Goatriders of the Apocalypse

Kosuke Fukudome

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Disappointing Year

Let's face it Cub's fans this season has been a disappointment thus far. There is a good chance the Cubs may need more than Aramis to get out of this funk. After last season, I thought the Cubs needed to add some pieces to prove they truly deserved the title of World Series contender.                                                   


Their most tradable player was Mark DeRosa. There was a huge belief that he peaked and it was very unlikely that he would not match last year's output. I agreed with that belief. A player who never hit more than 13 home runs in the season and before the age of 30 didn't hit double digit home runs in his career was probably would not to have season that matched '08. In hindsight, the reason why they traded DeRosa made some sense. The Cubbies also dumped Jason Marquis (somehow one of the leaders in wins.) Chicago was trying to gain the pieces to trade for Peavy. Given Zambrano's emotional and recent physical issues, it was understood that Hendry felt the Cubs needed a true ace. 


Another incredibly more important issue Hendry had to answer was the Cubs need for another bat.  His belief that the Cubs lineup was too right handed bought in Aaron Miles and the infamous Milton Bradley. Here is where things go really interested. In addition to these acquisitions, the Cubs let go of Jim Edmonds, Daryle Ward, and Hank White. Jim Edmonds was crucial for the Cubs last season. He had two clutch home runs against his former team; the hated St. Louis Cardinals. He also brought a number of exciting catches with him. However, he was at the end of the road, and there was no way the Cubs were going to resign him. Daryle Ward had a number clutch hits, but Micah Hoffpauir and Jake Fox more than replaced him. Henry Blanco on the other hand was the only man in history who could pull of a feathered mullet and tattoos. He was Big Z’s countryman. He gave guidance to Carlos. Unfortunately, he would have asked more money than the Cubs were willing to give him.



Essentially, Milton Bradley or “board game was brought into replace DeRosa’s bat in the lineup. Ideally, Fontenot would have replaced Edmonds production. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. Fontenot instead of living up to the nickname of “Little Babe Ruth” has turned into “Mini Mickey Morandini” (or Mini Morandini for short). Kosuke Fukudome was expected to be much better than last year. So far, his fall has come sooner than last season. Based on last season, Milton Bradley was a great acquisition. He put up great numbers in Texas. He lead the AL in on base percentage and OPS. He even lead the majors in OPS+ which takes ballpark into consideration. One problem with Bradley was that he played more than 120 games in season only twice in nine seasons. Everyone knew about Milton being a head case. This season has only given further proof of his jackassery. In Zambrano’s own words, Milton is the living embodiment of a “screw.” Worst of all, this season he really stinks. To put things in perspective, Scott Podsednik was taken off the trash heap and he has a higher batting average, more RBIs, and only two less home runs. This is while playing fewer games than “Board Game”. I realize this is beating a dead horse, but if he played better we would probably forgive his idiocy.



Now, it is unfair to blame all of the Cubs problems on Milton and Hendry, but they have to take a huge chunk of the blame. The assumption was that the combo Bradley and Fontenot would make up 40 home runs and 136 RBIs. Fukudome was asked to bat 40 points higher than last season and produce more runs. Neither of these has happened. In my opinion only Fukudome’s hitting was the only thing that could be expected. One can say that the loss of Aramis was huge. Yes, his injury was huge loss, but it did not cause Soto bat around .220, it didn’t cause Fontenot to resemble former Cub Mickey Morandini. Soriano is a hacker that rarely thinks about pitches, so how would Aramis’ presence made any difference in his performance?



At the beginning of the season, I felt the Cubs would win 88 games and win the division. Hendry really didn’t improve the team. In fact, the team has taken a step back talent wise.


Sure, Edmonds was old and on a downslide, but it would have made more sense to find someone who could play in right field who could replace his power numbers. Everyone and their dog knew there was no way the Cubs could do anything but continue to play Fukudome. They had no choice but to platoon him with Reed Johnson.



Last season, there were a number of wins by the Cubs where they had problems against the starter but were able to light up the other teams relievers. That is what we saw against the Indians. This season starters have gone further against the Cubs. This team needed another bat, not a replacement for DeRosa. If Bradley was supposed to be a left-handed replacement for DeRosa, then he was a clearly more expensive one. If they wanted another leftie in the lineup, they could have started Fontenot and still moved DeRosa to right field. That would have been a cheaper alternative for the same result. You don’t have to overburden your lineup with lefties if they are mediocre or bad. The Phillies’ lineup is an anomaly. There is no point trying to emulate the Philadelphia lineup. The Cubs were a good team. Still, I wanted to see the Cubs sign either Ibanez or Abreu(I was leaning towards Abreu). If Hendry had more patience, he would have be able to snag either for a decent cost, but here we are overpaying for crap the next few years.

