It's the best of times and the worst of times if you're a Cubs fan.
Baseball is back, and the Cubs are at HoHoKam Park preparing to break a million hearts for the 100th straight year. Literally, 100.
Optimism is required to root for the Cubbies, but this year, I'm not getting sucked in. I don't think the starting rotation is good enough, and the bullpen is nowhere near champion-quality either.
The lineup, however, does seem to pack enough punch to make the Cubs competitive, except for one small hiccup: Lou Piniella is screwing it up.
The Cubs were 18th in runs scored last season. That's not a horrifying statistic, and they could've been worse. However, for a lineup with Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez, and Alfonso Soriano, that seems like underachieving. In fact, it is underachieving.
How could a lineup with so much potential firepower end up scoring fewer runs than the Toronto Blue Jays, Baltimore Orioles, Tampa Bay Devil Rays, and Florida Marlins?
A lot of people, probably including Sweet Lou, would point to the Cubs’ slow start in April and May, and note the onslaught of runs at the end of the season as evidence. I disagree. The Cubs underachieved because of one thing: Alfonso Soriano was leading off.
Let me pose a situation to you. Let's say you're a major league manager. Your team acquires a right-handed outfielder who hit 46 home runs last year, and has regularly come near 40 dongs every year, but has batted .300 only once, with a career batting average in the .270s, and career OBP in the .320s. Where do you bat him?
If you said "leadoff," pat yourself on the back, because you're ready to match wits with a veteran major league manager with 22 years of experience.
Now, I'm sure Lou's argument for Soriano in the leadoff spot would have been his penchant for stealing bases (46 with Washington in 2006), but if I'm not mistaken, they still allow hitters batting second or third to steal bases, even if the situation might call for it a little bit less.
Anyway, Alfonso only got the green light 25 times last year, stealing 19 bases. It's hard for a guy to repeat a 40-40 season when he isn't even sent 30 times, although that's apparently the reason he's hitting leadoff. It certainly wasn't for his striking on-base percentage of .337.
Soriano did manage 33 home runs, which is a good total for playing 135 games and an outstanding total from the leadoff spot. But this is an even bigger reason he shouldn't have been there. Soriano was the Cubs leader in homers for 2007, but the 33 he knocked out added up to only 70 RBIs.
Know who else had 70 RBI last year? Marlon Byrd. And it only took him 109 games. Derrek Lee had 82 RBI with 11 fewer home runs than Soriano did. 70 RBI is a pretty good total for a leadoff guy, but not for your leading home run hitter.
So who should hit leadoff this year? Well, anyone but Soriano, first of all. Lee's OBP and batting average were much higher than Soriano's. Batting your first baseman leadoff would be unconventional, but so is hitting your best power hitter there. Lee moves okay for a big man, too.
Mark DeRosa is an even more logical choice, as he had a similar batting average to Soriano's, but his OBP was 40 points higher.
However, as a smart manager would have seen, the Cubs acquired a magnificent leadoff option in the off-season: Kosuke Fukudome. The man is known already as a line drive machine, and sometimes those line drives go out of the park, which means if Piniella secretly just loves having power at the top of his lineup, it's still there.
Fukudome consistently hit in the mid- to upper-.300s in Japan, and has shown good speed so far this spring, as the Cubs note on their website.
Let's re-cap: .300 hitter, line-drive machine, good speed, and potential to hit home runs. Does that sound like a better leadoff option than Soriano to anyone but Sweet Lou?