Kosuke Fukudome: Everyday Starter?

In a previous post, we examined the trade potential with Kosuke Fukudome. In short, he's not a top candidate. We'd be lucky to get a quad-A player or two (a quad-A guy is someone who excels in AAA, yet for whatever reason, cannot stick in the majors -- Quad-As are usually older too, 28+).

As the outfielder market settles (the settling has already begun with the Yankees bowing out of the Carl Crawford race), the Cubs are likely see Kosuke remain in a Cubs uni. So how should we use Kosuke? What can we expect from him in 2011?

Well, after nearly catching a rookie of the year trophy in 2008, Kosuke Fukudome has really lost his perception as a threating bat. In Japan, Fukudome was a Hideki Matsui -like power monster, but in the MLB, he's been just a good on-base guy. For his career, Fukudome has an above average OBP and an average power (SLG):

OBP: .368
SLG: .410

However, when we examine his number more closely, we find Kosuke has improved every year! Looking at wRC+, we realize Fukudome's rookie campaign was easily his weakest.

Increasingly, managers have used Fukudome as a platoon player, starting him only when a right-handed pitcher is on the mound. Further study of his splits shows this may be a mistake:

In 2009, he was awful against lefties. But why? Well, when we look at his batting average of balls in play -- a metric that correlates strongly with luck -- we see his 2009 season proved outrageously unlucky against lefties (.229 BABIP):

So what does this mean for the Cubs? Well, going by these statistics, Kosuke Fukudome deserves some everyday play. He's going to be 34 this coming season, but he still should be the best right fielder on our roster.

Bill James expects Fukudome to repeat his 2010 success, and hit around a .350 wOBA. Like wRC+, wOBA is an all-encompassing batting statistic. If Fukudome his ~.350 wOBA or 116 wRC+ in 2011, that would put him in some good company. Over the last 3 years, these players have sported 116 wRC+:

116 wRC+: Matt Kemp
116 wRC+: Geovany Soto
116 wRC+: Adam LaRoche
116 wRC+: Derek Jeter

After we add Kosuke's above average defense and base running, I think it's a no-brainer: Kosule deserves 600 PAs. We can shift Tyler Colvin to first (116 wRC+ in 2010, by the way) and then pray he learns how to coax walk. Or, we could even bring Alfonso Soriano in from left to first, but his UZR indicates he defends better than the fans think -- making such a move nearly useless.

No matter how we sort it, Fukudome aught to be under the ivy in right.

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  1. For what it's worth, Brad, Fukudome's splits projections (using Bill James projected wOBA) are the following:

    vs LHP: .323
    vs RHP: .355

    I don't know if that changes anything, but with his plus defense I doubt it does.

  2. I wonder how much of Bill James's formula is informed by Fukudome's bad 2009 BABIP? I'm not sure, but yeah -- either way -- I still prefer Fukudome out in right.

  3. Assuming the Cubs sign a free agent 1B rather than shifting Colvin to 1B, do you like Carlos Pena? He seems like the perfect candidate. He's likely to have to accept a deal for fewer years and less money than he's worth, and he'd be a stronger defensive 1B than Dunn. 1B defense shouldn't be overlooked as Starlin Castro is still growing at SS. Throwing to a statue like Dunn, Castro might throw a couple of balls away every week.

  4. Hahaha! A "statue like Dunn" indeed!

    As a Rays fan too, I can't help but love Carlos Pena. I think he'd do great transitioning to the NL and away from the toughest division in baseball. As a Cub, he could hit easily OVER 40 home runs -- despite his age.

    On the other hand, I also know his agent is Scott Boras and there's little chance he'll sign cheap. I bet Boras will find some team willing to give him 2 or 3 years at upwards of $8M per -- and that's not the right fit for the Cubs right now.

    I think we need to see what we've really got in Tyler Colvin -- whom I suspect is the next Jeff Francouer (not a compliment). If Colvin is the real deal, then we can save a pretty penny -- which then goes to our draft picks.

    If we sign Pena, then somebody worthy of starting (Byrd, 'Dome, Soriano, or Colvin) sits on the pine.

  5. Brad, I wasn't quoting James' splits projection. He doesn't do one, but splits were explained in The Book and how to calculate them as well. Berselius put together a spreadsheet last year to automatically calculated the projected splits if you enter in some info.

  6. Brad, I have to disagree with the idea of moving Colvin to first. No matter how you look at it, moving Colvin to first minimizes the benefit of having his speed and athleticism in the outfield and exacerbates the weakness you referenced-- his overly aggressive appraoch at the plate. Given Colvin's approach and stuggles with making consistent contact, there is very little chance he could post a desireable OBP for a first baseman, and needless to say he's a complete unknown in terms of his defense at first.

    I that Fukudome is a little bit more valuable than some fans may realize, but at $13.5M I'm just not sure Fukudome is worth it to this team. I think they need the financial flexibility dumping his contract would provide.

    The only scenario where I like the Cubs keeping Kosuke is if they move Marlon Byrd while he still has a great deal of value and find a platoon partner for Fukudome in center. Fukudome might be a bit of a stretch in center, but if his platoon partner was an adept defender it would mitigate some of this downside.