In Which We Man Up and Admit When We're Wrong

The wonderful thing about blogging -- all your words are as immortal as your domain registration and hosting contract.  That means that in the years GROTA has been around, we've said plenty of really stupid things that time proved us to be totally wrong about.

For example - I was wrong about Mark DeRosa.

When the Cubs let DeRosa go for some young pitching that very well prove me right in the end about the DeRo deal, I said it was no big thang.  After all, the Cubs had a tremendous hitter in Mike Fontenot who could bat lefty and would probably put up numbers equal-to or better-than the '09 DeRosa.

I said DeRo would revert.  He'd had a career year in 2008 and, at his age, career years don't get duplicated. 

I said that Fontenot was a better defensive second baseman.  (Actually, this one still might be true, he hasn't gotten to play there a whole lot.)  And with the addition of the versatile backup Aaron Miles, DeRosa's ability to play multiple positions would not be missed.

Hell, it's June 22nd.  We're well on our way through the 2009 season.  And the evidence to the contrary about my bold opinions is staggering.

Mike Fontenot is not cutting it as a starter.  Actually, the amount of doubles and homers he's on pace to hit are fine and dandy.  The problem is his .230 AVG.  Strike that, the problem is his .121 AVG against lefties. At the very least, Fontenot needs somebody to spell him against south-paws.  Even Aaron Miles would be acceptable -- BAM! is batting .259 against lefty pitching, which is better than the next-to-nothing that Lil' Mike is delivering.

Then again, DeRosa is a near-.280 hitter so far this year, on pace to hit 31 homers, drive in 118 RBI, and post an OPS of .819.  And he is killing lefties. 

On a team starving for offense there is no denying that the Cubs would've been better off with DeRosa on the roster.  So, big-time screw-up for Hendry, and admission of being wrong from me.  But before you get on my case too much about it, be honest about how fast you gave up on Derrek Lee -- many were sticking forks in him back in October 2008.

Now, lately one of our writers has taken a significant amount of flack -- even from some of our other writers -- for being harsh on the players on this team.  He said Lee was toast about a month ago, he's called Soto fat and lacking ambition, he's declared to be embarrassed for ever having advocated Fukudome, and so-on.  Well, Rob, I'm callin' you out.

At one point this season, Lee was batting .194 with 3 homeruns and 15 RBI.  (That was on May 13th, by the way).  In just over a month since then, Lee has been batting .374 with 8 homeruns and 20 RBI.  The point being that, in baseball, nobody's done until after they've taken their last at bat.

As for Soto, this has been a strong point of disagreement between Rob and the rest of us.  He thinks Geo grew fat on his laurels.  I don't know for sure that he gained weight over the winter, but I do know that he started the year with a sore shoulder and a screwed-up swing.  At his low point, April 30th, Soto was batting .109 with 0 homers and only 2 RBI.  Since then, he's hitting .264 but more importantly with 5 homers and 17 RBI.  Geo's not out of the woods but he is definitely, undeniably hitting the ball better.

Fukudome, on the other hand ... eh, it's hard to say.  After starting the year with a .338 AVG in April, Kosuke batted .277 in May with only 1 homer and 5 RBI and is batting .180 in June, even after Saturday's 4-hit assault.  I'm prepared to give this one to Rob, but not until we see where Fukudome is by mid July.

Oh -- and Milton Bradley.  I don't recall that Rob has given Bradley too much flack for his crappy 2009 season, but I just wanted to note to everybody that Don't Wake was batting .097 on April 29th.  Since then, he batted .268 with 3 homers and 12 RBI in May and is batting .286 but with only 2 extra base hits in all of June.  Still -- he's improving. 

The point is that nobody really knows.  We can guess, we can trust our gut, we can follow projections and detailed statistics, but until the games are played we're just rolling dice and making bold declarations that we hope nobody will bother to remember.

What I will say is that the difference between a good team and a bad one appears to occur in inches.  The Cubs team we've followed through the start of June was indescribably awful.  They failed to get big hits, they couldn't win close games, they surrendered late leads, and on a whole they were just painful to watch. 

Probably they are still that team, at least a little.  But with the Questionable Quartet coming around, we suddenly have a team getting huge hits late in games, often coming from behind to win on their last at bat, with a bullpen that still appears to be shaking off the cobwebs but has been able to hold down small leads.  It's the same team, the same personnel, and suddenly they don't look like they're going to lose 90 -- instead they appear as if they just might win that many games.

