Tag Archives: derrek lee

Half Decent: Setting Expectations for the 2011 Cubs (pt. 1)

When I was in high school, one of the youth leaders at my church routinely discussed three topics more than any other: the unholy trilogy of sex, drugs, and rock & roll. It really didn’t matter what biblical story or teaching we were covering, the focus was almost always redirected to the condemnation of one or more of those three vices.

I remember one lesson in particular in which we were told that physical attraction should be the least of our concerns when deciding who to date or court or arrange a marriage with. While anyone who has ever been in a relationship can attest that appearance isn’t the most important attribute in a significant other, trying to tell a teenager to ignore it completely is like persuading a shark to eschew seafood.

After hearing variations on the diatribe for a few weeks, all the members of my youth group knew the answers we were supposed to be giving and that they directly conflicted with the protests of our hormones. So when our teacher asked us what qualities we would look for in a potential boyfriend or girlfriend, my fellow classmate Dwight Stowers attempted a compromise between the proffered high moral ground and his basic primal urges into a succinct summation of what he wanted in a woman:

“Half decent?”

As Cub fans, we find ourselves in a similar struggle between what we want and what the baseball gods are telling us we can have. While by no means immoral, it’s looking pretty unrealistic that fans of baseball on Chicago’s North Side will ever find ourselves in a long-term relationship with a 10—but is it too much to ask for a 6 or 7?

I’m setting out to determine just that: can the Cubs be half decent in 2011? Forget the World Series. Set aside those playoff aspirations. I just want to find out if next year’s Cubs might be looking down at .500. But before I do, let’s take a look at where this year’s team is, because I’m not all that confident that the hot stove will be cooking up a very big buffet of changes (despite how we know Jim Hendry feels about big buffets).

Tomorrow I’ll take the same this year/next year approach to the pitchers, but for now let’s look at the hitters and a couple of stats from Baseball-Reference.com that compare Cubs hitters to league average.

Age PA RC RC/G BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+ OWn% ▾
Geovany Soto 27 305 54 7.6 .281 .397 .506 .903 133 .711
Marlon Byrd 32 427 70 6.9 .314 .377 .470 .847 119 .669
Tyler Colvin* 24 273 43 6.0 .263 .324 .538 .862 119 .616
Alfonso Soriano 34 363 56 5.9 .266 .329 .532 .861 119 .605
Starlin Castro 20 295 40 5.3 .306 .353 .440 .793 105 .558
Kosuke Fukudome* 33 281 35 4.9 .247 .353 .400 .753 95 .525
League Average 4.6 .257 .326 .402 .728 94 .496
Derrek Lee 34 441 48 4.1 .247 .331 .388 .719 86 .440
Ryan Theriot 30 412 40 3.6 .284 .320 .327 .647 69 .387
Aramis Ramirez 32 329 33 3.6 .220 .274 .417 .690 76 .378
Team Total 4018 484 4.5 .258 .322 .409 .731 89 .487
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 8/3/2010.

Above are listed the 9 Cubs hitters averaging at least 2 plate appearances per game, sorted by OWn% (Offensive Winning Percentage). Assuming average pitching and defense, a team of 9 Geovany Sotos could expect a .711, thanks in large part to the 7.6 Runs Created per Game (RC/G) you’d expect from a guy with a .903 OPS. Not bad for a number-8 hitter.

What really sticks out to me on this table, aside from the impressive contributions of the two rookies, is that only three of the Cubs’ kinda-sorta-everyday players are below league average in this category. Derrek Lee is the barometer, as his .440 OWn% is just a shade higher than the Cubs’ current .440 win percentage. Keep in mind that we haven’t factored in pitching yet, but Lee is still the personification of the Cubs offensive woes this season.

We should also consider that these numbers aren’t rated by position. Lee is hitting below average for a Major League Baseball player. At his power-hitting first base position, the situation is much worse: he’s tied for last among NL first basemen in OPS (.719 with the Marlins’ Jorge Cantu).

