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Chicago Cubs Position Battle: Micah Hoffpauir or Derrek Lee?

CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 18: First baseman Derrek Lee #25  of the Chicago Cubs argues with home plate umpire Ed Rapuano #19 after a called strike against the Milwaukee Brewers at the Wrigley Field on September 18, 2008 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Scott Boehm/Getty Images)
Alex WalshCorrespondent IApril 20, 2009

It's early, but already there's been all kinds of press regarding Derrek Lee's slow start at first base.

Most Cubs fans know that Lee was at one point a very capable middle-of-the-order hitter. They fell in love in 2005, during a career year. Since then, the picture hasn't been nearly as pretty, as three-year declines in power are never a good sign.

To begin this season, Lee is hitting a paltry .217/.283/.348 through 11 games. Of course, this is an extremely small sample size. Furthermore, Lee's not alone in terms of slow-starting Cubs hitters. Free agent pick-up Milton Bradley and 2008 Rookie of the Year Geovany Soto have combined for only three hits so far.

But Bradley and Soto aren't as worrisome because they're aren't as high a risk to be in the declining portion of their professional careers. Bradley's numbers have continually been trending up over the past several years, and Soto is still a young dude. Neither of these hitters have three-year declines in power weighing them down at the plate.

Nor do they have 29-year-old lefty sluggers breathing down their necks.

Lee's hold on the starting first base job is being threatened by Micah Hoffpauir. Micah is 5-for-14 against righties this season, with two doubles to boot. His success against righties might force Lou Piniella to give some of Lee's at-bats to Hoffpauir when the team is facing a right-hander.

It's interesting to look at what a Lee-Hoffpauir platoon might be able to produce. Adding Lee's appearances against lefties to Hoffpauir's stats against right-handers generates a slash-line of roughly .421/.450/.526—an excellent line indeed.

If Lee's role in the offense is diminished anytime soon (either fewer at-bats, or a drop in the lineup), it will be interesting to see what Lou does with his lineups. A team that used just one left-handed bat in last year's NLDS will now be able to use up to four in a given lineup. Against righties, Lou may use something like:

Soriano-Fukudome-Bradley-Ramirez-Hoffpauir-Soto-Fontenot-Theriot-P

If Lee is dropped in the order against righties, it would seem to make sense for him to hit in the fifth spot, giving us a lineup of:

Soriano-Fukudome-Ramirez-Bradley-Lee-Fontenot-Soto-Theriot-P

We'll see what happens, I guess.

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