All I can say then, to Rob and many others, is that this to me is proof that nothing can be assumed or taken for granted.  We live in a Cubbie Bubble where we see the worst and assume it doesn't happen to any other team -- or maybe we assume it means more because these are the Cubs, for gawd's sake.  But I wrote a while back about the Superlative Season in which if we aren't rewarded with a perfect year of baseball we think the team has no chance at all of winning imperfectly

On the contrary, I still think the Cubs are playoff bound.  I still think it will happen in spite of the managing.  I still think this team is immensely talented.  And I absolutely believe that in October, this team -- already so beset by adversity -- will be prepared to shrug off at least some of the pressure they will feel to win it all.  At this point their talent will almost certainly be bigger than their wins total, and in October talent wins out.

Of that I am certainly not wrong.

Series Recap: Cubs 10, Cardinals 3, dooooooom

Cubs win?
Memo from a Cardinals fan:
I know it's only 17 games into the 2009 season, but I'm nervous.  My team was doing really good there for a few games, but did you see the way the Cubs hammered them today?  It's like it wasn't even a competition!  I mean, where was the Cards offense?  What will we do it St. Louis can't stop the bleeding?  10 runs to 3?  Horrible!  I'm quite convinced this season is going to be a total bust...

Back in reality.  Sounds ridiculous, doesn't it?  But if the script had been flipped and the Cubs took the first 2 game of this series only to get smacked around by the Cardinals today, then that is exactly what dopey Cub fans would be saying right now. 

Nevertheless, the Cubs whomped the Cardinals.  It felt good.  Every starter - but Geo Soto, shocker and Reed Johnson - got a hit.  In fact, the 1-4 guys went 8 for 16 with 7 of the team's 8 RBI (2 runs came unearned).

Offensive winners particularly include Micah Hoffpauir - 2 for 3, with 1 homerun (clearly he needs to have Derrek Lee's job) - and Kosuke Fukudome, who hit his 4th homerun of the year.  Remember folks, he only hit 10 all of last season.

Rich Harden picked up his second win of the year, struck out 9 in 6 innings, dropped his ERA to 3.86, and sweated his balls off when the Cubs bullpen came in and gave up 4 hits and 2 walks in the final 3 innings of the game. 

Series Recap
This could be known as the Three Game April Series in which some very vocal Cub fans lost their confidence in the team.  I will not contest how ugly it was, because it sure was horrible.  I won't argue that some very bad things happened - from freak injuries to ugly losses to feelings of immense frustration - because those were all bad and they happened in a matter of one weekend.

But I will say this: if your team quit on the game as quickly as you quit on your team, you would hate them with a passion.  Just a reminder.

Tomorrow the Cubs head into Arizona, and we will be announcing some fun projects at GROTA.

Current Record: 9-8
Position in the NL Central: 4th place, 3 games out of first
Best Possible Record: 154-8
Worst Possible Record: 9-153
Record needed to win 110: 101-44
On Pace For: 86-76

Quick Links
Series Preview: Cubs at St. Louis
Game Recap: Cardinals 4, Cubs 3, rising tide of panic
Game Recap: Cardinals 8, Cubs 2, our season is clearly over
GameCast: Cubs at Cardinals April 26th

Game Recap: Cardinals 7, Cubs 4, ugly loss

Ugly loss
They won't all be this crappy.  Promise.

The Cardinals tagged Sean Marshall for 4 earned runs in his first start of the season, but he wasn't responsible for the loss as Kosuke Fukudome tied the game for the Cubs in the bottom of the 5th with a 3-run homer.  Unfortunately the Cubs offense petered out and the Cubs bullpen got plowed over, and St. Louis dealt Chicago their 2nd straight loss in the series opener at Wrigley.

When you consider that the Cubs have at times left the bases loaded three times in a game without capitalizing, the fact that they scored 4 runs on 6 hits and 4 walks is pretty impressive.  Fukudome is now more than 33% on his way toward Our Rob's projected final homerun figure and maybe Lou had the right idea by batting Fuku in the three-hole when Aramis was resting.

Other Cubs to record offensive contributions ... well, the list is limited.  Geovany Soto went 0 for 4, with his average dropping to .071 on the season, yet shockingly nobody is calling for him to be replaced by Micah Hoffpauir - or Three Finger Hill for that matter.

