There was a time that Derrek Lee was considered one of the preeminent first baseman in the league. After a 2005 campaign where he hit .335 with 46 HR, 107 RBI, 120 R and 15 SB, fantasy owners saw him simply as one of the best. Since then, things had gone significantly off course, until 2009 that is.
After breaking his wrist in April of 2006, Lee went on to hit just 50 home runs over a three-year span. Was it the after effects of the injury or was his 2005 power just a mirage? He had never hit more than 32 home runs prior to that season and it also came courtesy of a HR/FB rate of 23.7%.
Needless to say, it was easy to write the year off as an anomaly, at least until he posted the following line:
532 At Bats
.306 Batting Average (163 Hits)
35 Home Runs
1 Stolen Bases
.393 On Base Percentage
.579 Slugging Percentage
.330 Batting Average on Balls in Play
Before we even get to the power and run production, the speed is something that has to be mentioned. He was once a player who routinely reached double-digit stolen bases, getting as many as 21 back in 2003, but he attempted just one in 2009. While I would expect more in 2010 (he at least attempted 10 in 2008), he clearly is not the threat that he once was.
That would have been an advantage over many of the other options at the position, but it is no longer there.
As for the power, just look at his flyball rates since 2004:
- 2004 – 40.5%
- 2005 – 39.4%
- 2006 – 38.4%
- 2007 – 38.2%
- 2008 – 33.7%
- 2009 – 45.7%
Which of the numbers do not seem to belong? That’s not to mention the fact that his HR/FB rate jumped back up to 17.9%. If you want to believe that the wrist injury zapped him of some his power (and his double totals of 43 and 41 the previous two seasons support that), it is still hard to imagine him maintaining the lofty flyball rate. That’s a number he had never shown previously in his career and one that almost has to plummet in the coming season.
With a fall in power will likely come a fall in RBI. That basically goes without saying. He spent the majority of his time hitting third last season (348 AB) and the home runs certainly helped because the top of the Cubs lineup is not all that imposing.
Just remember that names like Kosuke Fukudome and Ryan Theriot spent time at the top of the lineup, neither of which bring much fear to opponents. Granted, Fukudome carried an OBP of .375, but he scored just 79 runs (despite 365 AB in the top three spots of the lineup).
As for the average, it is possible he maintains a .330 BABIP as it was actually his lowest mark since 2004. Still, if there will be less home runs, that means there will be more balls put into play leading to a lower average.
Additionally, an increase in strikeouts (I’m projecting him to go from 20.5% in 2009 to 21.5% in 2010), will cause his average to drop a little bit.
With all that said, let’s now take a look at my preliminary projection for 2010:
.285 (157-550), 25 HR, 90 RBI, 90 R, 5 SB, .324 BABIP, .369 OBP, .500 SLG
As you can tell, I’m expecting him to fall far short from the lofty numbers he produced in 2009. While it’s easy to point to his previous injury and having finally recovered from it, I do not fully believe it. Yes, it may have played a role, but the flyball rate just doesn’t make sense. It almost has to come back down to earth, which will result in a significant fall in the power department.
Throw in the fact that the Cubs lineup is not quite what it used to be, and overall it is tough to imagine him coming close to his previous season. While he’s likely to be a good option, he’s much better suited as a corner infielder at this point (he was outside the most recent Top 15 first baseman rankings, which you can view here).
What are your thoughts? Am I too critical of him? Do you think he could post numbers reasonably close to his 2009 line?
Make sure to check out some more of our 2010 projections, including: