The Cubs wrap up spring training in the very near future (officially Thursday, but functionally Saturday), and no where on the diamond has the team shown more promise than first base. Their star first baseman has led the team in virtually every offensive statistic. He's racked up 5 dingers in 78 at-bats, 15 runs, 22 RBI, and a .590 Slugging percentage. Oh, and the .295 average isn't bad, although I wouldn't mind seeing that .337 OBP go up a few dozen points.
But enough about the backup (Micah Hoffpauir). Let's discuss the starter. Derrek Lee has always been a slow starter. He suffered a minor injury (I believe it was WBC-itis) this spring and has only seen limited action. In 48 at-bats, Rodan has managed just one homer, 5 runs, 6 RBI, and a .396 SLG. To finish the comparables, Lee's batting .271 with a .327 OBP. In fact, the only major offensive statistic in which D-Lee compares favorably to Micah Hoffpauir is in K/AB. D-Lee struck out in 19% of his at-bats this spring, vs. 21% for Hoffpauir.
So what does this all mean? Well, there's the obvious. Derrek's had a poor spring. Not miserable, but certainly not good. Hoff on the other hand has battled his way onto the roster like a drunken rock star... or something like that. But Spring is Spring, and over a long season, very few people would take Micah Hoffpauir over Derrek Lee.
As someone who hasn't followed the club closely enough this spring to fall in love with the Hoff, I'm obligated to point out that he's probably at his all-time peak in terms of trade value. We're talking about Google at $715, Yahoo at $108, or even Volkswagon at $208.
Now Derrek, on the other hand, could be the most crucial man on the roster. If we see pre-wrist!Derrek out on the diamond, this team could threaten the 1906 Cubs (or not, but it sounds pretty good). If we see post-wrist!Derrek, well this team could win 97 games.
I think going into the system, most fans are anticipating a similar performance as 2008 from Lee, while hoping for a 2005 style surge. Still, as eternal optimists, we're probably understating the likelihood that 2005!Derrek was Google, Yahoo, and Volkswagon at their peak (a fleeting sensation to be remembered for quite a while as we all wonder why the current version can't compare.) If that's the case, it's good to know we've got Hoff wasting away on the Pine if it turns out to be the case.
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.
You've got to give Rob credit. At a time when nobody really wants to think much about Cubs baseball, Rob was able to write an article that inflamed the Cub Fan Nation. And since content is king and it's easier than thinking of something on my own, I've decided to add a few thoughts to the debate.
First and foremost: no, Virginia, Aramis Ramirez is not a team leader, whatever that means.
Second: It would be nice to see Ramirez display some passion about winning. Don't get me wrong - I think everybody loves The Endorphin Rush of Victory, but I also think there are some players out there who gnaw their fingernails ragged because they're so anxious about winning. Sorry, but while they obviously all felt pressured to win, it doesn't seem that the Cubs have one of those guys on their team. That doesn't mean that I hate A-Ram, or want to see him traded - or punished - it's just that he's not that guy. Rob's article, in summary, is about just that.
Third: The Cubs haven't had that guy in a while. I think it's no coincidence that, in terms of field commanders, the team has been lacking of one since perhaps the 2003 season.
Fourth: Having a "field commander" does not necessarily equate to victory. Just ask Mark Grace.
Fifth: The concept of leadership in sports is misunderstood by the average jabrone such as myself.
I have to agree with Maddog about a few things. He's right - good teams get beat. There is no sure-fire formula toward winning a short series. The Cubs didn't lose because Aramis, or Lee, or anybody else lacks this special fire that we so desperately want to see. But I don't think Rob was saying that they lost because of it ... he's just disappointed that Ramirez doesn't seem to take losing personally, like some of us do.
So, what is the value of a team leader, then? What exactly does he do? What should we expect from him? How does he help win a short series?
The short answer is that teams that play loose play better. I don't think anybody would contest that the Cubs were playing the game tight. A team leader's job is one part keeping the team loose, two parts secretly battling an ulcer because he wants to win so badly himself, and seven parts swinging the bat moy clutch in big games and close situations. In other words, being the field captain carries an awful lot of responsibility.