Aramis recorded 2 hits and a walk, but the lineup behind him went 1 for 14 on the day leaving him with his proverbial thumb up his rhetorical ass.  Oh, and like a good leadoff guy, Soriano walked twice and scored 2 of the Cubs' runs.  Not bad.

Also, Milton Bradley displayed some of that fierce passion that gets him into so much trouble.  He was ejected in the 6th for arguing balls and strikes.  As Our Rob notes, Bradley was right for being pissed and the Cubs were boned by that call.  Hell, Rob must mean business about Bradley being screwed over because he actually modified the url to reflect that fact.  Any post in which Rob actually uses the html feature means he's serious.

Pitching-wise, while Marshall won't be penning a book for pitchers any time soon about how to dominate major league hitting, he did go 5 innings, left the game with the lead, and was just meh-diocre enough to warrant continued use in the rotation.  Besides, like any hitter in the lineup, he deserves a couple of months before Lou's head explodes and he gets delegated to the bullpen or worse.

The problem - as Rob might point out - is that the bullpen turned into a revolving door of offensive enablers.  Just when you thought the Cardinals had quit scoring runs for good, a Cubs reliever would come along flashing run-scoring opportunities and the Deadbird hitter would fall off the wagon and go ball-knocking.  ("Ball-knocking" is the current slang for "ribbie-scoring," which is the old-time slang for "run scoring," which is the act of injecting offense into your baseball-playing veins.) 

Between Heilman, Patton, Cotts, Guzman, and Vicaino, over the span of 4 innings the Cubs allowed 5 hits, 2 walks, and 4 runs to score.  That would be enough for them to collectively earn a loss.

Tomorrow should be a decent chance for REVENGE!  The Cardinals are turning to the young PJ Walters, an incredibly talented Cardinals prospect who has yet to meet his potential.  I figure that even if he is Kerry Wood reborn, it's hard to forget that, 5 games before he masterfully struck out 20 Astros, Wood was bouncing curveballs across home plate (and into the hind legs of the batters!) against the Expos. 

Quick Links
Series Preview: Cardinals at Cubs
GameCast: April 16th

2009 Player Preview - Kosuke Fukudome

Kosuke FukudomeQuick Links
Apparently his teammates call him "Fukie"
2008 Season Recap: Kosuke Fukudome
Thoughts from the ass-end of an actual anxiety attack (from August 11, 2008)
Fukudome will be fine, probably (From July 3rd, 2008)

It IS with a heavy heart that I write this today.

Nobody, absolutely nobody, was a bigger proponent of the Fukudome signing last year than I was.  What was NOT to love about a man who was an MVP of the Japanese major league, who won the first WBC with a clutch homer, who had a plus-arm in right field, an absolute MUST for Wrigley, and most of all, plate discipline so plentiful and contagious that it dripped off of him, splashed onto others, and forced his teammates to also be more discerning when at bat.

He of course roared onto the scene with his clutch homer off of Eric Gagne on Opening day, and it was true that the Cubs did lead the majors most of the year in OBP, a heretofore never seen artifact that the papers dubbed the "Fukudome Effect".  It turns out, however, that taking Eric Gagne deep isn't such a big deal anymore.  It also turns out that, according to our esteemed skipper, Sweet Lou Piniella, that Fukudome needed to "strengthen his core", which is the best way possible to tell a man that he is fat.

And it turns out, most of all, that very little has happened since his appearence on the cover of Sports Illustrated to suggest that he should even be taking ABs away from Reed Johnson, a man of modest talents but prodigious SWP.  The Cubs will pay 'Dome over 30 million dollars American the next three years to be, at best, a fourth outfielder.

I was careful to mention last year when FukU came here to not anoint him the Savior of the Franchise, that nearly all Japanese stars who come here take time to adjust - at least all not named Ichiro.  Daisuke Matsuzaka went 15-12 his first year, which is damn nice.  But after his first six starts he was only 3-2 with a 5.45 ERA.  Kenji Johjima, the Mariners catcher, started out hot like Fukudome his first April, but sunk like a rock and was hitting around .260 by mid-June.  Sound familiar?  From there, he finished strong and ended up over .290.  Akinori Iwamura, the Rays infielder, was actually damn good the first half of his first year.  He seemed to hit a wall in July, and that wall was still standing last year, as he entered May hitting .210.  From there, he rebounded and ended up with a .275 average.  Kaz Matsui started off slow with the Yankees, as well.