But the Cubs can’t pin all their woes on Derrek Lee. Ryan Theriot and Aramis Ramirez have been much, much worse, and a team made up of Theriots and Ramirezes would really, really suck (though, shockingly, not as bad as the .343 Pirates). Those three below-average players (with the bench players and pitchers figured in as well) have plummeted far enough below the league average to bring the entire team down to a .487 OWn%. That’s a little higher than the team’s actual win percentage, about 5 or 6 wins better but not really all that much closer to half decent either.

Whether the Cubs are unlucky or their pitching and defense have been bad enough to bring the team down further I don’t know. But I will say that having the only below-average contributors to your offense hitting leadoff, 3rd, and 4th does not typically lead to a lot of wins. Also, if you’re not a fan of the OWn% stat, you can see that OPS+ (On-base plus Slugging adjusted for park factor and compared to league average) tells a very similar story.

Age PA RC RC/G BAbip BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+ ▾ OWn%
Geovany Soto 27 305 54 7.6 .318 .281 .397 .506 .903 133 .711
Alfonso Soriano 34 363 56 5.9 .301 .266 .329 .532 .861 119 .605
Tyler Colvin* 24 273 43 6.0 .308 .263 .324 .538 .862 119 .616
Marlon Byrd 32 427 70 6.9 .345 .314 .377 .470 .847 119 .669
Starlin Castro 20 295 40 5.3 .345 .306 .353 .440 .793 105 .558
Kosuke Fukudome* 33 281 35 4.9 .272 .247 .353 .400 .753 95 .525
League Average 4.6 .300 .257 .326 .402 .728 94 .496
Derrek Lee 34 441 48 4.1 .293 .247 .331 .388 .719 86 .440
Aramis Ramirez 32 329 33 3.6 .225 .220 .274 .417 .690 76 .378
Ryan Theriot 30 412 40 3.6 .319 .284 .320 .327 .647 69 .387
Team Total 4018 484 4.5 .300 .258 .322 .409 .731 89 .487
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 8/3/2010.

Above 100 is above average and below 100 is below average, even though the league average somehow works out to 94; I guess a league average player is below average. The point here is that the Cubs hitters (with a few critical exceptions) are hitting above average. If the Cub infield was half-decent offensively, this team might not be half bad. But ifs don’t count for much in baseball. Unfortunately, that’s all they (or any team, for that matter) has to look forward to. So let’s look ahead, shall we?

There’s no use complaining about the big contracts the Cubs are saddled with, because (as is the gist of the complaint) they aren’t going anywhere. Maybe the Cubs get rid of Fukudome. Soriano and Ramirez are here to stay. Marlon Byrd has been a bargain, and Tyler Colvin, Starlin Castro, Geovany Soto, and Blake DeWitt are dirt cheap for the time being. So out of a 9-man group of regulars (4 OF rotation, 4 infielders, and a catcher), the Cubs have 4 cost-controlled contracts, 1 below-market free agent, 3 veterans almost certain to be overpaid, and an empty first-base slot that may very well be filled by Derrek Lee again.

That’s not as much of a doomsday glut of crippling contracts as Cub detractors have made it out to be, but forget about the money for a second. Just looking at the prospective lineup for 2011, will the Cubs be half decent? To simplify things, I’ll just use a letter-grade scale.

DeWitt’s 2010 OPS is squarely at 100 (.527 OWn%) and I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect him to be at or above league average. C+, maybe? Colvin seems like a perfect candidate for a sophomore slump, so I’ll put him at a C-. Castro, however, seems to be improving, and I’d predict a solid B for him in 2011. Fukudome is the definition of a career C- player. Maybe the Cubs deal him away, but even if he stays with the club, he’s not the guy bringing this team down. Soriano has the potential to be anywhere on the grading curve. I’m hoping for (and predicting) a B, but you know a raging F isn’t out of the question. I’ll put Soto down for an A and Marlon Byrd for a B, which leaves us with two big question marks. Ramirez put up an A+ week to bring his F of a season up to a D. I don’t know that we can count on him to ever return to B/B- status, but I don’t think a C is too much to expect, do you?

The final spot is first base, and I won’t predict what Derrek Lee might do, but I will say I think Jim Hendry, with his job on the line, is quite capable of adding a league-average first baseman. Put a C at first, and the Cubs are a half-decent offensive ball club. Sign a B at first, deal Fukudome for a C+ outfielder, and this team might actually be 3/4 decent. Offensively.