Who knows if having that guy on the team would've made any difference? Being a leader doesn't mean you have these mystical powers to always get the big hit or win the close game. But having that guy around is important. The Cubs need that guy. Unfortunately, they aren't easily available. That doesn't mean the Cubs can't win, but when they do, it will be because somebody stepped up and played the hero.
Somebody probably won't be Aramis. Or Derrek. But both Ramirez and Lee are important, both will have to play well, and the entire team will have to get used to playing under a microscope and winning in spite of the scrutiny.
Let's consider a couple of things quickly:
Line 1: 11 at bats, 6 hits, 3 doubles, 2 runs scored, .545 AVG, 1.402 OPS.
Line 2: 12 at bats, 4 hits, 0 extra bases, .333 AVG, .718 OPS.
These are Derrek Lee's career stats in the post season with the Cubs. In 23 career post season at bats as a Cub, Lee is batting .435 with 3 doubles, 3 runs scored, and, glaringly, 0 RBI.
There remain a loud minority of fans, on this website and others, who are advocating that the Cubs cut the cord with Lee. Jim Hendry apparently needs to convince him to waive his no-trade clause so the team can deal him in order to make room for what would essentially be a 29-year-old rookie first baseman next season, because apparently we should be impressed that a guy who's been in Triple A for parts of 5 seasons finally managed to figure out the pitching there.
Don't get me wrong - at this moment, The Hoff is my first choice to replace Daryle Ward as a bench player/outfielder, but if you think it's a good move to send Lee packing for him, then you are living in fantasyland. However, what is true, what is absolutely true, is that Lee is an under-performing #3 hitter on the decline. I think that the solution to this problem, however, is not hanging our hopes on a career minor leaguer, but instead moving Lee to a different spot in the lineup next season.
Besides, if you think Hoffpauir can outperform Lee, as apparently some of you do, then I'm sure you'll agree with me that a first baseman making the minimum who can do better than a .291 AVG, 41 doubles, 20 homers, 90 RBI, and a .361 OBP might have some great trade value - in fact, he would have much more trade value than Lee, right? Keeping in mind that line of logic, then it would be safe to assume that Hendry would deal him to a team desperate for his clearly superior talents, or that any team trading talent to the Cubs would insist that he be included in any trade. Which won't happen, by the way, because Hoffpauir is a midling talent at best.
Going back to the playoff numbers I presented earlier, it seems clear to me that there is another, more urgent problem. The team's #3 hitter, who actually appears to have hit the ball quite well these past two Octobers, failed to drive in a single RBI. I wonder if that's ever happened before in playoff history? But before we blame the guy who's batting .435 in October for the Cubs, let's consider a more likely culprit - the complete and total failure of the players batting ahead of him in the lineup.
Therefore, my friends, I suggest the following: Jim Hendry's priority this off season should be to find a better leadoff and #2 hitter - and this is actually something he might be able to do by looking within the organization. I can think of one glaringly obvious example of a #2 guy - Mark DeRosa. Why Lou Piniella has failed to use him in that capacity astonishes me. But if DeRosa had been batting in front of Lee this past NLDS, the Cubs may very well have scored a few more runs. It's just food for thought.
But all this talk about dumping Lee and turning to Hoffpauir is ludicrous. Players like Hoffpauir are abundantly common - and none of them could do the job Lee does. Instead, let's hope that the Cubs focus on the right problems - choosing the right batting order for the 1-3 players in the lineup.
UPDATE: Rob decides to piggyback Kurt's post right here:
I'm not sure if Kurt is including me in the "Dump Lee" camp, because I have come out several times this year in criticism of Lee, and because I do belong to the Hoff Power Fan Klub, although I am not the president, as is rumored.
I do believe that he provides a level of production, although probably not up to par with his current compensation.
I do believe that he has no more business batting third in the lineup.
I do believe that Hofpauir deserves, at the very least, to escape Des Moines, Iowa.
I do believe that Lee, having only one year left on his contract (Editor's Note: Lee is locked up for 2 more years, in fact) and being a Gold Glove first baseman who also hits .300, gets on base 35% of the time, and hits 20+ homers, could be packaged (NOT SHOULD) for either that elusive All-Star leadoff man or a front-of-the-rotation starter.
