Tag Archives: Derrek Lee

I come not to praise Jake Fox

Derrek Lee had an MRI today because he’s still unable to play – apparently even to pinch hit. He may have to go on the DL, although the Trib was quick to note that his DL stint could be backdated if it happens.

So if the Cubs put him on the DL, presumably they would call up Jake Fox. He’s got a preoposterous 1.348 OPS so far, which Baseball Prospectus tells me translates to a mere 1.191 in the majors. If BP’s translations are right, Jake Fox has been the fourth-best hitter in baseball so far this season, behind Manny, Kevin Youkilis, and Carlos Beltran. There may be some concern that he can’t hit a fastball or field his position, but if he were really in league with those guys, talent wise, the Cubs should just DL Lee right now.

Except the Trib also had this sunny piece of news:

Triple-A Iowa first baseman Jake Fox was injured this weekend when he was hit by the shards of a broken bat. He’s expected to miss a couple of days.

That’s right. The Cubs may have to put their regular first baseman on the DL. They have Hoffpauir, who is doing nicely but isn’t good against lefties and, anyway, needs a backup in case he needs a rest or something. They have a guy who’s killing the ball at AAA… And that guy gets hit by a broken bat and he’s hurt too.

The guy with the next most games at first in Iowa, Doug Deeds, is hitting .267/.323/.350, which does not translate to anywhere near “the fourth best player in baseball.”

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We just missed Matt Merlot and Mike Rieslinger

Derrek Lee, now in wine form!

Derrek Lee, now in wine form!

Muskat has the news that Charity Wines has a Derrek Lee, uh, vintage, this year. That’s a hell of a picture of Derrek. My only question is, will it be as good as Mike Ditka’s Cabernet? Maybe a blind taste test is in order.

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Be Careful What You Wish For

It’s always a mistake listening to Chicago sports radio, and the other day was a particularly bad day for it. Two separate shows on the Score were debating the “controversy” over who should be starting, Derrek Lee or Micah Hoffpauir. Lee, you see, is old and busted. Micah is the new hotness. And by “new hotness,” I mean, “is slightly younger than Derrek Lee, but has more career spring training at-bats than real ones because nobody thinks highly of him as a player.”

The mistake Lee made was having one of the best seasons I can remember from a Cub in 2005. He hit .335/.418/.662. Those numbers aren’t just way better than his career numbers, they’re way better than anyone’s career numbers. Lee put up another good season in 2007 after recovering from his 2006 broken wrist. His power numbers were a little down, but he still did well above his career average. Then, last year, he got hot at the start of the season, and then tailed off. Check out his monthly lines:

April: .364/.437/.682
May:  .234/.269/.411 
June: .283/.371/.404
July: .292/.339/.442 
August: .301/.411/.376 
September: .274/.344/.440 

The truth is, those numbers aren’t that bad in most of those months. Lee’s power definitely evaporated after his ridiculous start. And his May, crippled in part by an awful batting average on balls in play, was bad. But his OPS was in the high 700s in June, July, August, and September. When he wasn’t hitting for power he was getting on base, and when he wasn’t getting on base quite as well he was hitting more doubles. In the end, he finished pretty middle-of-the pack for a first baseman. And he did so while playing through what he later admitted was a fairly bad neck injury. Maybe he should have rested and tried to heal it, but he didn’t, and he still put up passable numbers while playing hurt.

Then there’s Micah Hoffpauir. Hoffpauir has 80 major-league PAs. In those PAs he hit .342/.400/.534, with two home runs. Which sounds great until you consider a few things:

1) 69 of those at-bats were versus right-handed pitching. There are more righties than lefties in the league, but not by that much.

2) That .342 average is on account of 25 career hits.

3) Five of those hits were in one game. 

4) That includes both home runs.

5) An error by Hoffpauir cost the Cubs a run in that game, and they ultimately lost the game by one run.