Maybe I’m being too optimistic and simplistic, but I don’t think things are as bad as they looked during last night’s 18-1 drubbing at the hands of the Brewers. It does make me wonder about the state of this pitching staff, and I’ll look at that tomorrow. For now, just take some solace in the fact that, while the baseball gods might not permit us to go all the way with the best team in the league, we have a good chance of hooking up with a half-decent team and maybe even getting to second base.

WWCFD?

Bracelets always help make decisions easier.

Derrek Lee exercised his no-trade clause to void a deal that would have sent him to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, California Past the Second Hot-Dog Stand. He told reporters that he agonized over the decision, but ultimately decided to stay with the Cubs for the remainder of the year because it’s better for his family to do so.

Doug Glanville recently posted his thoughts on just how hard it is on a ballplayer to change teams midyear, and I’m sure there’s a lot of truth to that. But what if there wasn’t? What if it were simply a change of wardrobe and an increased chance of winning? If you were in Derrek Lee’s place, and changing teams had absolutely no effect on you outside the world of baseball, would you do it?

Because that’s exactly the scenario facing every Cubs fan in the world. Switching teams would be painless. I could become an Angels fan right now, and the only thing it would cost me would be the price of a new hat, some t-shirts, and the pro-rated deal to watch the remaining Angels games on mlb.tv. Seriously, I could turn this into an Angels blog overnight or whatever team I choose.

You could do it, too. If you want to trade yourself to the Yankees, here’s the Replacement Level Yankees Weblog to get you started. Become a fan, enjoy the wins, and put the mock-agony that is being a Cubs fan in your rearview mirror. You’re welcome.

Don’t bother telling me how different it is, because I’ve already established that it’s a lot different. It’s harder on a baseball player to switch teams. It would be easy for you. That’s how it’s different. Yet you still don’t want to do it. Actually, if you have, I won’t hold the decision against you any more than I blame Derrek Lee for not switching teams.

I’d like to know, now that the Astros have tossed yet another shovelful of dirt onto the Cubs’ coffin, will you switch teams for a shot at cheering for a winner? Put on the bracelet and decide, and then get back to me with your thoughts on Derrek Lee’s much tougher choice.

Zut Alors!

Video clip certainly to be taken down by MLB in 5…4…3…2…

Carlos Zambrano got into a fight with Derrek Lee, probably because Derrek was the first one to respond to the tirade Z directed at the entire dugout after a rocky 4-run 1st inning against the White Sox. I guess you could say he overreacted.

Overreaction is contagious. Twitter exploded. Paul Sullivan called for Z’s immediate fine and suspension. Gordon Wittenmyer said the Cubs couldn’t win with Zambrano and that no team would want him. Sox fans all rushed to the obituary section to make sure they hadn’t died, because yesterday felt a whole lot like heaven. Steve Stone took the chance to call Zambrano a coward who years ago had “sucker punched” a helpless Michael Barrett. A few Cubs bloggers woke from dormant apathy to comment on the matter. It has been pretty much overreactions galore since Z stamped the base for the final out of the 1st.

Lou Piniella, the man Cubs fans have been begging to overreact, actually took a pretty even-tempered approach to the whole thing.Then Jim Hendry suspended him . . . indefinitely. Overreaction? Eh.

To borrow a word from His Level-Headedness, Look . . . Zambrano was over the edge in his tirade. But tirade is just a way to subtly and verbally overreact to someone who is talking loud. Hendry called it savage, and maybe it looked that way. Okay, it looked that way. But what harm did it do?

Lou called it embarrassing. Well, guess what, Lou? The Cubs as an organization being embarrassed is a net change in status of zero point zero, zero. Losing is embarrassing, and that’s been the Cubs’ trademark this season. The only difference between Z’s tantrum and the reactions exhibited by the team in the 72 previous games is that Zambrano went down kicking and screaming.

I suppose a suspension is in order as a political gesture, but in reality, of the small percentage of Cub fans, players, and staff who still care about what the Cubs do, how many of us haven’t at some point felt the urge to yell at the lot of them like Zambrano did? I know I have. That doesn’t justify what Zambrano did . . . but I understand.

