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May 2009

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Is Derrek Lee really declining?

Written by , Posted in General

Many people, especially here at VFTB, do not like Derrek Lee. They think that he is declining, they think that he isn’t as good as Micah Hoffpauir (or even Jake Fox), they think he should he traded, they think he should just be released, etc.

But the overall trend in the posts and comments here are that Derrek Lee is on a downward spiral, so I decided to take a look.

I looked at the following numbers, after taking out any season where he didn’t see 500 plate appearances, including this season.

Year wOBA EQA WARP RC/G OPS+
1998 0.323 0.292 2.3 4.4 96
2000 0.372 0.291 4.1 6.4 124
2001 0.351 0.284 4.7 5.6 112
2002 0.375 0.306 5 6.6 131
2003 0.381 0.308 6.54 7.1 131
2004 0.367 0.285 4.3 6.3 117
2005 0.446 0.344 7.4 10.7 174
2007 0.391 0.299 4.9 7.6 131
2008 0.360 0.279 5.2 5.6 110

And here is the above data in graph form so that we can easily look at what kind of trends exists in Lee’s performance:



Interesting… what I see is a huge outlier in 2005, and other than a pretty steady performance trend. So lets take out the 2005 season, and see what we get:



Now the picture becomes a little more clear. As we take out his injured years and partial seasons, and his obvious outlier year of 2005, we see a fairly consistent and obvious trend of similar performances each year.

Now I already know that people will complain that I left out his numbers this year. And Derrek Lee has obviously struggled this year, so much so that his numbers this year look like as much of an outlier as his numbers in 2005 did, but in the opposite direction. Derrek Lee currently has 103 plate appearances this season, so the first obvious caveat when looking at his 2009 numbers is that we are still looking at a small sample size. The second obvious caveat is that he is and has been battling a back injury. The back injury, to me, is much more concerning than any alleged “downward trend.” But if Derrek Lee can get and stay healthy, I expect him to continue to produce at a similar level as has in the rest of his career.

Of course, there is one more thing to look at concerning Lee’s 2009 season so far. He currently is sporting a .263 BABIP (batting average on balls in play). This is low, and is almost assuredly not sustainable when you look at the rest of his career. The average BABIP in baseball hovers around .300, but Lee’s career BABIP is .325. Basically this means that has been significantly less “lucky” than he has been over his career, and that you can expect this number to regress (or in this case… progress) to the mean. When it does, we can also expect Lee’s overall number to “progress” to the mean.

  • Good stuff Dave…I still hate him. =)

  • Mark Strickler

    I like D Lee, I just think it’s time to get better value for our money. Dave has done a good statistical analysis here and I’m going to admit my ignorance as I’m not familiar with any of the statistical indices in the article. I’ll admit to being old-fashioned, I look at things like BA, OBP, SLG, OPS, etc. I want to see how a guy performs according to those numbers and I don’t care to throw seasons out.

  • I want to see how a guy performs according to those numbers and I don’t care to throw seasons out.

    I only threw out seasons that were not full seasons, and then through 2005 as it was an obvious outlier. When looking at trends, it doesn’t make sense to factor in clear and obvious outliers.

  • cap’n obvious

    First off, let me tip the cap to Dave for what has to have been some time consuming research and graphing. This situation with Lee is a prime example of why I often argue against Sabermetrics. I have also argued for Sabermetrics, but today, due to the topic being Lee, I will take the against.

    Lee’s decline, which might have been more injury caused than aging, can be seen more on the field, as it just looks like his bat is slower, and he is being forced to compensate by starting his swing earlier. This causes guessing and also can cause a guy to make outs on pitches out of the strike zone. Of course, I watched a whole team of Cubs do this last night, not just Lee, but I digress. wOBA, EQA, and WARP don’t really address what I see as the problem, a major power outage and inability to hit the ball with authority, especially the other way.

    Defensively he is far better than Hoffpauir or Fox, that is certain…but how many MLB clubs have ever carried a 1B for their defensive prowess? For the record, I hope the Cubs hang onto him for at least the rest of this season, as I see his benefits outweighing the costs, but all sabermetrics aside, I still believe he has a slowing bat and is not hitting for the power the Cubs need out of his spot in the order.

