Thursday, January 28, 2010

How to bake a DeRosa cake

When the Cubs traded away Mark DeRosa last off season, the only possible reaction was, "huh?" Many fans regarded him as the MVP of the 2008 team (wrongly), he backed up nearly every position on an always aching ball club, oh and the only depth behind him was Mike Fontenot. Now I like the Font-e-not as much as the next Cubs fan, but to rely on him at second base, and trade away your only insurance for an injury prone Aramis Ramirez, only to save a whopping $5.5 million (used on Milton Bradley) crippled the Cubs season. In today's market, $5.5 million can actually go a long way, but not if your name is Jim Hendry. Bobby Abreu for example made just $5 million last year. In true Hendry fashion, however, Jim took almost half of what he saved on DeRosa and spent it on Aaron Miles. He then gave Bradley double the amount of Abreu's contract, at three times the length.

Needless to say, it's a very real possibility that Hendry was experimenting with illegal drugs during the 2008 offseason. He did make one under the radar move last year, though, that may prove to be one of his more insightful pickups, by acquiring Jeff Baker mid-season. The Cubs didn't get Baker without having to pay up on their end of the deal, as they traded away one of the greatest baseball names of all time in minor league pitcher Al Albuquerque. Al's numbers luckily do not live up to his name as he has a career 1.45 whip due mainly to a 4.2 BB/9 (um, no). Now I'm not saying that Baker is the next Ryne Sandberg but I think he can very easily wind up being the next Mark DeRosa.

Baker received his first extended look in the majors in 2007, posting an unimpressive line of .222/.296/.347 in 144 at bats. He quickly adjusted in 2008 though, with an improved .268/.322/.468 with 12 jacks in 299 at bats. He followed up the success of '08 by starting off ice cold last year with 3 hits in his first 23 at bats for Colorado. The trade to the Cubs must have lit a fire under his ass as he thawed out nicely, hitting .305/.362/.448 in 203 at bats as a Cub.

In Mark DeRosa's first stint with the Cubs, he put up a similar line with a respectable .293/.371/.420 in 502 at bats. Obviously Baker's is a much smaller sample, but it is not hard to see similarities in the skill sets here. A significant part of DeRosa's value the past two seasons has been his increased power. Taking a closer look look at the numbers, the stat Isolated Power is defined as "a measure of a hitter's raw power" and is found by taking (SLG - AVG). DeRosa's 2007 ISO was a below average .127 (league average .150). Similarly, Baker had an ISO of .125 the same year. Baker then jumped all the way to .205 in 2008. DeRosa followed suit with an ISO of .196.

Baker, who will turn 29 this year, didn't show the pop last year that he did in 2008, with 4 home runs in 226 at bats, however, in DeRosa's 28-year-old season he hit just 6 bombs in 266 at bats. Given the similarities in the development of these two players, I think it is a safe bet that Baker reaches double digit home runs in 2010. As you can see, Baker was unlucky last year, with just 6.5% of his fly balls turning into home runs:

2007 9.80%
2008 16.70%
2009 6.50%
Career 13.30%

With that number bound to bounce back up to at least his career average, Baker can provide above average power for a middle infielder. On the defensive side of the ball, Baker came up as a third baseman but has shifted to second while also spending time at both corner outfield spots as well as first base. Sound familiar?

Jeff Baker is a younger version of Mark DeRosa who is further along in his development than DeRosa was at his age. DeRo didn't make a real impact on a team until 2006 as a 31-year-old Texas Ranger. Baker will be given his chance to do the same as 29-year-old splitting second base duties with Little Babe Ruth himself, Mike Fontenot. I think the smart money here is on Baker.

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