To those who want to trade or release Zambrano after the shortest start of his career (a record he seems to break with regularity) and maybe his career’s loudest hissy fit, I really hope you aren’t in charge. Let’s just stop the overreactions. Carlos Zambrano is 29 years old, and he can still pitch. He is erratic in every sense of the word, but he is not done. To trade him or release him now would be a plan designed to get the very smallest return (or rather the largest resulting debt) out of a guy who still, yesterday’s lowlight reel to the contrary, has a lot to offer a major league ball club.

Based on what? Oh, I don’t know, his career numbers. The obvious fact that he still gives a crap. The Lifetime movie of the week, Not Without My Gatorade Cooler, where a hotheaded Venezuelan starter finds love, hope, and absolution in the arms of a gruff, oft misunderstood Hobbit with questionable journalistic integrity but a heart that just won’t quit.

Alright, overreact if you must, but please feel free to do so in the comments below.

Top Ten Ideas to Get D-Lee and A-Ram Hitting

They’ve done it like this. They’ve done it like that. They should try it with a Wiffle Ball bat.

If Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez could hit again, the comparisons of the Cubs’ offense to the effects of an enlarged prostate would stop. But until things get flowing properly, here are 10 suggestions to help the slow, unpredictable trickle of corner-infield hits to get back to the rushing stream of extra-base hits we all expected.

Top Ten Ideas to Get D-Lee and A-Ram Hitting


10. Stop calling them D-Lee and A-Ram.

9. Let them use Wiffle Ball bats for increased bat speed.

8. Three words: Little. Jerry. Seinfeld.

7. Have them look in the mirror. That’s what they all suggested Milton Bradley do, anyway.

6. Last one to get a hit each game wears the Hello Kitty backpack.

5. Convince them that while their abysmal start has been an absolute joke, it’s still no replacement for Kevin Millar.

4. Give their mothers 10-year visas.

3. After three strikes: bring out the tee.

2. Substitute their advanced scouting videos with 15 hours of Lou Piniella saying, “Look, I don’t know what else I can do.”

1. 1980s campy movie solution: most triumphant video.

Positive Postseason Awards

Is it really worth it to suggest any kind of positive postseason awards for this 2009 Cubs team?

I got nothing. Yes, they had a winning record. Yes, Derrek Lee looked great. Yay, I was pleasantly surprised by Randy Wells. But man, this season was annoying.

Right now I can only think to hand out the trailing ellipsis award to . . .

Are You Feeling Randy, Baby?

Somebody else is going to win the NL Rookie of the Year award. The conventional Cubbie wisdom is that Ted Lilly is the clear-cut MVP of the staff. Ask most Cub fans about the biggest bright spot of the year, and they’ll probably tell you Derrek Lee’s return to form as a power hitter and RBI machine was the crowning jewel on this otherwise thorny season’s head gear.

But for me, Randy Wells has been the 2009 Cubs’ ace and its most significant agent of redemption. (He’s not the NL Rookie of the Year, but he’s in the top 5, for sure.)

Looking just at the numbers, you’ll see that Wells and Lilly are tied with 12 wins (Ryan Dempster could join them with a win in the finale). They each have 27 starts. Lilly has pitched 11 2/3 more innings.Wells has the edge in the ERA column (3.05 to Lilly’s 3.10). Lilly has one less loss (9) than the rookie, and a lower WHIP (1.06 to Wells’s 1.41). But Wells also yields a lower slugging percentage (.365) than TRL (.393) and has given up 8 fewer homers (14/22). I’d say you can call the stats a draw.

The reason I give the (very slight) pitching edge to Wells is the simple fact that he didn’t miss starts. After the All Star break and in late September, Lilly missed some starts, had some surgery, and probably saved the free world from a terrorist attack. Wells missed games until late May because he wasn’t on the team. In the end, I award the better excuse trophy to Randy.

But more than that, Randy Wells really saved the emotion of this season for me. When he first took the mound, I severely doubted his potential. He just didn’t look like a guy who was going to win you many games. Once he started willing his way through lineups, attacking the strike zone as if to say, “Screw this paint the black garbage, I’m hungry for outs,” he looked like a winner. But he didn’t win.

