The Impact of Fukudome

There has been a lot written and said about Fukudome in recent weeks. For a while, there was discussion that he wouldn't make the post-season roster. But I think we can all agree that he will, but the question remains whether he'll actually play. You may believe that since Lou soured on his hitting in the regular season, he will end up with playing DeRosa in right and adding Fontenot as the left-handed stick at second. While that may be true, I thought I would provide a compelling reason for Fukudome to be the regular, starting RF for the Cubs in the playoffs.

Fukudome's average went down every month; he ended April batting .327 and finished September batting .178 for the month. That's not convincing, you say? You got me on that one. But looking past his batting average, Fukudome did a lot to help this team. For one, he lead the team in walks, with 81. This despite having more than 50 AB's less than any of the top 4 in the category. His walk totals weren't affected by his poor hitting, as his walk per AB totals were relatively close throughout the year.

Let's look at Fukudome's speed. He was third on the team in steals, with 12 and had a 75% success rate. He also grounded into fewer double plays than anyone with more than 400 AB's. But, you say, he only had 500 AB's, so those numbers are skewed. True, but the percentage was also less than anyone else. He ground into a double play only 2.42% of the plate appearances he faced with runners on base. Besides Fukudome, only Mark DeRosa, who came in at 2.98%, had a percentage of less than four.

Why do I mention these stats (other than to prove my point, of course)? Because in the playoffs, there are fewer hits. The weather is cold, the pitching is better. You need to be able to manufacture runs. I may be telling you something you already know, but the ability to walk negates the fact that there aren't as many hits. It also wears down a pitcher, meaning that you have to dip into the bullpen quicker. The ability to steal is important not just because you can get another base, but because you divide the pitcher's attention. Often, it is the ability to steal which impacts the game more than the actual stolen base. The ability to keep runners on base is vital, because it keeps the momentum in your favor, produces more RBI opportunities, and if nothing else, turns the lineup over. All these factors lead to Fukudome being a huge asset. Maybe he doesn't get all the hits you want or hit the HR, but if you put him in the lineup, I think he will surprise people with his subtle impact.

Finally, I want to mention that Fukudome is a winner. He helped Japan win the WBC two years ago and has two Olympic medals for Japan. Maybe the winner intangible is overblown. But when you look at it, the Cubs are 20-14 when he doesn't start (a .588 winning percentage); 77-50 when he does (a .606 winning percentage).

Comments (2)

MAV

September 30, 2008 at 3:14 PM

I love the insight and discussion, but I'm simply not compelled. The cubs .588 win percentage (20 of 34) without Fuko in the lineup jumps to .618 if they win just one more game (21 of 34). If anything, the fact that the cubs win % percentage is practically the same with or without him in the lineup tells me that FUKO is a non-factor. I know that he's made some great defensive putouts/assists in the outfield, but his bat has been a monster liability since may. Unquestionably, he's on the roster. But, I'm more comfortable with DeRo and Font'no.

Lionel

September 30, 2008 at 4:00 PM

I assumed that not many people would agree with my position. While I think that playoff baseball is similar to the regular season, I don't think it's the same, mainly because of the weather. Yes, the Cubs will play at least one game in So.Cal., but even there it is getting cooler at night. Because the weather is colder, the ball doesn't carry as far. Add to that generally better pitching, and the ability to get on base and run plays a bigger role. Thus, I think a guy like Fukudome has a bigger impact in the playoffs than he does in the regular season. I admit, he could easily continue his slide and go 1 for 14 or only come in as defensive help late in the games and not see many AB's (he did hit .429 as a pinch hitter). While DeRo has some athleticism, Fukudome has better speed and a better arm in right.

I didn't and don't mean to overstate the Cubs record with Fukudome in the starting lineup, but here's a little tidbit. The Cubs are 23-26 when 'lil Mikey starts, and only 62-57 when he plays. I will admit those numbers are a bit skewed because he was logging a lot of starts when Sori was out and because he made some starts in this past week, but it shows me that the Cubs are slightly better with Fukudome in the lineup than Fontenot at the 2-sack and DeRo in right. But, as I said, I didn't expect my opinion to be popular.