Point is, all these guys had to adjust.  Maybe Fukudome's adjustment period is still ongoing.  We better hope so.  We better hope that he is going to pull out of this tailspin.  The team has let him fire his interpreter; gave him a new workout regimen; let him play with Japan.  Heck, you'd think if anything would snap him out of a funk, it would be playing with the now two-time WBC champions.  But by the end of the WBC, the Fooker was stashed away on the bench.  So far in Arizona, he's managed to go 2-for-12, and flub a flyball that cost us 2 runs.

He's no youngster, but neither has any of the Japanese stars who have come here.  He might still be in adjustment mode.  But right now, it is a shame that Johnson has to consider sharing time in center with him.  Now, you know and I know that Fooky is gonna play a lot of right field still this year.  But if he's going to hit .235, with little pop, and swing around like a damn unhinged gate at every pitch thrown at his ankles, so what?  I never thought I would have the opportunity to sit here and wonder out loud if Jake friggin' Fox wouldn't be a better idea for that particular roster spot, because he's a licensed butcher in the field, who throws like a girl.  But at least Fox wouldn't pirouette at waste pitches.

This was probably not the best idea to volunteer to write this particular preview, as opposed to, say, writing about the equally unproductive and dangerously combustible Chad Gaudin.  Because I never thought Gaudin was the missing link to anything.  Because I never had any expectations for that freak.  Because I haven't been waiting for Chad to right his own ship, and regain his former form.  Because I had no HOPE for Gaudin, like I had for Fukudome.  And now I'm really disappointed.  Just like I've been thousands of times before, by Cubs and Cubness in general.

Apparently his teammates call him "Fukie"

FuKu.  Dome. F-dome.  F-bomb.  The Fooker.

These are some of the nicknames we have dredged up for our ethnically-uncomfortably named outfielder.  But no less of an authority than The Riot proclaims that the preferred nomenclature for our guy is "Fukie".  Nice hockey nickname, take the guy's name, shorten it, and add a "ey" to the end. 

Anyway, the good news is that Fukudome took the time to visit the clubhouse yesterday, on a break from Team Japan duties.  He and Uncle Lou hugged, and Lou proclaimed him as "great looking".  Which is a bit of a stretch, if you ask me, with the gap between his front teeth and all.  But I guess his new core exercises have really begun to show, and he has regained his batting eye.  This is all good news on the Fukie Front.

The even better news was the magnificent pitching yesterday by two Canucks and a Mets reject.  Dempster, Heilman, and Rich Harden (yes, THE Rich Harden) combined for 1 run in 8 innings of work.  All thanks to God, Allah and Yahweh that we aren't going to have to hear about Rich Harden Not Pitching So Far This Spring anymore!!  He woke up, ate his breakfast, went out to the mound, got guys out, sat down, and did not collapse in a heap!  This is even better news.

But perhaps the best news - it appears that Uncle Lou has changed his mind about bringing in some dicktastic castoff to back up third base - somebody that would suck up a roster spot that should otherwise belong to the big strapping Hoffpauir or the lightning fast Gathright. It appears we can keep both, therefore giving this roster two dimensions, speed and power, while lessening its amount of a third, namely, suckage.

On the other hand, Carlos Marmol couldn't lock it down for the DR against the Netherlands.  He was victimized by some poor fielding and otherwise bad play.  I totally understand that Marmol lives and dies with that slider, and presumably it was not sliding much last night.  But one should worry a bit about the Brewers and the Phils and the Dodgers if this guy can't close on frickin' Holland. 

This just might negate everything above.

Fukudome to Team Japan

Based on the reports I've seen, our little Fukker will be one of 5 major leaguers to play on Team Japan for the WBC this year.  I know that some people have been opposed to that on account of how badly he tanked at the end of last season, but look at it this way:


Over the winter, Fukudome has surely been trying to work out the kinks of his swing (you know, the one where he corkscrews himself and almost falls over).  The sooner he sees competitive pitching, the sooner he'll know for sure if he's fixed his stroke.  Not to mention he'll likely be prepared to play sooner, and preparation can never be a bad thing.


As far as the WBC goes, I'm opposed to the best ML pitchers participating because it seemed to mess them up the last time around and baseball arms tend to be conditioned for about 200 innings of work and the more they throw before April, the worse they may do in September.


I do like the competition, though.  It's just a nifty idea which is poorly executed.  I really think the best time to play it would be in November, when everybody would still be in good competitive condition and would not be at risk of ruining their season based on play in the WBC.  But that idea just makes too much sense and Bud likes the idea of the WBC being a bookend to the World Series.

2008 Season Recap - Kosuke Fukudome

fukudome

THIS is what happens when you spend a whole winter beating a drum for a guy - when he tails off miserably, then you are compelled to write his seasonal recap.