Despite giving up just 12 runs in his first 7 starts (good for a 2.55 ERA) Wells didn’t notch a win until his 8th start of the season. But he didn’t let it bother him. He never allowed the failures of his bullpen and offense disrupt his consistent pitching performance. And he now has a share of the team lead in wins to show for it.

I have thoroughly enjoyed watching Derrek Lee this season, don’t get me wrong. But every time Wells pitched, I was particularly excited to see what he might do. He impressed me well above my expectations. So did Lilly. So did Lee. But the excitement level of seeing the kid do it–after not even knowing his name heading into spring training–will be the single most positive memory I hold onto from this season.

M.V.Lee

Derrek Lee will not win the 2009 NL MVP award. Barring a completely unforeseen positive test of some kind (like discovering he’s half machine) the name Albert Pujols is already engraved on that trophy. So don’t take this as an argument that DLee deserves it over his 1B counterpart in St. Louis. However you define “MVP,” whether it’s the league’s best player, the best player on a winning team, or the most indispensible player for any team, Albert Pujols is pretty much the runaway winner in every category. Heck, Prince Albert even wins the contest of which player makes his teammates better. Look at Matt Holliday’s stats before and after joining the Cards this year, or check out Aaron Miles’ 2008 numbers.

I won’t provide links to either set of stats, as I believe both are technically to be considered malware.

But I did want to take a moment and praise D-Lee for being the lone offensive bright spot for the Cubs this season. Without him, I genuinely shudder to think where this team would be. Here’s the stat that says it best: Derrek Lee has a very distinct shot at doubling the RBI output of the 2nd-place run producer on the 2009 Chicago Cubs.

Derrek Lee: 96 RBI
Alfonso Soriano: 55 RBI (he’s probably driven in his last run)
Aramis Ramirez: 49 RBI (the biggest threat at preventing this feat)
Ryan Theriot: 49 RBI (the pace has slowed of late)
Kosuke Fukudome: 48 RBI (always tough to double up)
Milton Bradley: 39 RBI (for the sake of parallelism, I feel the need to comment here)

I don’t want the heart of the Cubs order to stop producing runs to help Derrek make them look even more impotent than they already do. But if a player drives in twice as many runs as anyone else on the team, his value is inarguable. Derrek Lee owns 16.9% of the Cubs RBI this year, roughly one in every 6. (In case you’re wondering, Pujols has driven in 20.1% of his team’s RBI . . . without him, the whole NL Central might be in danger of retraction.)

Things are bad this year. But for Derrek Lee, at least, it’s been all good. When the Cubs return to Wrigley, he deserves a standing O (for being the Only source of Offense in ’09).

Cubs’ Injured as Numerous as All Stars in the Sky

With injuries sidelining Ted Lilly and Alfonso Soriano for at least a few days, the Cubs are close to fielding a team of All Stars who have missed time this year due to injury. Check out this list of Cubs All-Stars (mostly of past years, obviously) who have been bitten by the ravenous injury bug at some point this year:
Milton Bradley
Ryan Dempster
Derrek Lee
Ted Lilly
Carlos Marmol
Aramis Ramirez
Alfonso Soriano
Geovany Soto
Carlos Zambrano
Am I missing anyone? Again, this isn’t the list of Cubs who have been injured. This is the list of Cubs All Stars who have been injured. Cub All Stars have been injured nine times. Nine times! Granted, when they’ve been healthy, they haven’t played like All Stars this year, but the Cubs can ill-afford to lose anymore players of this calibre for any length of time.
Hopefully Ted Theodore Lilly (esquire) can plow through this injury like so many Molina brothers. But for now, the Cubs really should be thanking their unlucky All Stars they’re still in this pennant race.

Which Chicago Cub Are You? (It’s Scarily Accurate)

I hate those Facebook quizzes that make you answer five questions about something as arbitrary as your affinity for or aversion to cured meats and then proceed to tell you which Saved by the Bell character you are. First of all, the questions are always multiple choices, and all of the choices usually stink. Second of all, I am so not Kelly Kapowski.

