Sunday, February 15, 2009

Do You Believe in Unlikelihoods?

I find it interesting how the Cubs seem to be hanging their season's success on the hopes that multiple players will exceed their career average performances.

Gordon Wittenmeyer at the Sun-Times writes today that Rich Harden has a goal of making 30 starts this year. That would be great if he can do it (particularly because I own him in my keeper fantasy league for something like $5), but the reality of the situation is that he has only made 30 starts once in his career (in 2004). He has averaged under 17 starts per year in his six major league seasons. He is currently working on rehabbing a shoulder injury that may or may not eventually need surgery. I have to wonder what exactly makes the Cubs feel that Harden will even make 25 starts again like he did last year, much less 30.

Meanwhile, over at waxpaperbeercup, the analysis of Mike Fontenot and Aaron Miles leaves me wondering how the departure of DeRosa helps the team. Fontenot still doesn't have enough at-bats to get a real good sense of what he is going to bring to the lineup, and Miles' history seems to suggest that we may be seeing an Augie Ojeda clone, only more expensive.

Another player that the Cubs have pinned exceptionally high hopes on is Derrek Lee. The Cubs, and most fans, keep waiting for the 2005 version of Derrek Lee to show up again. That was the year he hit 46 homeruns, drove in 107 runs, and scored 120. He was putting up Albert Pujols-like numbers that year.
The problem is that Lee had never driven in more than 100 runs before in his career, and he has not done it again since. His second highest homerun total is only 32. His .867 OPS over the last two years is probably more representative of what we can expect from him again this year, rather than the 1.079 OPS he put up in 2005. Again, .867 is a fine number, but it is not necessarily the kind of production in the clean-up position that scares the opposition.

But the big problem I still have is with the signing of Milton Bradley. I've said it before and I'll likely continue to say it until he proves me wrong: the man has never driven in more than 77 runs in a season. People used to bitch that Mark Grace wasn't a run producer, but he drove in more than Bradley's career high in 10 of his 16 seasons. Grace has a career .825 OPS. Bradley's is .827.

Even if Bradley manages to stay happy and healthy this season, we have the equivalent of Mark Grace in right field. That's fine, but hardly a difference-maker compared to other right fielders in the league. Meanwhile, Adam Dunn signed for 2 years and $20 million in Washington. Dunn has hit 40 or more homeruns the last 5 years. He has driven in 100+ runs in four out of the last five (92 in 2006). He has a career OPS of .899 and he is only 29 years old.

That is a run producer. He has also played in 150 or more games in 6 of his 8 seasons. The exceptions being his rookie year and 2003, where he still played 116 games (which would be the third highest amount for Milton Bradley). Yet the Cubs have guaranteed Bradley $30 million over 3 years.

I just don't understand how the Cubs read the market for free agents this off-season so badly. Dunn gets only $20 million, Bobby Abreu (career .903 OPS, .842 last year) gets about $5 million guaranteed from the Angels, and Manny Ramirez is still unemployed. The Cubs are like the people who ran out to buy laser-disc players for $600 when they first came out instead of waiting a bit and paying far less for DVD players.

The Cubs and their unrealistic expectations are really testing my optimism, so hopefully they will start proving me wrong soon.


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