Yes, it was I who started the "Fu-ku-do-me" chant, about this time last winter.  And I did then write his 2008 Seasonal Forecast, in which I predicted he would find the Majors challenging, but then he would rebound and end up pretty much where he ended up.  However, I am not going to swell up and buy myself a swami turban, because that's just not what happened.

No, from day one, he bent the NL over and worked it like Peter North.  While Ramirez and Soriano started slowly, the Dome brought something to the Cubs that they have never had...a double shot of plate patience and discipline.  He would not swing at bad pitches.  When they went outside, he slapped to left.  When they came in, he roped it off the right field wall.  Whether it was coincidental, and I choose to think it was not, he and his teammates led the world in OBP at the All-Star-Break, the first time that has ever happened in my recollection.

Then, I don't know.  Maybe things came too easy for him at first.  He seemed to lose confidence and concentration.  Started swinging at everything, twirling around like a damn tee-ball reject.  His percentages plummeted, and as much as he carried us in the first half, he killed us offensively in the latter half.

Problem is, as I have always contended, right field at Wrigley demands a plus-fielder with a plus-arm, and even during the o-for-fives, Fooky played the position flawlessly, keeping us in games.  It was almost impossible for Uncle Lou to sit the man, up until the very end, when the team went on a slump, and we threw the "anti-Fukudome", wild-swinging-and-fielding Micah Hofpauir in right for some punch.

Maybe the pressure of the fame and the expectations that he would be the savior and the slayer of the 100-year curse was too much.  Only he knows, but although he should never have been a savior, he was however a missing link.  He was signed to be the bat handling, smooth fielding piece to the incomplete 2007 puzzle.  Sound baseball minds realized that the league would adjust to Kosuke.  But, for the money he was given, the expectation was that he would, in turn, adjust to the league, as his fellow Japanese Ichiro and Matsui had.  By the playoff series of 2008, that re-adjustment had not occurred, and everyone has turned on him.

Rumors after the season had him walking away from his 3 years and $30MM, to stay home and return to the Central League.  Uncle Lou basically insinuated that F-me was fat and out of shape, and a more "American" off-season regimen is being prescribed for him this winter.  He has lost his starting position in RF for now, and all indications point to a platoon in CF with Reed Johnson, provided he regains some sort of hitting stroke, because towards the end, he was whiffing off of righties as well as lefties.

Based on his track record prior to joining us, I have to believe he has the ability to adjust to the league, and regain his position in right.  But, as much as it pains me to say it, we are talking about the Cubs here.  It would just be typical for us to sign an all-star only to watch him swirl around the toilet.  Let's hope not.  There is absolutely no indicators to suggest any outcome at this point.  Sure, he ended up pretty much as I said he would, in the composite.  But based on his fast start, this cannot be regarded as anything else but a disappointment.

The wheel man

As tempted as I am to write a long, pithy post about the numerous talents of Jake Peavy and why he is worth the first born of every Cubs fan, I thought I would instead address another area of need by the Chicago Cubs - the leadoff hitter, aka The Wheel Man. (Note: the leadoff hitter is not in fact called The Wheel Man. I just made that up. If you see it used elsewhere, they stole it from here.)

We all know that the Cubs do not have a wheel man. They don't have a guy who will lead off a game by working 10 pitches before finally drawing the 4th ball, trotting to first, and then stealing second before the Cubs #2 hitter can smack a soft shot into the outfield porch and drive him home. What they have instead is an uber-rich star slugger, a left fielder with great bat speed who also has the ability to steal bases and prefers to bat leadoff despite being better suited to bat 5th. Phew. Long sentences so far in this one.

The cry to let Fonzie be Fonzie is not only plagiarism, it's also wrong. I don't believe he's as flaky as some think he might be, so treating him with kid gloves is unnecessary. After all, we have now seen Soriano bat leadoff for the Cubs through two post season appearances, and in both cases he appeared lost and inadequate. Coincidentally or not, so did the rest of the Cubs lineup and we the fans had to put up with watching our team get blown out by a collective score of 36 to 12. That's 12 runs in 6 games. Do the math. Wait, on second thought don't, because if you're anything like me it will end in a pit of depression, a drinking binge, and waking up in a seedy Detroit hotel with what appears to be a nude transvestite. The transvestite I could deal with, but Detroit? Oh no, my friends, you do not want to do the math.