Unfortunately, the guy I want plays for a team that already possesses an All-Star first baseman, namely the Padres. Therefore, they have zero need for Lee. I'm not in favor of trading him for Matt Cain. I would package him in a deal for Lincecum, as would all of you, but the Giants would never do anything THAT stupid. Right?
I would NOT actively shop Derrek Lee. If somebody has something really shiny for me, and they ask about Lee, I would at least listen. But I would not DUMP him, and neither should you want to. Period. Sentence. Paragraph. Story.
So ever since the three games of agony lost to the Dodgers I been thinking about what the Cubs could do to improve upon this already spectacular season (I use spectacular lightly after those three games) My brains been a turnin' and from what I understand the Cubs need a big, let me rephraise that, BIG left handed bat, preferably in the form of a right fielder in order to move Fukudome to center. Well, why not Adam Dunn? STOP!!! Dont crucify me just yet. I know the man playes Defense like a Brazilian Street Ho but i think it would work. Not Dunn in right field but at 1B. STOP AGAIN!!! We already have a first baseman in the form of good ol' DP-Lee. And From what the Grape Vine has told me (we're pretty good friends, me and the grape vine) he's being shopped this year.
Now I know we've looked at a lot of west coast teams like the Angels and Giants but we haven't looked at one team that I find desperate for a first baseman: The Yankees. Now i hate the Yankees as much as the next bitter old Cubs Fan but I think it could work. But what could we get from the Yankees? Answer: nothing. But we could get something from the Twins. The Twins are reportadly shopping Delmon Young, who I believe is a pretty could athlete and fielder and could easily handle the trechorous Wrigley right field.
If this were to take place (and remember, this rumor only exists in my own twisted mind) i would see a three way trade. The core of this would be DP-Lee to the Yankees, Robinson Cano to the Twins, Delmon Young to the Cubs. Now obviously there would have to be more involved. Maybe a Pie to the Yankees, a low level prospect to the Twins and $300 and a warm bucket of spit to the Cubs. That leaves 1B open and the Cubs could make a move for Dunn (or in my twisted mind, Tex). Just the thought of Dunn playing 81 games in the Frendly Confines makes me a little light headed.
I really believe this could work for all teams. The Cubs need an adiquet fielding RF and a big lefty bat (Dunn or Tex. *drool drool drool*) the Yankees need a 1B and all the cash possible to throw at CC and other starting pitchers and the Twins have a logjam in the OF and need some serious infield help. Obviously there would need to be more pieces to the puzzle but i think it would work.
R SS The Riot
L CF Fukudome
R 3B Ramirez
L 1B Dunn
R LF Soriano
R RF Young
R C Soto
R 2B DeRosa
Note: Fukudome still draws walks like a beast, why not put him in the 2 hole in front of all that power.
I just finished conversing with a friend of mine who shall remain anonymous, because the last time I mentioned his name in this blog he threw a fit. For easy reference, we'll just call him Sheffieldave. Sheff was telling me that the Cubs top priority this off season should be trading Derrek Lee. It turns out that Lee is "the 4th best at his position in the division" (in his own words, "it is a problem having the 4th best player at a position in the division") and "the worst #3 hitter in baseball this year." Apparently, "if Lee is still in this lineup next year we are not going to be a legit contender."
I tried to explain to Sheffy the following points:
- Derrek Lee has a no-trade clause. Unless the Cubs organization sets his car on fire and assaults his family, why would he agree to be dealt from a first place team in a city he appears to like? Not to mention how his large contract and diminished returns would probably serve as an obstacle, as there are better first base options out there.
- Lee is an under-performing #3 hitter, but he is perhaps ideal to bat #6 in the Cubs lineup. He should be moved there and Aramis should be the Cubs #3 guy next season.
- Without even having to check, I am confident that the Rays, the Red Sox, the Phillies and even the Dodgers have some guy in their lineups who's the "4th best at his position in the division." Sorry, Sheffy, they can't all be All Stars or Future Hall of Famers.
- Oh, and did I mention that Derrek Lee has a no-trade clause?
