's sensitive nature. "Leave him be," I reasoned, "because he will get pissed off if we move him down in the order, and he won't produce as well. He can't function in the middle of an integrated batting order." Well, too bad. It's time to move his funky ass down to the fifth spot, where all that power will be better utilized to drive in more runs, runs that will be on the bases, because we will (by default?) employ a man with a higher OBP in his old spot. He will be "protected" by the sixth hitter, whether it be Lee (my choice) or Soto. I am excited about his chances in 2009, and cannot wait for them to hit the field again.
Now, Zell, sell the effin' team already.
He's the Stupidest Man in the World.
If a monument was built in honor of his stupidity, Mount Rushmore would shut down. He once received a wrong number but wouldn't admit it, to himself or the guy on the other line. The Stupidest Man in the World on rollerblading: "Huh?".
He doesn't always steal second on a walk. But when he does...he overslides.
Stay stupid, my friends.
Get it? Ronny Cedeno's dumb. Really, really dumb. Ronny Cedeno's so dumb, he got hit by a parked car. He's so dumb, when he fell out of a window, he went up. For a few months in early 2008, however, we were willing to forgive the stupid.
For the month of April, Ronny Cedeno hit .378 and, most remarkably, posted a .451 OBP. He also was Johnny on the Clutch, racking up 16 RBIs, including a grand slam. He was doing so well that, despite Theriot's equally hot start, people we clamoring for more time for Ronny (although a large part of that was due to his superior defense).
And then reality hit. In May, Cedeno's average dropped to .225, although he retained some of his newfound patience. In June, his patience vanished as well. It seems that Lou's patience also vanished, as Cedeno's at bats rapidly dropped and Ronny found himself on the pine. Ronny was back to just being dumb ol' loveable Ronny. All talent, minimal returns.
Cedeno's out of options, so either he'll once again grace the Cubs' bench, or he'll be moving on in a trade. Personally, I don't care either way. He's a decent bench player and doesn't cost anything, so there's really no downside to keeping him. But if he was part of a Peavy deal, well...I'd find a way to move on.
Ronny Cedeno. Cubs' bench player and...
The Stupidest Man in the World
When I came up with the SWP stat (Scrappy, White People for your new peeps), I had guys like Mark DeRosa in mind. He’s not particularly athletic. He doesn’t have a lot of hype or name recognition. He does the little things well but rarely makes highlight plays. He fits in at multiple positions and could often be considered a “grinder”. Not to mention he is a whitey.
But then 2008 happened and had to ruin all of that.
D-Ro hit .285 over 149 games (505 AB’s) with a .376 OBP and 21 dingers. He also had 30 doubles and a .857 OPS.
Marky Mark did fulfill a bit of his natural scrappiness though, as Uncle Lou had him step away from second base and play a little right field (as well as a few other positions) from time to time.
You could consider several different people for the Cubs MVP in 2008, and DeRosa should be one of them. He filled in the gaps when needed, he hit for power, he was clutch at times and the ladies swooned over him. Okay, that last part didn’t help the Cubs too much, but I’m sure it’s a nice ego stroke (among other things).
I remember very early in the Cubs season – during spring training I think – I saw two guys wearing Cubs jerseys around town. The first guy had an authentic Jason Marquis uniform. If that statement was a clue on Jeopardy!, the answer would be: What is the best way to throw away $100 while simultaneously losing the respect of your peers. The other guy, however, was wearing a DeRosa jersey. I thought to myself, “That’s like buying Adam Kennedy’s jersey.” Oh my how I was wrong.
In the wake of arguably his best season as a major leaguer, a lot of Cubs fans are speculating trade deals packing DeRosa with some other players. At 33, one would expect D-Ro’s numbers only to decline from here and it seems the smart move is to deal him while his value is at its highest. But answer me this my friends, where would the Cubs have been last year without him? He might not be a superstar next season (Hell, he might not even be good) but he won’t be a liability. He can fill in when needed and hit practically anywhere in the order.
Of course if it helped bring Jake Peavy or a nice left-handed RF to Chicago then I’d be the first to boot his ass out of town…I mean that in the nicest way possible of course.
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.
During the surprising 2007 season, the Cubs had a hobbit-like middle infielder who was known to most as Lil' Mike Fontenot. Lil' Mike was an early-season surprise that year, and along with his Cajun Comrade Ryan Theriot, he made some game-changing plays that reminded this blogger of the '89 duo of Dwight Smith and Jerome Walton.
Then, perhaps predictably, Lil' Mike fell off the face of the earth and into the Pit of Dude, You're Like 5'6", Stop Playing Like You Have Natural Athleticism, Already. (It's a very unpopular place to be, if only because the name is so long.) A man who batted .356 before the All Star Break turned into a kid who batted .215 after, and the end result was a guy with a .278 average who lost favor with his skipper.
Then, 2008 rolled around. Since this is supposed to be the 2008 recap, I should probably focus on that.
