By Tommy Rancel
At a position stacked with superstar names, Chicago Cubs first baseman Derrek Lee is often overlooked. The best player on the face of the planet, Albert Pujols, plays the same position in the same division. So do sweet-swinging first basemen Prince Fielder, Lance Berkman, and Joey Votto.
That Lee gets lost in the shuffle among other big hitters only makes him a more attractive pick. In 2009, he hit .306/.393/.579 (AVG/OBP/SLG) with 35 home runs, 111 RBI and 91 runs scored. His .972 OPS was fourth-best in the National League. The three names in front of him were all familiar foes: Pujols, Fielder and Votto.
Looking at Lee’s Spider Chart (bottom center), you can see the extent of his all-around contributions.
The biggest question facing Lee in 2010 is, can these numbers be sustained? It’s hard to envision a 34-year-old player duplicating such a great season.
When we look for flukes in a batter’s season, we often look at batting average on balls in p
lay (BABIP) and home run-to-fly ball ratios (HR/FB). In 2009, Lee had a BABIP of .327, well above league average, which typically hovers near .300. Lee’s career BABIP sits at .323, though, suggesting his ’09 figure isn’t unusual.
Lee’s career home run-to-flyball rate spiked to 17.9% in 2009, up from 11.7% In 2008. On the plus side, that ’08 figure represented a career low; Lee’s career HR/FB rate is 17%
With regression questions answered, we can look forward to the 2010 season. The most conservative projection on Lee in 2010 comes from the CHONE projection system. CHONE projects a slash line of .285/.365/.487. That would give him an OPS decline of .120 points compared to ’09 levels. Bloomberg Sports pegs Lee to hit .303/.386/.526. .
At these levels, Lee figures to slot in below some of the elite first basemen on baseball. But we’re still bullish on him, especially in 12-team mixed and deeper leagues. Here’s why.
Lee ranks 35th overall in B-Rank (Bloomberg’s proprietary ranking of all players). Despite the relatively high overall ranking, he is the 10th-rated first basemen. This is more a testament to the talent level at the position than Lee’s abilities. With such a deep pool of talent, it is essential to get a bargain at the position. Unless you’re able to score Pujols, Fielder, Ryan Howard or Mark Teixiera in the first round, you might want to lie in the weeds and snatch up Lee much later.
Average Draft Position shows Lee being taken at #90, making a 55-spot gap between where Bloomberg Sports ranks him and where people are drafting him. Looking at the Demand vs. Scarcity chart below, you’ll see that there are plenty of good first basemen available. But few have a bigger gap between their B-Rank and ADP than Lee.
The dot nearly on top of Lee’s belongs to Carlos Pena. Pena’s value is nearly as high as Lee’s. If you can get either one you’ll be the benefactor of a big bargain. The reason to chose Lee over Pena is batting average. Looking at the trend line chart below, you can see just how big of a gap there is between the two in that category.
Outside of Lee and Pena, other four-star first basemen include: Justin Morneau, Votto, Berkman, Adam Dunn and Kendry Morales. None of the names above come close to representing the value of Lee. Here’s a look at each player’s B-Rank and ADP
Only Votto (34th) has a B-Rank higher than Lee (35th); however, all five of these 1B are being drafted three to five rounds earlier. It’s hard to fight the temptation of drafting Morneau or Votto in the fourth round, but your team is likely better off pursuing an elite starting pitcher or help at a shallower position, the coming back around to add Lee two or three rounds (or more) later.
Because he’s in a contract year, Lee is a safer play in a mixed league than an NL-only. If the Cubs fall out of the race by July 31, contenders in both leagues could be battling for his underrated services. Don’t find yourself in a similar fight come draft day. Lock him down.
For more information on Derek Lee and hundreds of other players check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kits for yourself.