With all the talk about Derrek Lee’s lack of power, the 6′5″, 245-pound first baseman still drove 20 balls out of the park last year. The issue, then? Thirteen of those 20 came before the calendar turned to June.
He hit only .266 after the All-Star Break with just five homers and 34 RBI. Lee also finished the 2008 season with an .823 OPS, his lowest since 2001. "Rodan," a nickname given to Lee by former manager Dusty Baker, referring to a nemesis of Godzilla, turns 34 in September and there have been grumbles to move Lee and let Micah Hoffpauir take over. However, Hoffpauir turned 29 this past Sunday and would have no chance of matching Lee’s defensive prowess.
Always the observant one, skipper Lou Piniella attributes Lee's recent injuries to his decline in home run power.
"He hits a lot of balls hard on the ground and line drives, so to hit more home runs he needs to elevate the ball more," he said. "He certainly has the power and the bat speed to do it, but I don’t have an answer on why. I would think that the wrist injury that he had hasn’t helped the situation."
Along with the drop off in power, some of the grumblings have come from Lee’s propensity to ground into double plays, bringing some to refer to him as “DP Lee. Lee grounded into a double play 27 times last year, good for a second place tie with Vlad Guerrero and MoneyBags Mags Ordonez. (Miggie Tejada led the Majors with 32 GIDPs.) It wasn’t just the amount of Lee’s GIDPs, it was the timing, which of course, always seemed to be at a crucial stage in the game.
Lee has won the Gold Glove for NL first baseman in 2003, 2005, and 2007, and if that pattern holds he will earn his fourth trophy this year in 2009.
Lee was pretty much the only Cub who showed up in the postseason, collecting six of the team’s 23 total hits during the NLDS against the Dodgers. That was in 11 at-bats, good for a .545 average, and with a walk and three doubles, that makes for a 1.402 OPS. Can’t be mad at the man for that.
Lee is signed on to be the Cubbies’ first baseman through the 2010 season and his contract includes a no-trade clause. I loved Hee-Seop Choi, but I think the Cubbies have came out ahead on that deal.
On to his 2009 projections: