As my look in the Chicago Cubs by position continues, we find ourselves staying on second base for one more day. As I stated in yesterday’s blog, there is a competition for second base, so both contenders need to be discussed. Yesterday, I gave my thoughts and feelings on Mike Fontenot; today I will focus strictly on Jeff Baker, who I feel would be the better fit of the two men to be the everyday second baseman. Even though, with Baker as the everyday starter you are limiting yourself to only one left handed bat in the lineup, what he is able to bring to the team far exceeds what you will be able to get from his competition.
He was acquired last year in a trade with the Rockies, after he started the year hitting only .130. With his less than stellar statistics many Cub fans began scratching their heads as to why the Cubs would even consider trading for someone who looked like they would be a waste of a roster spot. However, Baker did not disappoint when he was given the opportunity to play. In the half year that he spent with the Cubs, he out up a very nice batting average of .305, hitting four balls out of the park and driving in 21 RBIs. If you just look at the stat line, you will likely think those numbers are nothing special, and that he is on a level playing field with Fontenot. That may very well be the case, as Baker put up those stats in half the playing time.
When you compare Baker and Fontenot, the only thing that stands out is the sever difference in batting average. Baker hit .069 higher than what Fontenot put up. If two players are going to give you similar home run and RBI totals, you should give the edge to the player who hits for a higher average, and the one who will get on base at a better clip. Comparing the numbers of the two last year, Baker easily beats out Fontenot and should have the leg up in winning this job, balance to the lineup be damned. However, this would put us in the same trap that we found ourselves in coming into last season. Baker did the same exact thing in 2009 that Fontenot did for the Cubs in 2008. He put up a very impressive half of a season, which leads you to wanting to see more of him on an everyday basis.
Judging a player off of only 69 games is hard to do. Again, just look at Fontenot from 2008 to 2009, and several other players in baseball history. In limited time, any player can look like a stud when they are not used on a full time basis. The true test of a player’s ability comes when opposing team’s scouts get a better look at a player to find the holes in their swing. Once other teams adjust to you and how you play the game, your job is to readjust to them. Fontenot was unable to do that last year, and who knows if Baker will be able to do so this year, if he wins the position.
One thing that will possibly hold him back is he has never played a full season in the majors. His career high in games is only at 104 where he hit .268. To his credit, he had a career high of 12 home runs and 48 RBI. When looking at those stats, you should keep one thing in mind. He put up those stats in Coors Field, which is a hitters paradise.
Is Baker the best man for the job? Looking over who is currently on the Cubs roster, I would say he is at least the best second baseman on the roster. Whether or not he is good enough to get the job done is another story. As I stated in my last blog, however, I feel that Fontenot has the leg up strictly because he is a left handed hitter. Once again though, if second base is our weakest position, the Cubs are going to be fine.
If Baker does get the nod though, I see him hitting in the upper .270s or low .280s with around eight home runs and somewhere in the mid 40s for RBI. Much like I said with Fontenot, batting in the eight hole those can be considered respectable statistics.