  • wOBA, EQA, and WARP don’t really address what I see as the problem, a major power outage and inability to hit the ball with authority, especially the other way.

    Yea they do. All of those address power, via looking at slugging percentage.

    As for Lee vs Fox or Hoffpauir… I would like to know what people really expect Fox or Hoffpauir to do. Lets see people estimate what kind of line either of those would put up in a full season of at-bats.

    I will say that I expect such a line from either of those two to be much lower than many people would expect.

  • Rich Beckman

    That’s all well and good. I still wouldn’t care if they released him.

    I understand there is a loss of value there. But given his contract, who is going to trade for him? So when will someone trade for him? Ever? The Cubs are stuck with him until he is a free agent?? And then he signs with someone else and what value is obtained for him then?

    Release him now and save lots of money and we don’t have to put up with him for one and a half more years.

    I understand that he did have that good day the other day. And he may yet prove to be a valuable member of the team. But as of right now, I would rather see Micah getting the playing time.

    When Lee comes to the plate I have no confidence that something good is going to happen.

    Anyways, Go Cubs Go! Beat those Cardinals!!

  • BTW… ZiPS projects Hoffpauir to put up a .289/.331/.512 line, and Fox a .244/.293/.434 line.

    The same projection system projects Lee to put up a .286/.361/.463.

  • Release him now and save lots of money

    Umm… releasing him now would save… $0.

    MLB contracts are guaranteed. If the Cubs released him, they would be on the hook for the rest of his contract.

  • cap’n obvious

    MLB contracts are guaranteed. If the Cubs released him, they would be on the hook for the rest of his contract.

    this is the main reason I am a proponent of keeping him.

    Yea they do. All of those address power, via looking at slugging percentage.

    Slugging percentage is only a factor in these stats, and I don’t think a big enough one to say they address the power outage. Again, I am also basing my opinion on what I have seen in watching the actual games. At least he isn’t hitting into as many double plays this year.

  • cap’n obvious

    Look at me, I’ve learned the magic gray box!

  • Again, I am also basing my opinion on what I have seen in watching the actual games.

    Well… one of the reasons stats are so valuable is that they are much more objective than our eyes. Our eyes are much more likely to lie than the stats are.

    Look at me, I’ve learned the magic gray box!

    Well done… you deserve a prize. 🙂

  • Rich Beckman

    Right. Good point. So the Cubs would save the equivalent of the league minimum? Another team signs him for the minimum and the Cubs pay that much less? Is that right?

  • Another team signs him for the minimum and the Cubs pay that much less? Is that right?

    Correct… I believe that the minimum salary is $390,000 a year. So if the Cubs traded Lee now, they would save $305,000 this year and $390,000 next year, and still be on the hook for $25.3 million.

    Releasing him would be pretty foolish.

  • Rich Beckman

    “Releasing him would be pretty foolish.”

    It’s not that I don’t understand that. My point is that I wouldn’t care. I wouldn’t miss him. I wouldn’t complain.

    Release him. Bench him. Send him to Iowa. I don’t care. I’m just tired of him being in the lineup.

  • Mastrick

    Well right now the Cubs are sleep-walking, we’ve scored three runs in the last twenty-three innings. We are losing because we’re playing losing baseball. I’m not going to put that on Lee – going into tomorrow I’d like to see Miles start at third (or put him at second and start Scales at third) and hopefully Hoff will start in right. This team needs a jolt and hopefully Soriano can get out of his funk too. Shame Dempster and Harden weren’t able to earn wins.

  • Your graphs are interesting and helpful. The major thing I have said about Lee is that he was a realistic major league #3 hitter for one season only. He was batting 6th when 2005 started, and he batted mostly 6th and 7th with the Marlins. In that position, his basic production is reasonable.

    But boy oh boy, 1B is supposed to be a power position. Lee was a power hitter for the one season. Mark Grace never was a power hitter. Buckner? Biittner? Andre Thornton is the last power hitter at 1B in a Cub uniform and he had his best seasons in Cleveland. Ernie Banks was the last long-term successful power hitter at 1B for the ball club. He retired 37 years ago.