Sheffy makes some reasonable points. Although he had a better NLDS than any other Cub possibly short of DeRosa, Derrek Lee is not an ideal #3 hitter anymore. He just doesn't have the pop for the job. However, the Cubs were such a complete team in 2008, they were so especially talented from #6-#8 in the order, that having an under-performing #3 hitter didn't really hurt them at all. The problem is that in a short series, your #3 hitter should be the best bat on your team, like Manny Ramirez on the Dodgers. That guy instilled fear in the hearts of Cub fans any time he was in the on-deck circle, and that was a huge advantage for L.A.
However, to say that the Cubs can't win with Lee on the team is just ludicrous. Think about the ridiculous mindset you have to possess to say something like that. The implication is that, no matter who else the Cubs have on the squad, this one guy is so terrible that he'll apparently cost the team a chance to compete. Apparently, we should be angrier at the '98-2002 Cubs for not winning World Championships, because they failed to do it with the best #3 hitter on the planet in Sammy Sosa. Except the problem was that Sosa didn't have a supporting cast. Lee does, and that's why the Cubs won so many games this past season. More to the point, the Cubs could have Neifi Perez batting third and they'd still have gotten into the playoffs this past year. The rest of the team was just that good.
None of this mattered to Sheffy, who was involved in a different conversation than me, in spite of what I said. I agreed with him immediately that Lee was an under-performer in the three-hole, and used the same Manny example I presented a little earlier in this article. However, he insisted on spending his time trying to convince me that I was wrong in my defense of Lee.
...uh...right. Then, to add injury to insult, Sheffy reminded me about how wrong I was when I told him before the start of the '07 season that Rich Hill would be better than Adam Wainwright - which was the case - and when I called him a closet Cardinals fan because he was convinced that the Deadbirds would dominate the Cubs and beat them in the standings. Actually, I have to admit it was ballsy of him. It takes guts to so blatantly rewrite history by saying "oh yeah? You think I'm wrong? Well what about that other time you thought I was wrong! You're eating your words now, huh?"
Cub fans. Sometimes we're just scary.
I learned something this week. I always wanted to be a "Yankee Fan"...by that I mean I wanted to have the ability to walk into any social setting and automatically assume it was about me. I also wanted to go to any street corner and get a bagel with a shmear, and I wanted to feel like I just had a total lobotomy without actually having to deal with the pain and gore. AND I wanted to spend the last week of the regular season looking down at all the peons, having to scramble for THEIR playoff lives, safe and secure in our own.
It was freakin' boring. I am SO ready for games that matter.
At the 2006 CubsCon, I had the 'honor' of asking Johnnie B. (Dusty) Baker whether or not he ever planned to 'set' his batting order, because I figured the lack of offensive continuity in 2005 was due to the juggling of the order. Dusty, of course, came back at me with several 'dudes' and an actual reference to 'the horses', as in "Can't win without your horses". Dude. I did this, because we're accustomed to blaming batting orders for our problems. Our guys didn't have a clue on how to approach an at-bat situationally; must be because they didn't know where they were in the batting order on any given day. In 2008, I don't remember a single occurrence where one of us questioned the approach of a hitter that wasn't Ronny Cedeno.
Soriano is not a leadoff hitter. DPLee has not functioned well as a third hitter in 2008. When the season started, it seemed that Fukudome was born to bat second, and lately I still feel that way. He could bat second, in Hiroshima, for the Carp. I doubt we've played three games in a row this year with the same 1 thru 8 lineup. There are some basic premises Lou has followed: Soriano 1, Lee 3, Ramirez 4, and everyone else has been slotted based on some secret criteria none of us mere mortals are privy to. He doesn't try to go L-R-L-R...he seems to ride the hot hand pretty much when determining his slots. It takes a reckless man to turn away from the modus operandi in the postseason, and Lou ain't reckless at 68 years of age.
Expect Soriano to lead off, Lee to bat third, Ramirez 4th, just like we've seen all year long. It sounds boring, and could very well kill us in the end. But I am willing to wager things of tangible worth on the notion that our 1-3-4 hitters will be static in the NLDS.
A lof of good things happened for the Cubs in Milwaukee over the last few days (OK, that might be a bit of an understatement), but while everyone is still having their Zambrano-rgasms, D-Lee decided to start hitting again. That’s a very good thing in case you were wondering.
During the little break forced upon the team by Hurricane Ike, Uncle Lou said Derrek would probably benefit most from the extra rest.
