The final positional player to be looked at in this series is our Japanese import, Kosuke Fukudome. There is no beating around the bush with this guy, as he has been a tremendous disappointment in his time with the Cubs. When General Manager Jim Hendry signed him in the off season before the 2008 season, he came in with tremendously high expectations. Just about every team in the majors wanted a piece of this guy, and the Cubs came out as the winning bidder for his services. At the time, there were several Cub fans who were thrilled that the Cubs went out and signed one of the biggest fish in the free agent market. Now, two years later, those same fans who celebrated the signing, as well as several others, want Hendry run out of town for signing him to a four year deal. Much like players who take the field with an injury, sometimes a General Manager just cant win.
Fukudome came into the majors with great fanfare. I remember baseball fans talking about him a year before he became available to be signed to a major league team. He was a hot topic, and was looked at as a player who could be the next big thing. Scouts were saying he was a crossbreed of Ichiro Suzuki and Hideki Matsui. Two years later, those scouting reports look to be a waste of the paper they were written on. He is no where near the defense player or the hitter that Ichiro is, nor does he have even close to the amount of power that Matsui has. Actually, he may be closer to Kaz Matsui than he is to the previous two Japanese players. That is not a tag you want to have placed on you.
His lack luster performance in his first two years aside, he is still guaranteed a spot on the 2010 Cubs roster as the right fielder. He will also be in competition with Ryan Theriot to see who will be tagged as the team’s main leadoff hitter. From all thing that have been seen and heard from Piniella, the decision has already been made. Everything is pointing to Theriot being the team’s leadoff hitter with Fukudome sliding into the second sport in the lineup. Either way you go, you cant really go wrong, even though you can make an argument for both men to hit leadoff. Both Theriot and Fukudome do their best hitting when their name is written in as the leadoff hitter. In his 94 games leading off throughout his career, Theriot hits .300 with an on base percentage of .356 and a slugging percentage of .358. On the flipside, Fukudome has hit leadoff in 49 games while hitting only .271. However, his on base percentage of .395 and slugging percentage of .426 blows Theriot out of the water. Because the most important statistic for a leadoff hitter is getting on base, I honestly believe that Fukudome should be the teams everyday leadoff hitter. At least he should be when the opposing team throws a right handed pitcher.
The reason I say against right handed pitchers only, is because he is a far better player against the right handed hurlers. In his career, he hit’s a lowly .242 against the lefty pitchers, while he hits for .020 higher against the right handed guys. Granted a .262 batting average is nothing to brag about, that is better than the .250 he has hit in his previous two seasons. As a matter of fact, last year he hit .270 against the right handed pitchers, which is a dramatic improvement and will be very welcomed if he is able to continue that trend into the coming season. If he is only played against the right handed pitchers in 2010, and hits .270 against them as he did last year, you wont find many fans complaining about what they are getting out of Fukudome. In fact, that may very well change a lot of peoples opinions about him. So what do you do with him and the lineup when there is a lefty on the mound? That’s easy, play Xavier Nady in right. Isn’t that one of the main reasons he was signed? On those days, shift Theriot to the leadoff hole, and have Nady hitting second.
Last season Fukudome, hit in the upper .250s, with only 11 homeruns and 54 RBI. There is nothing to go on that will say he will do anything better than that. Maybe Rudy Jaramillo, the new Cubs hitting coach, will be able to help him figure out what he is doing wrong. Perhaps he will only play against right handed pitchers and that will improve his batting average. I am not worried about his on base percentage, because that will always be there, The problem is his batting average, and his ability to hit his way on base as well as drawing walks. If he is ever able to raise his batting average up to respectability level, you would imagine his already impressive on base percentage would go up immensely. However, even if he never raises the batting average, you can rarely go wrong with a guy who is getting on base at a .400 clip. Adam Dunn is the same way, low batting average with a high on base percentage. The difference is that Dunn blasts out close to 40-50 home runs every year.
With Fukudome, I see him continuing to struggle hitting the ball, while possibly raising his batting average slightly. He won hit the ball at a .300 clip, and likely not even at a .270 average, which will be disappointing to Cub fans and will bring out the boo birds. He wont hit many home runs, likely hovering around 10. His RBI chances, hitting second will be up to Theriot and those at the bottom of the order, so around 50-60 would be expected and welcomed. These numbers are based on him playing everyday, meaning against left handed pitchers as well. If he is limited to only facing the right handed pitchers, you could see a mid .270 batting average with similar statistics in the power category. Will that be enough to quiet the fans who have been giving him grief? Probably not, but that would be a good start.