Rob has already expressed his views that the Cubs need a Real Leadoff Hitter. He believes that it should be a top off-season priority and has suggested that, for a second winter in a row, Jim Hendry pursue Brian Roberts, who is presently wasting away in Baltimore for a perpetually crappy team (thereby proving that a leadoff hitter alone is not enough). However, I thought I'd put the anal back in baseball analysis and take a closer look at the players we already have. After all, surely the Cubs must have somebody who'd be a good leadoff hitter, right? Let's take a look.

Alfonso Soriano - 443 AB, 29 HR, 75 RBI, 19 SB, 3 CS, .287 AVG, 100 SO, 42 BB, .350 OBP, .894 OPS
In his second season as a Cub, Soriano put up those numbers while batting in the #1 spot of the lineup. Pretend he doesn't have a power game, and 19 steals in 22 tries plus a .287 AVG plus a .350 OBP puts him right in line to be a good leadoff guy. But the fact is this - Soriano is a free swinger. His actual numbers leading off an inning - as opposed to batting #1 in the batting order - are not great.
Leading off an inning: 168 AB, .286 AVG, .318 OBP, 36 SO
Leading off an inning '06-'08: 648 AB, 39 HR, .299 AVG, .335 OBP, 135 SO.

Some people are afraid that the Fonz would be too much of a headcase to succeed elsewhere in the lineup. I disagree. He may be one of those sensitive types who needs to know his jorb in order to feel comfortable, but he'd adjust. Quite frankly, he has expressed a willingness to bat elsewhere in the past, but after a shiz-itty start to the '07 season, the Cubs returned him to his comfort zone. He then had an equally crappy start to the '08 season, which leads me to believe the more likely scenario that he's just a slow starter in cold weather. So, relax already and move on. The Fonz is not the solution, nor should he be a problem if he gets relocated to 5th.

Kosuke Fukudome - 58 AB, 3 2B, 2 HR, 7 RBI, 3 SB, 1 CS, 8 BB, .276 AVG, .373 OBP, .804 OPS
Ah, Fukkie. I'd like to take this opportunity to point out that, back in March, our own Rob predicted that Fukudome would put up exactly the numbers he actually put up. Rob, heed your own advice: When asked who would be the biggest turd of the '08 season, you said "People are gonna say FukU because he is NOT going to hit for a high average in 2008... probably around .250. His OBP will still be over .350, though." (You also predicted he would hit 13 homers, by the way.)

The 'dome did not spend a lot of time batting leadoff, and in the second half he also didn't spend a lot of time hitting the ball. But he is above all else a professional hitter, and I am convinced that he'll have a decent 2009. Considering that he has respectable speed - he could probably do better than 12 steals in 16 tries, and I suspect he will next year - and especially considering that he has epic patience at the plate, then Fukudome might be a sensible in-house leadoff guy. However, I am intentionally ignoring his "lead off inning" numbers, because although he has a better OBP in those situations (.336 to Soriano's .318) he otherwise sucks.
Leading off an inning: 104 AB, 4 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 14 BB, 24 SO, .240 AVG, .336 OBP, .663 OPS

Reed Johnson - 77 AB, 4 2B, 2 HR, 8 RBI, 0 SB, 2 CS, .234 AVG, .302 OBP, .666 OPS
If I was trying to talk myself into Reed Johnson as a leadoff choice, I promptly talked myself out of it when I looked at that line. However, taking it a step further, in the past 3 seasons as a leadoff hitter Johnson has had 724 AB, and he has a .290 AVG, a .360 OBP, and a .784 OPS. In other words, he's not an unreasonable option.

By the way, his "lead off inning" numbers also sucked last year, but doing the 3 year split thing, Johnson has had 377 at bats leading off an inning, and he's batting .281 with a .342 OBP in that situation. Here's the full splits:
Leading off an inning: 93 AB, 6 2B, 0 HR, 2 BB, 18 SO, .226 AVG, .265 OBP, .555 OPS
Leading off an inning '06-'08: 377 AB, 25 2B, 2 3B, 5 HR, 19 BB, 71 SO, .281 AVG, .342 OBP, .740 OPS

Ryan Theriot - 68 AB, 3 2B, 0 HR, 5 RBI, 6 BB, 1 SB, 1 CS, .368 AVG, .419 OBP, .831 OPS
I've argued for the past season that Theriot is either a #1 hitter or a #8 hitter. He doesn't have the slugging ability to bat anywhere else in the lineup, and Colin very well might disagree with me even on that premise. Theriot's numbers obviously benefit from limited at bats, but in terms of hitting, getting on base, and stealing, Theriot had a respectable '08. The one concern I'd have with him offensively as a leadoff guy is that he was caught stealing way, way, way too often this past season. His EOBP* was .364 last season, roughly 20 points lower than his OBP of .387.