    Do we have a Prince Fielder or an Adrian Gonzalez or an Orlando Cepeda in our system? Only if he is a secret.

  • MJ

    One. Thank you Dave. It’s nice to see someone take the numbers I’ve been looking at for weeks, and finally post them….in much greater detail.

    My point is that I wouldn’t care. I wouldn’t miss him. I wouldn’t complain.

    But your point doesn’t matter. The Cubs are a business, and they will do what they see fit. Keeping D Lee is a good financial decision, both on and off the field.

    So…..now who do we decide to beat up on????

  • sherm

    I suggest somebody beat up on Gerald Perry. I realize we have some key injuries, but there is no good excuse for the lack of production we’re seeing team wide. Frankly, Aramis Ramirez is the only starter on the DL (offensive player/non pitcher) that really matters in the lineup anyway. The rest of the team? Not getting it done.

    To me, it just never looks as if we have a plan — same approach every game, regardless of who is pitching or what the situation is. Maybe we do…it just doesn’t look like it to me…

  • Rich Beckman

    “But your point doesn’t matter. The Cubs are a business, and they will do what they see fit.”

    Crap. And here I thought Hendry would read my comment and get right on it.

    That’s not how it works?

  • cap’n obvious

    To me, it just never looks as if we have a plan — same approach every game, regardless of who is pitching or what the situation is. Maybe we do…it just doesn’t look like it to me…

    I have been saying this far a few weeks now. A fire needs to be lit under these guys, and a nice batting coach canning could go a long way toward lighting it. Lots of fantastic candidates out there…way too many outs on pitches out of the zone, early in counts.

  • cap’n obvious

    a quick check over at godaddy.com show that firegeraldperry.com is available…if anyone is interested. 🙂

  • You don’t need numbers and charts and graphs to no someone is washed up. Any intelligent fan can see that he no longer can produce on a regular basis and is a shell of what he was when he signed that huge extension which is now biting the cubs in the ars

  • MJ

    To me, it just never looks as if we have a plan

    I think they do. It’s swing at the first pitch. 😆

    Crap. And here I thought Hendry would read my comment and get right on it.

    I see your sarcasm, and raise you one.

    You don’t need numbers and charts and graphs to no someone is washed up.

    Um, that’s what these numbers, charts and graphs are for. To show he’s NOT washed up.

  • Doc Raker

    Dave
    Good work on the stats. I am curious, in 2008 Lee hit 12 HR’s in April and 8 for the remainder of the season. What do your numbers look like if you remove April form 2008?

    I am with cap obvious, something is going on which is going to result in a season of abberation in the wrong direction for Dlee. I think Dlee is going to turn in a significant down year since he already turned in a significant down May-Oct of 2008.

    My solution: Bench him. At that point he may ask for a trade, then see what you canget for him. I would hope the request for a trade would be done internally and confidentially leaving the Cubs some trade leverage.

  • seymour Butts

    Nice Job Dave.
    Will you look at that, Dave getting love from the shermboys.
    And congrats to Capt on getting the gray box thing. I still don’t, though not for Joe’s lack of trying.
    Rakers comment is the only real solution. Lou has to say to DLee that Hoffy is doing it and is going to get the majority of the starts for a while. One of 2 thing comes from that, a step up, or a trade demand.
    I’d hate to see DLee go, but it’s about winning, and he’s not earning it right now.
    Seems like we offered more for Peavey than the WS are set to give. Makes you wonder.
    Note to J Hendry ( who I’m sure reads this). Go get DeRosa back.

  • Kris

    Just playing devil’s advocate here, but wouldn’t benching Lee completely decrease his trade value?

  • MJ

    Note to J Hendry ( who I’m sure reads this).

    You’d be surprised who does read this blog.

    Lou has always gone with who’s getting the job done, so I’m not sure I understand the sudden change in strategy. If benching is what’s best, then so be it.