In 2008, he went from being known as Lil' Mike Fontenot to his new alias, Little Baby Ruth. It was almost an inverse of what had happened in '07 - from the All Star Break in July through September, Fontenot batted .360, but even before the break he'd hit 7 homeruns in 143 at bats and he became one of the most valuable players on the Cubs.
All told, the little guy hit 9 homeruns in 243 at bats, and he now has career numbers that read the following: 479 AB, 34 2B, 5 3B, 12 HR, 69 RBI, a .290 AVG, a .369 OBP, and 7 SB to 4 CS.
In other words, maybe - just maybe - Fontenot has earned an opportunity to play full time in 2009. While he might be most suited to play the role of roleplayer*, Little Baby Ruth is a lefty bat who has demonstrated that he can flat out hit.
(*"play the role of roleplayer"? I'm a freakin' wordsmith!)
In other posts on GROTA, the success of Fontenot has persuaded more than one Goat Reader that DeRosa will be the odd man out next season, as Fontenot doesn't really have the arm for anywhere but second base. I think that if the Cubs would consider a Fonty-Thery platoon at second (especially since Theriot hits lefties better than righties, and vice versa for Fontenot), while concentrating on upgrading at short, then the Cubs might be a stronger team. Regardless, one thing is for certain - he really may never have the stuff to be an every day player, but Fontenot has earned the opportunity to play, at least a little more than he already does.
Remember way, way back in 2008 when Aramis was the most hated man in America (as determined by a very specific demographic). Well...that demographic and this guy. And, of course, the San Diego Chicken:
Yeah, he has his enemies. But here at Goat Riders, we love our Aramis. We love the doubles and we love the clutch, the homers and the hustle.
Wait, what? Yeah, I said the hustle. I'm almost certain Aramis, once known as a dragger of pianos, has decided that hustling's in his best interest. Can I quantify that? No. But I can't quantify that Theriot's a Gold Glove shortstop either, and...um, nevermind.
Last year Aramis made a big leap in the one part of his game that had been fairly mediocre in the past. In 2008, Aramis bested his career high in walks by almost 50%, posting a .380 OBP. With this came a dip in power, so his OPS+ of 128 was slightly worse than in '07, but the progress is still pretty nice to see. Seeing Aramis put the two haves of his game together next year could be quite fun and we could be looking at a legitimate MVP candidate...assuming osteoporosis finally catches up to Pujols, of course. A bold prediction to make about a guy on the wrong side of 30, you say? Perhaps. But let me make this bold prediction:
16 hustle points
And he will save a kitten. From a dog.
And then feed it a chicken. A live chicken.
That's just what he does.
Aramis: cock fighting and ball smacking and your 2009 MVP. Book it.
We meet again, Ryan Theriot!
So, how valuable was Theriot this year? Let's look at Justin Inaz's TotalValue stats, which are pretty close to how I would roll my own player value system if I wasn't so lazy... er, busy. I mean busy. We're not accounting for Theriot's baserunning value here (I'm still ironing out the kinks on my baserunner evaluation system, having only gotten the 2008 data late last night), but let me give you a preview: Theriot probably would have done better running station to station.
As a hitter, Theriot was modestly below average on the whole - if you glance above, he carried a .307 batting average throughout the season, and yet only put up a .745 OPS. Yikes. Now, OPS is going to tend to underrate OBP and walks - two of Theriot's primary skills a hitter - but Wrigley is going to inflate those numbers some as well. I think I recall saying in the last offseason that Theriot was going to have to hit .300 to be anything other than a liability with the bat; lo and behold, he hit .300 and wasn't a liability with the bat. Theriot 1, Colin 0.
I will go ahead and momentarily address Theriot's baserunning anyway. To sum up briefly:
- He cost the team runs by running the basepaths recklessly.
- Probably not a whole lot of runs.
- It was still utterly frustrating to watch.
So take that for what it's worth.
The question then rolls around to defensive value. Simply by standing at shortstop and being able to move you provide some level of defensive value in the abstract - because we normally measure defense relative to the average player at that position, we need to account for the added difficulty of playing shortstop in our rankings.
Now, relative to his peers at shortstop, Theriot was a below average fielder, according to the Total Value rankings. This is corroborated by what scouting data we have, such as Tom Tango's Fan Scouting Report. Of course, his peers at shortstop are all superior fielders - given that, we should think he was roughly an average fielder overall compared to the league as a whole.
So what it boils down to is this: Ryan Theriot, for 2008, was roughly a league average player. There are of course questions going forward:
- Will he continue to play this well in the future? (Doubtful; 2008 has the makings of a career year for Theriot, and at 29 next year he's past his peak years - speedy players tend to decline faster anyway.)
- Should he be moved to second base? (I don't know that it makes much difference - he'd go from being a below-average defender at his position to being an above-average defender at his position, but I don't think his overall defensive value would change much at all. You'd probably see a modest uptick in his defensive value by hiding his weak throwing arm better, but a very marginal change all-in-all.)
