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March 2012

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COMMENTS

Jeff Baker – One Trick Pony

Written by , Posted in General

When I asked Joe to throw me a couple of the players no one else wanted to write about in the preview series, I had a feeling one of them would be the rather insignificant Jeff Baker. Baker’s just a boring player. He is the prototypical bench player – he’s limited offensively and can fill in at multiple positions – but bench players just aren’t very exciting. Even Baseball-Reference lists “Pinch Hitter” first for Baker’s “position”.

He was drafted by the Rockies in the 4th round of the 2002 draft, right ahead of the Cubs pick of LHP Rich Hill (sidenote; Baseball-Reference has them being exactly as productive as one another with 2.0 career Wins Above Replacement). Baker had a pretty solid minor league career, amassing over 1500 plate appearances while hitting 302/377/507. He even had a season where he knocked 20 home runs.

Despite the good minor league numbers, from 2005 through the first couple months of 2009, Baker would only accumulate 617 plate appearances for the Rockies. On July 2, 2009, the Cubs traded a 23 year old Single A relief pitcher named Al Alburquerque to obtain the seldom used Baker (Alburquerque looks to be much more valuable than Baker today; thanks again Jim).

Since the acquisition, the Cubs have used Baker in a way that Colorado did not; they are giving him more at bats against lefties than they are against righties. Over the last two seasons, Baker has seen over 64% of his PA’s against southpaws. Against left handers in 2011, he hit 314/349/463 with all three of his home runs. In 2010, he hit 350/395/550 with all four of his home runs.

And that’s what Baker is, a hitter that can only succeed against lefties. There is no need to over analyze anything with him. The projections are high on the amount of playing time, as he *shouldn’t* get more than 200 plate appearances. As a Cubs he’s gotten around the 220 mark. I would imagine it would be the same under Sveum, but most of these projections are forecasting over 300, which seems a bit ridiculous.

With this tiny sample size, anything can happen with his AVG/OBP/SLG. If three extra hits fall in with Baker getting 200 at bats, you may see a batting average swing of 15 points (.250 to .265, to be clear) and an OPS swing of 30 points. What I’m hoping to see out of Baker is a rebound in his walk percentage and continued solid hitting against lefties. If he doesn’t do that, he can easily be replaced by any number of AAA players at a fraction of the cost.

Baker becomes a free agent after the 2012 season and I wouldn’t expect him to be resigned, so we’re likely watching the final 220 or so at bats of Jeff Baker in a Cubs uniform. Exciting, huh?

  • Buddy

    Guys like Baker aren’t very exciting, but they are useful, if handled properly. 

  • BLPCB

    Woohoo!!! Since Baker is going to be playing for the Cubs, everyone do the happy dance!!!! Wait, I’m the only one? DARN!!
    Btw – do you have his #s vs RHP to use as a comparison, or are his # of PA so small?

    • Norm Bothwell

       Sure:
      2011 vs RH: 200/229/263 in 83 plate app’s
      2010 vs RH: 106/181/121 in 72 pa’s

      Career: 239/292/364 in 710 pa’s

      • Jedi

        Plus he’s got 205 strikeouts in those 710 PAs…that’s really hard to do.  I will say that Barney and Stewart aren’t exactly world-beaters offensively.  I’m not sure that Dale will look as bad putting Baker in against a righty as Quade did…the other options are pretty repulsive too.  Just please don’t bat him 4th!

  • Doc Raker

    Didn’t Baker hit his three home runs in 2011 in one game? I had a Jeff Baker run in outside of Wrigley Field August 2010 after a Reds game. We were standing outside Wrigley where the visiting bus is watching the Reds come out of the locker room and what looked like Jeff Baker was hanging out waiting for someone. Now, Jeff Baker has a recognizable face with that big square jaw of his and the Cub blue shorts and shirt were a little bit of a give away also. My son asked for his autograph and he said he wasn’t Jeff Baker, if it wasn’t him it is hard to believe 2 guys at Wrigley that day had identical big  square jaws. I said “Wow, you guys could be twins”, he said “Pay your 4 grand for Randy’s camp and then I will pretend to be your friend, until then leave me alone.” 

    • My name’s…uh…Beff.  Beff Jaker.  

  • Noah_I

    I’d say Baker’s other problem is that he’s not above average, or necessarily even average, at any defensive position.  While he can play five positions (1B, 2B, 3B, LF, RF), he’s not particularly good at any of them.  He’s a Mark De Rosa who can’t hit right handed pitching.

  • Gymjok

    Just put him between a butcher and a candle-stick maker and he’ll be fine.

  • Eddie Von White

    Noah – You could have stopped at “Baker’s just a boring player” and saved us some valuable reading time.  

    • Eddie Von White

       Oops – I meant Norm.

      • Norm Bothwell

         I know…but I was trying to squeeze 500 words out of it!

  • Eddie Von White

    My hats off to you – that’s a tough feat to accomplish – you did it well.

  • Doc Raker

    That is a tough spring training assginement, 500 words on Jeff Baker. “Mediocre utilty defender, only hits lefty’s” would of done it for me.

    • Buddy

       Reason number 5,287 we’re all glad Doc doesn’t write for VFTB.

      • Doc Raker

        No appreciation for being succinct around here?