(*EOBP = Essential On Base Percentage. Basically H+BB-CS divided by AB+BB = EOBP, or the number of times a player was actually a factor on the base paths for his team. It's a stat I invented a few years back that, I swear to Gawd, will someday catch on)

If Theriot can cut down on the basepath blunders, he might be a good choice to bat leadoff. Although, in reality, I believe that like Rich Hill before him, Theriot should be Trade Bait this off season.
Leading off an inning: 129 AB, 5 2B, 1 3B, 18 BB, 20 SO, .287 AVG, .374 OBP, .715 OPS
Leading off an inning '06-'08: 301 AB, 21 2B, 3 3B, 5 HR, 31 BB, 31 SO, .276 AVG, .343 OBP, .758 OPS

Mark DeRosa - Did Not Bat Leadoff in 2008, nope, not once
Ah, DeRosa, the dark horse. On a team where steals don't matter, DeRosa is a possible leadoff man, although he remains in my mind the best #2 hitter on the Cubs. Just consider even only his career line - .279 AVG, .348 OBP, and he actually was 6 for 6 in steals in '08. If DeRosa returns to the mean and puts up a .350ish OBP next season, he'd still be a fine choice to bat near the top of the lineup. (Sidebar - what's actually most impressive is that DeRo batted 6th last year 243 times and he batted 7th another 150 times, and he still managed to score more than 100 runs for the Cubs. Christ, that was a Complete Offense.)

Also, any way you cut it, DeRosa is one of the best when it comes to actually batting first in any inning. I can't believe this guy isn't batting second in the lineup at the very least.
Lead off an inning:
115 AB, 9 2B, 5 HR, 11 BB, 14 SO, .330 AVG, .394 OBP, .933 OPS
Lead off an inning '06-'08: 331 AB, 28 2B, 2 3B, 6 HR, 34 BB, 54 SO, .299 AVG, .370 OBP, .820 OPS

And now, just for crits and grins, let's take a look at Rob's Coveted:

Brian Roberts - 609 AB, 51 2B, 8 3B, 9 HR, 57 RBI, 82 BB, 104 SO, 40 SB, 10 CS, .297 AVG, .379 OBP, .831 OPS
Roberts is clearly a pro when it comes to this gig. In all ways, he's better than any Cub out there - but how much better? If I guessed, I'd say that were Colin to crunch the numbers, Roberts might account for a win difference of perhaps 2 or 3 games if the Cubs shuffled their lineup to bat Roberts leadoff.

But the place where Roberts might make a difference is when those 2 or 3 games would count the most - the DS, the CS, and the WS. There are so many little factors that go into playoff success, and I truly believe that the best team rarely wins. It often has a lot to do with luck, and who's hot. Roberts could easily enter the NLDS and tank. Soriano could enter the NLDS and light the park on fire with his bat. We really never know, but any advantage gets put under a microscope in October, and Roberts would be a good one to have. Although I would argue that, realistically, the Cubs do have a few options to bat leadoff who could get the job done, and perhaps their best option would be to find a more potent #3 hitter/RFer. Just a thought, assuming they can't do both.
Lead off an inning: 256 AB, 22 2B, 3 3B, 5 HR, 26 BB, 40 SO, .301 AVG, .365 OBP, .834 OPS
Lead off an inning '06-'08: 728 AB, 58 2B, 4 3B, 13 HR, 79 BB, 99 SO, .291 AVG, .361 OBP, .796 OPS

Incidentally, over the past 3 seasons leading off an inning, I would argue that the only difference between Roberts and DeRosa is pure speed. DeRo looks surprisingly comparable to Roberts otherwise.

So, who will be the Cubs wheel man? It's a tough call. If the team plays it in-house, the easy prediction is Theriot or Fukudome if he regains his stroke. If the team plays the free agent market and ponies up the cash, the best option may be Furcal. But if the Cubs are looking for their best option for scoring runs in the playoffs, then they need to reshuffle their lineup and pursue another big stick to play right field. A pure leadoff man of Robertsesque quality would be great - great - to have, but this is where I disagree with the Sloth. As great as it would be, it's probably not the end-all be-all move the Cubs can make.

The baseball whisperer

Last night, I held the baseball Kosuke gave me at a game, held it up to my face and whispered to it.

I bounced around my bedroom telling the ball "come on, Kosuke, we need your left-handed bat to get hot in the lineup let's do it you can do it come on come on come on".

Someone hand me the straight jacket.

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