Monday, June 7, 2010

Cubs coming up empty at the corners

To say its been a disappointing season so far for the Cubs corner men would be like saying Armando Galarraga felt a little let down by Jim Joyce's lapse in concentration on the would-be 27th out of his "one hit" performance last Wednesday night in Detroit. While Derrek Lee has clearly struggled, the stat line put up by Aramis Ramirez is downright terrifying. To date:

Derrek Lee: .238/.342/.369/.711

Aramis Ramirez: .169/.234/.287/.520

After posting an OPS above .900 in five of the last six seasons (.898 being the other season), a .520 mark from Aramis Ramirez in June is unimaginable. What's done is done, however, and the lack of production for both DLee and Aramis has been the major contributing factor to the Cubs less than inspiring 26-31 record. What matters now is how will these players hit moving forward.

Looking at a hitter's batting average on balls in play will help determine whether or not that player has been "lucky" so far this season if his BABIP is well above the league average (.300) or unlucky if his BABIP is much lower than the average. Currently, Derrek has a BABIP of .287, not too far off the league average. However, looking at DLee's personal career BABIP of .322 and one can see where he may be a victim of well struck balls that just happened to be hit straight to the opposition.

We need to look beyond just a players BABIP to see the full story, as sometimes players are just putting a lot of poorly hit balls in play. One look at Derrek's infield fly ball percentage though, as well as his line drive rate, confirm his low batting average has been at least partially driven by bad luck:

IFF%: 0

LD%: 23.7

Zero infield pops and a line drive percentage that is higher than any single season LD% during DLee's illustrious career. With nearly a quarter of Derrek's balls coming off the bat as line drives, a .238 batting average is a clear aberration. Also, after leading the league in double plays in 2008, Lee is hitting less grounders (37.8% in 2010, 40% for his carreer) and has maintained his fly ball rate (38.5% this year to 38.9% career). The reason he only has 6 home runs on the season is a result of an abnormally low HR/FB rate of 10% in 2010 (16.7% career rate.)

Aramis has suffered from an even more striking collapse in homers per fly balls, hitting just 5 home runs despite an off the charts 60% fly ball rate (45% career rate). This has led to a severely bottomed out HR/FB rate of just 6.1%. This will correct itself, and fast as Aramis has a career HR/FB of 13.4%. The jump in fly balls correlates to a lower LD% and much lower GB% which has helped contribute to a National League worst .189 batting average on balls in play.

To put it simply, Aramis will not continue to hit .169 all year long, that much is obvious, the real question is not will he bounce back, but how far will he bounce back? The most troublesome stat on the back of Aramis' baseball card is a strikeout rate of nearly 25%, up almost 10% over his career mark of 15.5%. Logic may tell you then that Aramis could be reaching more, swinging at bad pitches and coming up empty as a result. Frighteningly, this is not the case. Aramis is actually swinging at less pitches out of the zone this year (29.5%) than he was last year (31.5%) and is close to his career rate of 26.1%. The problem is that when he gets his pitch, he is not hitting it as consistently as he has in the past. Repeatedly, pitchers have been able to either beat Aramis with the fastball or at least get him to foul it off before putting him away with a different pitch.

Aramis Ramirez is lost at the plate and it shows in the stats. From his peripheral numbers, he should definitely have a few more home runs and he is obviously not a .169 hitter. Is he a .300 hitting, 30 home run third baseman though? For tomorrow's game against the Brewers, I doubt it. Right now Aramis looks more like a .260 hitting 25 homer guy, but the season is still young and I expect Aramis to right the ship. However, even the biggest Aramis supporters (such as myself) will have to temper expectations.

I am all in on Derrek Lee though. Line drives are at a career high and he's keeping the ground balls to a minimum. Once the wind starts blowing out at Wrigley, look out for DLee. Better times are ahead, right now it's time to keep hope alive.

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