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Lee, Piniella no longer surprising

Posted By Eddie Kim On Jun 16 2010 @ 12:30 am In Chicago Cubs | No Comments

To say that Derrek Lee has been slipping recently is an understatement.

Many have looked to Lee’s struggles at the plate this year and have been shocked at his offensive inconsistency; after Tuesday’s game, his average is now down to .225. But his defense has also been very lackluster for longer than people think.

Due to many people believing that the Gold Glove awards are actually awarded to the best defenders in the game, Lee has had a reputation of being a good defender for much longer than he actually has been. According to John Dewan’s Fielding Bible, Lee didn’t deserve any of his Gold Glove awards and wasn’t even close to deserving the award in 2007.

The Fielding Bible ranks fielders by a very simple method: whenever a defender makes a play on a ball that the average defender would not be able to make, he gets +1. Whenever a defender fails to make a play on a ball that the average defender would be able to make, he gets -1. Though Lee won the Gold Glove in 2007, St. Louis’ Albert Pujols led all first baseman with +37 that year. James Loney and Scott Thorman were tied for tenth among first basemen with +2 and Lee was not in the top ten. In fact, that has been the norm; a glance at Dewan’s list for each of the few most recent years suggests that Lee has been nothing better than mediocre.

To those that actually watch the game everyday, this is no shocking revelation.

There were many times over the past few years where Lee failed to make a diving stop on sharp grounder or come up with a big leaping catch. The typical reaction has been to excuse Lee for not making the play and justifiably so because it’s a tough play. But when Lee consistently fails to come up with a great defensive play, the realization needs to be made at some point: he’s not a superior defender.

But during the fourth inning of Tuesday’s loss to the Oakland Athletics, Lee was unable to make the routine plays. When the first baseman fanned on a perfect Starlin Castro throw, he was charged with the second error of the inning for the first time in his career.

In addition to Lee slipping, the game provided further proof that Lou Piniella is starting to become more senile.

With the score 5-4 in favor of the Athletics at the time, Piniella let Carlos Zambrano take a sixth inning at-bat for himself despite the tying run being in scoring position with two outs. Zambrano failed to knock in the run, but that move still would’ve been acceptable if Zambrano was going to start the seventh inning. Instead, Jeff Stevens came out to pitch the seventh, demonstrating that Piniella actually left his pitcher in the game because he believed that was the best chance to drive in the tying run. There’s no doubt that Zambrano is a good hitting pitcher, but he’s just that: a pitcher.

Instead of looking for trouble with the media members of Chicago, Piniella should focus on his team. Much like umpires who get defensive and are quick to toss arguing players when they know they got the call wrong, Piniella seeking out White Sox broadcaster Steve Stone is an indication that even Piniella himself knows he’s past his prime. Whether or not Stone was right with his comments is not the point, so I will not go into detail about that here: a confident Piniella would not find the need to lash out at every criticism.

Castro still maturing: In the short time that Starlin Castro has been with the big club, he has shown that he has the skill set to be a major league player. However, he also has continued to show that his maturation level is not where it needs to be. I have already discussed at length [1] about Castro never seeming to have his head in the game and the seventh inning of Tuesday’s game was no exception. On the play that officially went down as a throwing error on Tyler Colvin, Castro was actually to blame. Colvin chased down a ball at the wall and made a throw from the warning track into Castro, who was serving as the cut-off man on the play. The throw wasn’t perfect but few throws of that distance are. All Castro had to do was take two steps to his left to get in front of the ball, but instead he held his ground and missed with a half-hearted jab.

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[1] already discussed at length: http://prosportsblogging.com/mlb-baseball/chicago-cubs/castro-not-ready/

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