- Am I eating a lot of crow here? (Not really; I think preseason I handicapped Theriot's odds of a season similar to this at something like 20%. Now if all of my predictions were that bad that'd be a source of concern for me, but a two-out-of-ten chance coming true doesn't mean much in the grand scheme of things; it's still a chance, in other words.)
Derrek Lee's 2005 season:
- Games: 158
- Ab: 594
- Runs: 120
- Hits: 199
- Doubles: 50
- Triples: 3
- Home Runs: 46
- RBI: 107
- SB 15
- BA: .335
- OBP: .418
- SLG: .662
- OPS+: 174
- TB: 393
Although we spend an awful lot of time here splooging about our local heroes, and certainly we have spit out a lot of content about 2005 Derrek Lee, I honestly do not think we have said enough about this particular performance. It is pointless to compare it to Sammy Sosa at his certain steroid-soaked peak. But let's throw the Infamous 1987 MVP-winning Andre Dawson out here:
- Games: 153
- AB: 621
- Runs: 90
- Hits: 178
- Doubles: 24
- Triples: 2
- Home Runs: 49
- RBI: 137
- SB: 11
- BA: .287
- OBP: .328
- SLG: .568
- OBP+ 130
- TB: 353
So, except for the RBIs, which is completely attributable to the number of men on base in front of Dawson, Lee's 2005 bests Dawson's 1987 in every way.
Now, let's dredge up the best year of Mr. Cub's illustrious career, 1958:
- Games: 154 (all of 'em)
- AB: 617
- Runs: 119
- Hits: 193
- Doubles: 23
- Triples: 11 (damn! Nice wheels, Ern)
- Home Runs: 47
- RBI: 129
- SB: 4 (never mind)
- BA: .313
- OBP: .366
- SLG: .614
- OBP+ 156
- TB: 379
Verrrry sexay, and his 1959 was almost exactly the same. Mr. Cub won the MVP both those years, of course. Neither one was any better than 2005, so I can say with complete certainity that our guy, Mr. Lee, had one of the three greatest "clean" seasons in "modern Cubs history" (after Hack Wilson/Babe Ruth era).
Of course, noted fatass Scott Eyre caused Lee to collide in the basepath with Rafael Furcal in 2006, his wrist broke, his power waned, and thus the context has been set for the 2008 recap of Lee's year, along with my constant and misguided criticism of his lack of aggressiveness throughout this campaign (too many links to even post), and whether any of the above should have any effect on the status quo as it pertains to his future role on the team.
In 2008, Lee had a quiet, solid year. He hit nearly .300, 20 homers, 90 ribeyes, a 110 OPS+. He gave us his usual stellar first base fielding. On one hand, I have always compared a slick-fielding first baseman to a Mercedes hood ornament on a Ford Escort, particularly on a bad team. It's a total luxury. On the other hand, there is no denying that he has saved us countless runs over his five years here, which has resulted in 3-4 games a year, and where would we have been the past couple of years without those games?
Truth be told, I don't have much problem with his abilities or his contribution. A 110 OPS+ is weak for a first baseman, traditionally a spot teams rely on for more production. I don't need to tell you, though, that this is not a traditionally constructed ballclub. We have a power-hitting catcher, a luxury few clubs have currently. One of our most important pieces is Mark DeRosa, a jack-of-all-trades. And of course, we have the best rotation in the majors. So it doesn't hurt us to have a slightly souped-up Mark Grace at first.
The problem is all in the approach. The past two years, Lou Pinella stuck Derrek in the 3-hole, as if he was the best hitter on the team. The past two years, Derrek himself approached his at-bats with great patience and caution, as if he was the 2005 Lee. The 2005 Lee could take pitches with runs on the basepaths, and take the occassional walk, because we all knew that next time, he was more than likely gonna crush the ball somewhere and drive guys in.
But now, Lee is more likely to GIDP (27) than go yard. So, if you have your typical game, where Lee is at bat twice with RISP, and he walks once and GIDP the other time, I maintain this is not the production you want from the 3 hole. I'm not asking him to be more aggressive at the plate - it goes against who he is, and I am also afraid it would result in even more GIDP, with the added bonus of fewer walks. Besides, as the Midwest Distributor of "Pleading For Patience", I WANT to see all Cubs hitters take pitches. Just, not so much out of our third hitter anymore.
This off-season, Lee has been mentioned in various trade rumors. Personally, when I hear a rumor that includes him, I immediately discount it. There is only one team in all of baseball that could use a slick-fielding, 110 OPS+ hitting first baseman, and that is the team with the best rotation depth, who can benefit the most from the defensive tautness that Lee provides, and that's the one we write about daily. He needs to stay.
However, there are absolutely no metrics anymore that you can come up with that indicate Derrek Lee still deserves to hit third. If Lou trots him back out there next year in the three-hole, then I intend to bitch about it every single day on here until he changes his ways.