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?