    I was reading elsewhere, and came across this point in which I thought was interesting. It’s a 25 man roster, and yet Lou refuses to use Freel (or Gathright before him), and Patton hasn’t pitched in 12 days. What is the point of a 25 man roster if you’re only going to use 23 of the players????

  • Just playing devil’s advocate here, but wouldn’t benching Lee completely decrease his trade value?

    Yes.

  • Doc Raker

    Benching Lee says Lou has lost confidence in him relative to Lou’s other option which is at this point Hoffa.

    Other’s in the league may or may not have confidence in him, only discussing a trade will tell. Dave just gave us a statistal argument that his numbers are not in sharp decline so maybe other’s in the league feel the same. One thing is for sure, allowing him to hit at the Mendoza line for a prolonged period of time will decrease his trade value the mostest.

    The point of the benching is two fold 1) to get the player to request the trade vs having the player hold you up in a trade senario, and 2) to improve production at 1b since Hoffa is producing and Lee is not.

  • Kris

    I just don’t think the Cubs or Lou have lost faith in Lee. Either that or they really don’t see anyone else on the roster as a viable option. I may be biased since I like Lee, but I tend to think if someone around was better than Lee that they’d be playing whoever it is. Perhaps that’s way too simplistic logic, though, because I have no idea what is going on behind the scenes.

  • One thing is for sure, allowing him to hit at the Mendoza line for a prolonged period of time will decrease his trade value the mostest.

    Lee’s average jumped from .198 to .230 in the last three games alone, and that doesn’t include his night tonight. Right now he is the only one the team hitting. But sure… lets bench him and somehow hope that will increase his trade value?

  • Doc Raker

    Yes, Dlee belted out 2 singles tonight, we sure won’t confuse him for Pujols. Hoffa is better and should play if the Cubs want the best line up. To address’ Kris’s comment on Lou and the Cubs having faith in Dlee, when you pay a guy $12M a year you have a bias in playing him. GM’s don’t like to admit they made a mistake on a contract and as long as they don’t sit someone down they aren’t admitting a mistake. This is akin to bringing up bonus money prospects to the bigs regardless of whether they deserve it, which happens all the time. Why would a GM allow a top prospect to languish in the minors after investing so much into them, see Patterson, Korey- Pie, Felix.

    Dave-
    How do Dlee’s numbers look for 2008 when deleating April’s stats?

    Dlee’s trade value is not the priority, a winning line up is. I think Dlee’s season will be underpar so I think benching can’t hurt his value. If you think he is going to have a normal year, then sure keep playing him. I also think Milkit is going to have a sub par year but I doubt Hendry would consider benching or trading a guy he just handed $10M per to.

  • Yes, Dlee belted out 2 singles tonight, we sure won’t confuse him for Pujols.

    I wasn’t just talking about last night. You want to bench him because he had a bad April. In May he has put up a line of .314/.400/.629. But sure… it was just two hits last night. His May numbers are in a limited sample size, but so are his April numbers. But he really has been seeing, and hitting, the ball well right now.

    Hoffa is better and should play if the Cubs want the best line up.

    No one has answered my question. What kind of line do you think Hoffpauir would put up over a full season?

    How do Dlee’s numbers look for 2008 when deleating April’s stats?

    Are you incapable of looking up the numbers? I don’t have chance right now. Further, I am not interested in taking out segments of a year, and then pretending that it is a an honest look at a full season of play. Baseball is 162 games a year… you can’t take out the good periods and then say how a bad a player is.

    Dlee’s trade value is not the priority, a winning line up is.

    Sure… I agree. And I think that Lee helps this team win more than Hoffpauir. The way that people overrate Hoffpauir (and Fox) around here is hilarious.

    I think Dlee’s season will be underpar so I think benching can’t hurt his value.

    Can you name one example of a time where a player got benched and it didn’t hurt their trade value?

    If you think he is going to have a normal year, then sure keep playing him.

    Ok… I would. And obviously so will Lou.

  • Kris

    To address’ Kris’s comment on Lou and the Cubs having faith in Dlee, when you pay a guy $12M a year you have a bias in playing him. GM’s don’t like to admit they made a mistake on a contract and as long as they don’t sit someone down they aren’t admitting a mistake.

