Chicago Cubs Position Battle: Micah Hoffpauir or Derrek Lee?

Alex WalshCorrespondent IApril 20, 2009

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)

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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