Tuesday, February 23, 2010
Whatever I predict about Derrek Lee, it will be wrong.
After being limited to 50 games in 2006 due to a broken wrist, I figured he'd come back healthy in 2007 and return to his 2005 numbers (when he hit 46 home runs and had 107 RBI). While he had a .330 average in the first half of 2007, he had just six home runs and 42 RBI at the All-Star break. So I figured his power was gone for good, that 2005 was just a fluke, but that he would at least continue to hit for a high average. So, of course, he racked up 16 more home runs and a respectable 40 more RBI after the All-Star break, but hit a more pedestrian .302.
The first half of 2008 led me to believe the power was here to stay--he had 15 HR and 56 RBI before the break. So just when I was back on the D Lee train, he had a miserable second half: 5 HR, 34 RBI, .266 average.
I pretty much gave up on him at the beginning of last season. He was 33 years old, finished the 2008 season in poor fashion, and he came out of the gate with an April that even Mario Mendoza would have been pissed about: 1 HR, 10 RBI, .189 average. And he was continuing his assault on the record for most groundouts to the left side of the infield in a career (he had approximately 7,000 of them in 2008). I was ready for Piniella to give Micah Hoffpauir (!) a chance at first base. He couldn't have been worse than this washed up, good-for-nothing ... wait, what's this? A .313 average in May? Six home runs in June? Nine more in July? 35 HR and 111 RBI (a career high) when the book was closed on 2009? Wha' happened?
I don't know the answer to that question, but perhaps Lee's wrist bothered him for a really long time after he returned to action in 2006. His power numbers and tendencies (e.g. grounding out to the left side constantly) had weird ebbs and flows, and for a long while it seemed that he had only warning track power. But his post All-Star numbers from last year were better than almost anyone's, including those of Albert Pujols. He was really the only consistent force in the Cubs' lineup all year, and in this, his contract year, the Cubs need big things from him again.
Though I have obviously been frustrated with Lee at times over the past few years, his last three seasons average out to: 26 HR, 94 RBI, .305 avg., .385 OBP. He has also averaged 149 games played over that same span.
So I feel like I have little choice but to predict good things from Lee once again (sorry, Cubs fans, if this jinxes him). Now he is 34 years old, which has to give you a bit of pause. On the other hand, I'm a firm believer that playing for a contract is--for most players--perhaps the biggest motivating factor out there. It may be a cynical view, but there's plenty of evidence to support it. From Casey Blake and Derek Lowe to Ryan Dempster and Aaron Rowand, feeling your wallet getting thicker every time you throw a strike or hit a double into the gap makes just about anyone better.
I'm going to go with 33 HR, 115 RBI, a .300 average on the dot, and a healthy .370 OBP.
What do you think? I'd advise disagreeing with me.