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Baseball experts not expecting Cubs' Lee to rebound
By Bruce Miles | Daily Herald Staff

After hitting 46 home runs in 2005, Derrek Lee has hit just 50 combined over the past three seasons.

 

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Published: 3/2/2009 12:08 AM

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Fifth in a series

Editor's note: As the countdown continues toward the April 6 opener for the Cubs, Daily Herald Sports Writer Bruce Miles will offer his analysis of each position on the team and the key issues facing the club this season.

Q. Are the Derrek Lee glory days a thing of the past?

Miles: Until he proves otherwise, it appears so. Baseball Prospectus projects him with 19 homers, a .369 OBP and a .464 slugging percentage this year, with the homer total declining steadily over the next few years. My new friends at the Baseball Forecaster have him hitting 22 homers.

Lee's OPS (on-base plus slugging) of .823 ranked him last among six first basemen in the NL Central last year.

Q. Really, what's with Lee hitting into all those double plays?

Miles: Lee is hitting fewer flyballs and more groundballs these days, and that's cause for concern. Baseball Forecaster had him hitting flyballs at a rate of 40 percent in 2004 and 34 percent last year. His groundball rate was up from 41 percent in '04 to 45 percent last year.

That definitely has something to do with it. Of more concern are the number of flyball outs to right field, especially in the latter half of 2008. Is his bat slowing down? Let's keep an eye on all that this year.

Q. How much do you attribute his struggles recently to his personal issues?

Miles: That's so hard to say. Derrek's little girl apparently is better - she does not have that terrible degenerative eye disease after all - and when I saw him at spring training, he looked like a weight had been lifted.

Derrek never seemed to bring that to the park with him, but you never know. If anything, I think the wrist and neck injuries and the fact that he's not getting any younger may be starting to take their toll.

Q. If Lee starts this year the way he finished '08, how long will Lou wait to move him down in the order?

Miles: That's another sensitive issue. Lou loves D-Lee and respects him as a man and as a player. He also likes Lee's defense at first base and the fact that he's one of the smartest players in the game. But Lou also is quick to change things that he perceives aren't working.

Lee hit .364 with 8 homers in March/April last year, and he had 5 homers in May. His homer total by month dropped significantly after that. If it's not working early, I'm sure Lou will change things up, perhaps by moving Ramirez up to third.

To his credit, Derrek has said he'll bat anywhere.

Q. Is Micah Hoffpauir a lock as Lee's backup or do you expect a battle for that spot?

Miles: Like Mike Fontenot, Hoffpauir is another one of those guys who caught Lou's eye because he can swing the bat a little bit from the left side.

Lou has said that, essentially, Hoffpauir has a job to lose. He hit 25 homers and knocked in 100 in 71 games at Iowa last year and fared pretty well when he was called up.

The Cubs really don't have another first baseman in camp, so if Hoffpauir hits well this spring, I expect him to break with the club. That may leave the right side of the infield a little thin, but GM Jim Hendry may address that as spring wears on.

• Got a question about the Cubs for Bruce Miles? Visit his blog, Chicago's Inside Pitch, to share your questions and comments.