But I think there’s potential in a “Which Chicago Cub Are You?” quiz, because this team is loaded with personalities I recognize from high school, former workplaces, and maybe a family reunion or two. I’ve probably seen flashes of Milton Bradley in my own mirror . . . partly because I can be moody, too, or perhaps because he’s stalking me for making fun of him. Either way, here are some of the possible results. See if any of these people sound familiar outside of Cubdom:
You are Carlos Zambrano. You have loads of potential and unlimited passion for everything you do. You’re the life of the party and you love to have fun. But sometimes your passion and intensity get the best of you, causing you to lose focus, lose control, and even lose a few friends. Your friends love you, your enemies fear you, but you have everyone’s attention.
You are Milton Bradley. You want nothing more to succeed, and some day that might happen. But you are easily hurt both emotionally and physically. Some people perform better when they’re angry; you are not some people. Those close to you regard you as the ultimate team player who is willing to do whatever it takes to win. Those not close to you have good reason. Still, you have plenty of skill just waiting to emerge, and if you’re surrounded by people who believe in you, you will be a shining star.
You are Ted Lilly. You generally let your actions speak louder than your words, which is good—saying, “I’m better than you, and you like it,” out loud can be rather unbecoming. What you lack in talent you more than make up for with fierce determination and skin as thick as rhino armor. Outside of a Cub uniform or a bar fight, most people wouldn’t recognize you in public. You also have a bit of a temper, but you can usually focus that productively. In those moments when you can’t, people know better than to get in your way.
You are Derrek Lee. You’re a gentle giant, smart, debonair, quick as a fox, and strong as an ox. Not easily ruffled, you measure your words, your responses, and your emotions. You lead not with speeches but by example. You keep things at an even keel, except when you’re exploding on a fastball over the plate or pouncing on a screaming line drive headed for the right field corner. Some people wish you’d be more outspoken and demonstrative, but you’re big and strong enough not to have to care what some people wish for.
You are Alfonso Soriano. When it comes to performance, you’re a human roller coaster, although you never wear your emotions on your sleeve. When you find you’re groove, there are none better, but when you get stuck in a rut . . . well, there are few worse. Your preferences and quirks have earned you a reputation as a prima donna, mostly undeserved. It’s not your fault if you get preferential treatment, you earned it? Your flair for the dramatic can, unfortunately, fizzle out on occasion. And your easy going style sometimes comes off as lackadaisical. But if you just keep walking softly and carrying a big stick, eventually, people will appreciate your even bigger upside.
You are Ryan Theriot. People don’t expect much from you at first, but you thrive on sneaking up on them with your scrappy, fiery approach. You work hard, play hard, laugh hard, and die hard. You try to be blue collar, you really do, but you just can’t seem to shed the image of the consensus clubhouse leader. Your biggest weakness just may be a propensity to forget how hard you have to work. Success will never come naturally for you; but when you chase it, it will never outrun you, either.
You are Ryan Dempster. You’re a complete goofball, and a scream at parties. But when you’re at work, you’re all business. Maybe people underestimate you because of your antics, but your professionalism will make short work of any doubters. You thrive on positive vibes and encouragement in a friendly environment, and conversely sometimes falter under intense pressure or adverse conditions. Focus is your best friend; lose it and you will wilt, but maintain it and you will dominate.
You are Lou Piniella. You know perfectly well who you are, and if I try to tell you, you’ll shoot a glare at me that says in no uncertain (yet silent) terms, “Shut up or I’ll bludgeon you with Santo’s prosthetic.” Next.
You are Ron Santo. You are 100% emotion. You rise and fall with the performance of those you hold most dear. People thrive on your emotion and sometimes laugh at the pure theater of your reactions. You deserve to be in the Hall of Fame, but this world sucks sometimes.
You are Carlos Marmol. You are equal parts wild, untouchable, breathtaking, and heartstopping. No one can control you . . . even you can’t control you. But can you grasp the wind and put it in your pocket? Can you put sunshine in a bottle? Can you tie a rainbow into a knot and tell it, “Stop being colorful”? No. Such is Marmol.
Okay, you get it. I’m not going to go through the entire 40-man roster, front office, and broadcasting booth. Maybe you could help me fill in the blanks. Go ahead, channel your inner Carrie Muskat.
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