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2012 Cubs Preview: Outfield

Right Field: David DeJesus | Is DeJesus our best lead-off option?

According to The Book, the optimal lead-off hitter (i) has a high OBP, (iii) should be one of the team’s three best hitters, and (iii) should have little power. Let’s see if DeJesus fits this mold.

High OBP

DeJesus sports a career .356 OBP - the highest of any current Cubs hitter. According to ZiPS, here are the three highest projected OBPs for the 2012 Cubs.

While DeJesus has a good career OBP, ZiPS projects him to get on base at a lower clip than his career level. Regardless, the difference between the top three OBPs is so small that it’s a toss-up.

Should be one of the team’s three best hitters

According to ZiPS here are the five highest projected wOBAs for the 2012 Cubs.

While DeJesus isn’t technically one of the three best hitters on the team, the projections have him right in the thick of things, as he’s only a handful of wOBA points away from the top three.

Little Power

I have ranked the five players whom we have considered in the previous two analyses by their projected ISOs.

DeJesus is projected to have more power than both Castro and Byrd, but significantly less power than Soto and LaHair.

DeJesus’s relative blend of power and patience does not make him our best lead-off option. However, this exercise has revealed who should actually be hitting first: Starlin Castro. He’s projected to have the highest OBP, be one of the three best hitters on the team, and have the lowest ISO in 2012. While many fans would like to see Castro move down in the order, he’ll have to develop a little more power and we’ll have to find a better lead-off hitter than him before he’s moved down. He’s the best lead-off hitter that we have this year.

What does this mean for DeJesus? He’s clearly one of the best OBP threats we have, one of our four best hitters, (with little separating him from the top three), and does not have enough power to bat in the heart of the order. That said, I see him slotting in very well in the #2 spot.

One last thought on our 2012 lineup: below is what I think is our optimal lineup.

1. Starlin Castro

2. David DeJesus

3. Marlon Byrd

4. Bryan LaHair

5. Geovany Soto

6. Alfonso Soriano

7. Ian Stewart

8. Darwin Barney

Center Field: Marlon Byrd | Did the ball to Byrd’s head affect his distance from the plate?

After taking a pitch to his head in Boston, we might expect Byrd to alter his plate approach by taking a step back in the batter’s box to avoid a reoccurrence of that hit by pitch. This would make Byrd more susceptible to off-speed pitches - particularly sliders - away from him. First, let’s take a look at some pictures.

On the left, we have Byrd batting against Houston in 2010. On the right, we have Byrd batting against Washington in 2011.

There doesn’t seem to be a visible difference between the two images. It looks like Byrd is as close to the plate post-injury as he was pre-injury.

However, if we look at Pitch f/x evidence, we get a slightly different story.

Byrd swings and misses at outside curveballs and sliders with much more frequency post-injury than he did in 2010. Keep in mind that the post-injury chart includes only three months of data, while the 2010 chart includes a full season’s worth of data; even if it looks like he’s swinging and missing at about the same number of pitches curveballs and sliders post-injury as in 2010, he’s done it in less than half a season’s worth of time. While this could just be the result of a small sample size, it could also be evidence of him standing further away from the plate. If Byrd was standing further away from the plate, he would be more concerned about letting pitches go by for strikes on the outside corner, thus expanding the outside portion of his strike zone in the process.

Left Field: Alfonso Soriano | Is Soriano the most overpaid player in baseball? Putting the money aside, is he even our best option in left field?

I cheated here and chose two questions, primarily because they were both easy to answer. I’ll address the overpaid question first.

Here is a list of the 20 highest paid players in 2011 ranked by the amount that they were overpaid or underpaid.

As we can clearly see, Soriano wasn’t the most overpaid player in 2011. In fact he wasn’t even the most overpaid player on the 2011 Cubs - that honor goes to Carlos Zambrano. While $13.15 million is nothing to sneeze at, at least it wasn’t the worst contract out there, (at least in 2011). Regardless, the end of the 2014 season can’t come soon enough.

Now let’s see if Soriano should even be one of our three outfielders. Below are 2012 ZiPS projections for our outfielders:

Until Brett Jackson is promoted, it looks like Soriano is far and away our best option in left. However once Jackson’s called up, things get a little murkier. Soriano and Byrd are essentially projected to provide the same offensive performance in 2012. Assuming that Byrd wouldn’t be opposed to moving to left field, Sveum could platoon the two in left. Ideally Sveum would play Byrd against righties, (105 wRC+ over the past four years), and Soriano against lefties, (124 wRC+ over the past four years), to maximize the offensive output of left field. It looks like Sveum will be allowed to pencil in the best lineup regardless of the amount of money that is sitting on the bench on any given day. If this in fact ends up being the case, Soriano could find himself on the bench for a large portion of the 2012 season.

As always, let me know what you guys think. Again, if you have any suggestions for questions you’d like me to answer about players I have yet to look at, please let me know in the comments.

Thanks to Dan Szymbroski for his ZiPS projections.

Thanks to Joe Lefkowitz for his Pitch F/X data.

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