On the season as a whole, Milton Bradley, Mike Fontenot, Geovany Soto, Derrek Lee are all hitting much worse than was projected for them pre-season. Soto and Lee are both hitting better in May, but it's hard to erase the memories of early season. Kosuke Fukudome and Ryan Theriot, however, had been much better than expected and, while Aramis Ramirez and Alfonso Soriano were hitting, it covered the holes in the Cub offense. But we lost Ramirez, Soriano went cold, and in May, Fukudome's SLG has rolled over. He's hitting .296/.441/.389 on the month. Meanwhile, Ryan Theriot's power spike came at the expense of his AVG and OBP. In May, he's hitting .229/.308/.543. They both look like hitters who would be better served hitting 2nd and 8th as they started the season, instead of players called to carry the offense.
The Cubs' disappointing 4, however, are not the only hitters who are frustrating fans this year. The D'backs are having a similar disappointing season from many of their hitters - Conor Jackson, Chad Tracy, Stephen Drew, and Chris Young all unable to get their OPS over .600. Their situation is worse than ours, even though Justin Upton overcame his cold start. So, for perspective's sake let's take a look around the league and ask what's going on with so many good hitters. The following are guys I expected to do much better this season than they have started.
Grady Sizemore .220/303/.405 .248 BABIP; K% up 5% from 08
Josh Hamilton .237/.288/.452 K% up 6%; LD% down 5%, GB/FB halved
Jimmy Rollins .240/.284/.351 K% up 4%; LD% down 6%; FB% up 10%
B.J. Upton .188/.291/.275 K% up 7%; FB up 7%
Lance Berkman .239/.380/.479 BABIP .242
Carlos Quentin .228/.329/.455 BABIP .202
David Ortiz .205/.310/.315 K% up 7.5%;
Geovany Soto .206/.322/.275 K% down 2%; BB% up 2.5% BABIP .256
Garrett Atkins .187/.276/.291 LD% down 9%; GB% up 12%
Stephen Drew .173/.247/.333 BABIP .196; K% up 5%; LD% down 7%
Dan Uggla .207/.326/.414 K% down 7%; BABIP .225
Howie Kendrick .241/.287/.383 BABIP .275 HR/FB% up 8%; LD% down 6.5%
Derrek Lee .240/.309/.388 LD% down 10%; FB% up at a career high level
Chris Young .178/.224/.326 K% up 4%; BB% down 4%; BABIP .231; FB% up 12%
Conor Jackson .182/.264/.253 K% up 5%; BABIP .207
Adrian Beltre .213/.246/.308 LD% down 7%
Kelly Johnson .230/.309/.361 K% down 5% LD% down 5% BABIP .250
Milton Bradley .182/.314/.341 BABIP .194 LD% down 11%; FB% down 8%
Adam LaRoche .227/.316/.461 BABIP .262 LD% down 6.5%; FB% up 8%
Mike Fontenot .193/.290/.361 BABIP .205 LD% down 12% GB% up 9%
There are a couple things that keep coming up - a low BABIP, often times connected to a LD% that is way down. Besides bunts, line drives are the least likely occurrence when a hitter makes contact. Roughly twice as often as a line drive, comes a fly ball and ground balls even more often than that. Last year, NL batters had AVGs of .231 on ground balls, .227 on fly balls, and .726 on line drives. So, seeing a LD% down, when a hitters overall line is down is no surprise. When that BABIP is down but the LD% isn't, there's a good chance the hitter has just been unlucky.
Grady Sizemore, for example, isn't hitting that much differently, in terms of LDs, GBs, and FBs, than he has in year's past. His strikeout rate is up, and that's a concern, but overall, it just looks like he might be getting unlucky. The same seems true for Lance Berkman, Carlos Quentin, Dan Uggla, and Conor Jackson.
Garrett Atkins, Howie Kendrick, Adrian Beltre, Kelly Johnson, and Adam LaRoche are all guys whose hitting woes seem directly connected to low LD%s. Some even have positive signs, like Howie Kendrick's HR/FB rate tripling, and Kelly Johnson cutting down on strikeouts quite a bit. These players might hope that it's still early enough in the season that they just haven't started squaring the ball up totally, and a hot streak will counter balance their season stats so far.
Then there are some guys who are showing several different changes in their percentages. Jimmy Rollins, Josh Hamilton, B.J. Upton, David Ortiz, and Stephen Drew are all striking out more than they did last year. These are guys I really wonder about what's going on - and it may easily be different things for different guys.
Coming back to our Cubs, now, we can ask how they compare to these other struggling players.
Geo is actually striking out less and walking more - a good sign. His LD, GB, and FB rates are all close to 2008. What's cratered has been his HR/FB rate - not a good sign at all. I'd like to see some HRs from Geo soon.
Bradley's hitting a whole lot less fly balls and line drives - and that will take away all your SLG and AVG. His BABIP is very low, matching what I remember seeing - a lot of balls hit straight to defenders.
Derrek Lee's line is very interesting. Again, he is not the same hitter he was in the second half of 2008 at all. People who argue he's on a straight line decline are just ignoring the facts. In fact, Derrek's FB% is higher than it ever has been in his career. Last year that FB% had dipped. It has me wondering if Derrek's trying too hard to keep the ball off the ground after his DPs last year and that's cutting into his LD%. That said, Lee's been very good in May and it just bears watching if his April was all attributable to neck woes.
Mike Fontenot has turned most of his line drives into ground balls. He's still hitting HRs at the same rate as last year, which is a good sign. I think people forget how cold Fontenot was to start last season. He may simply be a streaky player who's due for a hot spell.
I don't have all the answers here. The one thing I'm pretty sure about is that at the end of the season, most of the people on that list above will have had good seasons, while a few really will end the season with disappointing lines. It's possible the Cubs' 4 will be those few, but I doubt all of them will be.
I'll add a poll here later today. The question will be "Why is the Cubs' offense disappointing so much?" I'll take suggestions for which answers should be options.
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