A little over a month ago in a piece about Geovany Soto's hot start, I noted the following about the Cubs offense:
When your biggest problems are Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez, there's hope.
Now, on June 2nd, the question has become "when your two biggest problems are Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez for the first third of the season, and you're 6.5 games out of a playoff spot as a result, is there still hope?". Lee is hitting a career-worst .232/.339/.366, while Ramirez, at .162/.227/.269, might be the very worst regular in baseball so far in 2010. Lee is not living up to his potential, Ramirez isn't living up to MY potential. Since I wrote the sentence above on April 29th, Lee has hit .252/.341/.365, Ramirez .169/.239/.241.
So, is there hope? For Chicago, given the strong play from those around Ramirez and Lee, the prospect of the two performing at anywhere near their career norms is tantalizing. Here is how Cubs regulars have performed thus far in 2010:
AVG OBP SLG wOBA Soto .260 .409 .415 .376 Fontenot .324 .373 .481 .372 Castro .310 .355 .414 .334 Soriano .301 .368 .589 .414 Byrd .299 .340 .490 .366 Fukudome .294 .392 .490 .382
Lee is a career .283/.368/.500 hitter, while Ramirez put up a .292/.369/.539 line from 2006 to 2009. Add those two hitting the way they can and suddenly the Cubs have one of the best lineups in the National League. Will Ramirez and Lee turn it around? Let's take a look at some numbers that might offer a glimpse (the line drive numbers are from 2002 on).
BABIP LD% K% BB% Lee '10 .275 23.0 23.8 13.7 Lee Career .322 21.3 23.1 11.3 Ramirez '10 .187 15.0 25.7 8.1 Ramirez Career .288 19.8 15.5 7.3
In Lee's case, I think we can safely expect significant improvement. He's hitting the ball hard, and his strikeouts and walks are in line with his career totals. If anything, Lee's peripherals presented above look better than his career numbers.
As for Ramirez, everything looks pretty ominous. He is striking out way more than he ever did, while only walking slightly more often, and not hitting the ball as hard as he has in the past. His .187 BABIP is ridiculously low so he's likely to improve - really, he cannot get any worse - but there's a chance Ramirez may not return to form in 2010. Given what we've seen from the third baseman thus far, I don't think it's premature for the Cubs to contingency-plan for 3rd base while looking out for signs of improvement from Ramirez over the next 30-50 games or so. Maybe the best available way to glean how Lee and Ramirez figure to play the rest of the year is by looking at their Rest of Season Zips projections on Fangraphs.
AVG OBP SLG wOBA Lee .277 .363 .466 .366 Ramirez .265 .337 .460 .349
That Ramirez projection looks optimistic to me, but one can hope.
Even if Lee and Ramirez return to form, the rest of the lineup that has performed so ably to date for the Cubs might regress. There are no guarantees. The lesson of this Cubs season so far is that teams need their stars to perform in order to fulfill expectations. The Cubs remain within striking distance, but a 2-4 stretch with just 11 total runs scored over their last 6 games has made it painfully obvious that this Cubs offense needs a productive Lee and Ramirez to mount a playoff charge.