And that’s the real problem. Hoffpauir might be an alright major-league hitter. But he can’t play the field at all. The only position he can play without being a total disaster is first base. And at first he’s still bad, just not as bad as he would be anywhere else. Derrek Lee is overrated in the field, but he’s not really giving anything back to the other team with his glove, either. So for Hoffpauir to be a better choice than Lee, he’d need to actually outhit him, not just match him.

The projections don’t think Hoffpauir can do it. They’re basing this on his 80 major-league PAs and his minor-league career, so they’re taking into account the fact that he killed pitching in Iowa last year. All of these projections are for wOBA:

messinwiththehoff

It’s not like there’s any disagreement there. Every one of the projection systems thinks Lee will hit better than Hoffpauir. If you convert wOBA into runs, the widest margin is CHONE’s, which thinks that Lee is worth about 19 runs more with the bat than Hoffpauir over the course of 700 PAs. The closest margin, from ZiPS, puts Lee at about 5 runs better than Hoffpauir. Lee is at least 5 runs better than Hoffpauir with the glove. So you can reasonably project that a team with Derrek Lee as its first baseman would win one to three more games than a team with Hoffpauir as its first baseman.

There are plenty of arguments to have about Lee. You can argue that his power’s gone, that he isn’t suited to hit third in the lineup, that the Cubs ought to be looking for someone else to play first base. But please don’t argue that a guy who couldn’t make it out of AAA until he was 28 is better than Derrek Lee.

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Can Lee Bounce Back?

Derrek Lee might have been the most disappointing Cub last season. Finally healthy, we expected big things from him, and he came out of the gate like gangbusters. Then all his power disappeared, and he sort of scuffled through the rest of the season, putting up an ok season, but not what we’d all hoped. He’s not having a good spring training, and although spring training doesn’t really mean anything, it’s not encouraging to see, either.

So what are the odds Lee bounces back? Well, pretty good. I took a look at the career paths of Lee’s similar players through age 32 on Baseball Reference. His most similar player is Kent Hrbek. Like Lee, he had a down year at age 32, but at age 33 he bounced back a little, putting up a 120 OPS+. Of course, the season after that, his age 34 season, he wasn’t very good at all, and he retired a few days before the 1994 baseball strike began.

Lee’s next most-similar player is Paul Konerko. Since Konerko is still playing and is Lee’s age, he can’t really help us predict how Lee will age. Next up is Will Clark. Clark also had a down year in his age 32 season, putting up a 101 OPS+. His next two seasons were 128 and 126. After that is Raul Mondesi, for whom his age 32 season was actually a bounce-back before two terrible seasons that ended with him out of baseball at age 35.

Here are the top four most-similar players to Lee, not counting Konerko, in terms of OPS as they aged:

Effects of Aging on Derrek Lee's Similar Players

There’s a fair bit of variation there. Everyone seems to have had a down year at 32 except for Mondesi. Hrbek and Mondesi retired at 34. Clark and Palmeiro went on to have longer careers, and were very productive, although we know Palmeiro had help Lee may not.

I went a little further and took the ten most-similar players, leaving out Konerko and also Carlos Lee, who is also on Lee’s list and is also 32 and still playing. I averaged their WAR per season from 30-35, and compared that to Lee. For Mondesi and Hrbek, I treated the seasons where they weren’t playing as 0-WAR seasons. Here’s what that graph looks like:

average_war_of_similar_players_to_dlee_by_age

I didn’t weight this by how similar players were to Lee – if I had, the dropoff at 34 would look even worse, because Mondesi and Hrbek are more similar to Lee than Palmeiro or Fred McGriff. But there’s reason for some optimism. The graph also leaves off Gil Hodges, because Rally’s WAR database doesn’t have WAR for all of his seasons in this range.

The chart gives some reason for optimism, though. Going into his 33-year-old season, Lee could fall off the cliff, but his similar players have enjoyed a little bit of a bounce at that age, and on average haven’t been terrible as 34-year-olds either. I would like Lee to finish out his Cubs career as a little more than “not terrible,” but I’ll take what I can get.

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