"The reason I said that is he's probably played more than anybody else we have," Piniella said in the Chicago Tribune today. "We need Derrek to hit to win, period. No undue pressure, but boy, when the middle part of our lineup hits, and Derrek hits right there in the No. 3 hole, that makes it so much easier. And the last couple of days he's produced."
I’d say one homer and four RBI in two games against the Assblows qualifies as producing.
Lee has been keeping opposing third basemen busy this year with all his little choppers to the hot corner, but holy Hey-Zeus we needed to see a little power out of him. The Cubs have been working D-Lee pretty hard (586 totally at-bats so far…45 more than the next highest) and the team has survived despite his noticeable drop-off in power, but having the old Lee back is just the icing on the cake (and maybe the key) for a Cubs World Series run.
It will be interesting to see how Lou uses (or doesn’t use) Lee over the next couple of games. My guess is, he’s trying to give Derrek a bunch of rest – especially if/when the team clinches a playoff spot.
Hopefully the power will keep coming and those DPs will stop. I really hate those…like a lot.
You know what I dislike the most about the crosstown series? It’s like there’s a full moon out there, and they’re handing out free crazy on every street corner. Everything’s overblown, everything’s overreacted to. It’s exhausting and pointless. I’m ready to be done with it.
Take this, for instance. I’ll be honest – Derrek Lee had a bad game today. It was not his finest effort. And it hurt the team. But now people are talking about moving Lee down in the lineup, benching him or even getting rid of him in the offseason.
This line of thinking is to wrong what crack is to cocaine. This is wrong chemically distilled into its most purest and lethal form. This is nonsense on stilts which are then placed upon other stilts. This is weapons-grade wrong, wrong so powerful and deadly that it is illegal to export it to other countries without a Federal permit.
Let’s take a look at the facts, shall we?
There are 26 major league first basemen qualified for the batting title. Derrek Lee is ninth among them in OPS. A short list of first basemen having a worse season than Derrek Lee (not a complete listing):
- Mark Teixeira
- Miguel Cabrera
- Joey Votto
- Paul Konerko
- Ryan Howard
Let’s add in designated hitters. Lee falls… all the way to 11 of 32! Oh my stars and garters, that’s a whole two spots! The world is ending!
Or let’s ignore position altogether. Out of 173 qualified hitters, Lee is 40th. Or let’s look at fielding – and Lee is one of the best at his position in baseball.
Did you know he (and Soriano) lead the team in home runs? True story!
Or maybe he’s in a slump, you’re thinking. Check the splits. Past two weeks: .341/.453/.477. Yeah, sure sound like he’s in a slump to me.
On the season, Lee is hitting .290/.354/.502. His career line is .282/.367/.502. This is absolute silly season. Unless you think that career .265/.323/.449 hitter Daryle Ward is suddenly the answer to all of our questions, this is pointless.
Or maybe you think that we should bench one of the top ten first basemen in baseball so that Micah Hoffpauir can get an audition. Please, try and make that argument. I’m begging you here – try and tell me with a straight face that Hoffpauir is better than Derrek Lee. I could use the laugh.
I went to the game last night. The Cubs won, I sat in a Wrigley Field luxury box, and I brought the goat camera as well as the junior goat camera (a Canon Powershot SD1000). Here are a few pics I snapped in between defending the Miller High Life from the guy who was trying to ruin Miller Time.
Ted Lilly mid-delivery
Ted Lilly was on the bump last night. Aside from a 3 run jack he allowed in the first, Theodore Roosevelt was on last night.
Derrek Lee preparing to crush a home run
Derrek Lee hit a solo home run in the third that tied the game. This wasn't actually the pitch on which he did it, but we can pretend. (How far did it fly? 389 Happy feet.)
Ryan Theriot slides into third, Alfonso Soriano scores
I love this picture because it shows everyone playing their role. I showed it to my Russian co-worker who reiterated her belief that baseball is too complicated. She couldn't believe all the runners have dedicated 'advisors'. She also loves ping pong and 'badminton'.
Mark DeRosa lays off a pitch
I was at the game as a guest of a Mr. DeRosa, so I figured I would include this one as well.
For some artistic pictures of Wrigley Field, see my post at The Cubdom.