    I see your point, but this is also a franchise that knows they haven’t won a World Series in 100 years. They’re focused on winning. If a player, big name or contract or not, isn’t going to help them do that–then I think they’re willing to admit their mistakes. I think Fukudome last year was a prime example of that.

    Perhaps I have too much faith in Lou’s judgment, though.

  • MJ

    We’re four games out….and it’s not June.

    BENCH THEM ALL!

  • Doc Raker

    Are you incapable of looking up the numbers? I don’t have chance right now. Further, I am not interested in taking out segments of a year, and then pretending that it is a an honest look at a full season of play. Baseball is 162 games a year… you can’t take out the good periods and then say how a bad a player is.

    This is one of the problems with statistical analysis, it doesn’t tell you when the player produces. Does the player produce when the score is 9-1 or when the game is close and the production is helpful?
    Is the player streaky or consistent?

    You can have 2 players with similar production but have 2 very different players.

    My arguement is Dlee is in decline and if you realize 60% of his HR’s came in the first 17% of the 2008 season you can easily see that he has declined since May of 2008 relative to his historical production.

    Your reluctance to look at the requested data gives me the sense that you are not interested in finding the truth but rather finding data that backs your preconcieved belief’s, a true sin of a pure scientist or researcher.

  • MJ

    You’re bending the numbers to fit your argument. Which is precisely what you’re arguing is the problem with statistics. Poor argument on your part as well.

    We’re those HR’s at the beginning of 2008 in key situations? If yes, then they were important, so what’s the argument? Because he didn’t hit them later in the year, in blow outs?

  • Kris

    a true sin of a pure scientist or researcher

    You’ve also made comments on people’s knowledge of psychology. This is not a lab, hospital, university, library or any other sort of research facility. It’s a baseball blog.

    Dave spent what was obviously a good amount of time doing some solid research on one baseball player. It’s one of the higher quality posts we’ve had on VFTB. He made a valid argument that the “sky is falling and DLee is horrendous” cries we keep hearing are over-dramatic.

    If people don’t like Derrek and would be okay with seeing him go–then that’s their prerogative. But he is not the devil-incarnate like some people want to make him out to be. In my mind, we have much bigger issues.

  • Doc Raker

    If Dlee hit 12 HR’s in September of 2008 I would be optimistic about his 2009 production, but since his production has been consistently down from May of 2008 I am not. That is why the 12 Hr’s in April of 2008 are important to recognize IMO.

    And yes, we have other issues like Soto, Fontenot, Milkit and Miles plowing along on the interstate.

  • MJ

    Yeah, that’s great, focus on one month of his career to support the “he’s in decline” argument.

    That’s pretty poor science. And no way to come up with your hypothesis.

  • Kris

    If Dlee hit 12 HR’s in September of 2008 I would be optimistic about his 2009 production…

    Lee’s Post-season appearances since 2003, including BA/OBS/SLG/OPS (courtesy of baseball reference.com):

    2003 FLA NLDS .250/.368/.313/.681
    2003 FLA NL NLCS .188/.235/.344/.579
    2003 FLA NL WS .208/.240/.208/.448
    2007 CHC NL NLDS .333/.385/.333/.718
    2008 CHC NL NLDS .545/.583/.818/1.402
    3 Seasons (5 Series) .263/.320/.358/.678

    Those are some pretty good numbers for the end of last season. How is that being consistently down? Everyone griped last year about Lee being in a slump, and he ended the year with a close to .300 average. And he hit when it truly counted in the playoffs. I’m not saying his numbers are wonderful right now, but he does not seem to be getting consistently worse like everyone is saying.

    If I remember the post-season correctly, it felt like Lee and DeRosa were the only two players who actually brought their bats.

  • Your reluctance to look at the requested data

    My reluctance has to do with lack of time and nothing else.

    If you want the stats, look them up yourself. The stats that I used in this post are not easy to come by for partial seasons. And I have had a few busy days, and have a few busy days moving forward.