  7. MB I'm a big fan of that split regression tool. I think those numbers are pretty believeable for Kosuke. So he definitely has his uses as a platoon player, but I think it's too important for the Cubs to give Colvin the majority of the ABs in right next year, so I still think I'd rather see them try to save some money and trade him. If the Cubs are willing to eat $5-6M of his contract I could see a few teams having interest in him, and that would still amount to $7-8M in savings, which is definitely money this team can use.

  8. @mb: Ah, okay. I've been looking for NPB league splits to see if 'Dome was neutral in Japan, but I can't find anything.

    I would be inclined to side with those findings over league average adjustments, but until I find them, I imagine it's safe to side with your assessment.

    @Jack: I'm with you. Moving Colvin to first does not maximize his value -- but at the same time, I'm not a huge Colvin fan, so I don't mind as much. Either way, playing Colvin to first cannot and should not be a long term move. He needs to be in right by 2012.

    Also, if we can find a trade partner for 'Dome, then, by all means, let's do it. The problem is: (1) I don't think we'd get a proper return Kosuke and (2) I don't think we'll get ANY return. There are too many quality outfielders available. If Jim Hendry finds a trade partner for yet another bad contract, I'd be thoroughly stunned.

  9. The thing is, the gains from trading Fukudome are simply in terms of potential savings. Even if the Cubs don't get anything more than a few low level minor leaguers, the Cubs could eat $6M of the deal and still save $7.5M dollars. As you've made abundantly clear in this post, Fukudome really isn't a bad player, so at $7.5M he'd be worth it to someone, and if the Cubs believe he's an expendable player, then saving that much money will be worth it to them regardless of who they get in return.

  10. "...at $7.5M he'd be worth it to someone..."

    Excellent point. I'm not sure how the outfielder free agent market will shake down, but there is a chance that -- even at $7.5M -- he may only get sniffs and no bites.

    I also posit that the other $6M might end up just going to a first baseman -- and possibly through a multi-year. If the prospects netted for Kosuke are just throw-ins, then have we really added any value?

    I don't know. It's hard to say without conjecturing about specific prospects. I guess all I'm saying is that if we can't find a trade partner, then Kosuke should be playing every day.

  11. If I recall, Fukudome's splits were much less severe in Japan, but he was also younger and in his prime. He came to the Cubs past his prime so it's reasonable to think that his ability to hit lefties has declined.

    Colvin is a guy I'm much more interested in with regards to splits. His minor league OPS was nearly the same regardless of the handedness of the pitcher. He actually hit lefties slightly better in 2010 than he did righties. Obviously we still need to regress, but adding in his minor league numbers the regression would change things. I think we'd find that he's not a terrible hitter against lefties, but probably not very good.

    Colvin's ability to stay in the big leagues is dependent on one thing: power. If he can hit for the kind of power he displayed this past season and in 2009 in the minors, he'll be around for awhile. He's never going to get on base so he has to be Andre Dawson at the plate. He has to make up for his low OBP with a high SLG. Colvin isn't nearly the defender Dawson was early in Dawson's career and he's not nearly as good on the bases either. I'm not comparing Colvin's overall skill to Dawson's. Just the ability to hit.

    Personally, I don't care where they put Colvin, but he should be playing since the Cubs are not likely to contend. His value may be limited at 1st base, but it's not like you can flip Colvin with the RF and get more value out of the two. Say Fukudome is a .340 wOBA hitter with average defense and Colvin is a .335 hitter with above average defense at 1st. Fukudome is still a .340 hitter at 1st and now has above average defense. Colvin is still a .335 hitter in RF, but now with average defense.

    That being said, I'd put him in CF. He played it in the minor leagues, the Cubs aren't contending and Marlon Byrd isn't the long-term solution. Move him to RF. If/when Brett Jackson is ready you can trade Byrd and figure out which player plays CF and RF among Jackson and Colvin.

  12. Good points mb.

    Brett Jackson definitely complicates the outfield outlook -- especially if he catches fire right away. I'm all in favor of trading Byrd. I think he's got a positive perception right now -- unlike 'Dome -- and I think we could net something over his worth.

    At the same time, though, I have a lot of difficulty in assessing what we actually should do if we again feel the next season is lost. If 2011 is a repeat of 2010, then is it best to sell everything and try to turn some of the budget into prospects or draft picks (i.e. drafting guys who are tough to sign)?

    I dunno, maybe we're close enough, though, that a lucky string of games let's us into the playoffs? If we sell everything, then we won't be close enough. It's a tough situation -- being mediocre.

  13. Without spending money now or in the next two or three years, the Cubs are unlikely to contend. You never how the luck will play out, but without it, they won't contend. As a result, I'd have a fire sale. Think about how much Geovany Soto could bring in return? I did his trade value a couple months back and it was well over $30 million. He's going to be 30 or older and expensive by the time the Cubs can reasonably contend. I like Soto as much as anyone, but right now he has more value to the Cubs in a trade. The same is true for Marmol and Marshall. Those 3 players are quite valuable. Add in Byrd, Gorzelanny, and Dempster. They all have good value too.

    If the Cubs did it right, they could boast the best farm system in baseball this time next year.

  14. Yeah, that's a pretty solid plan. I agree the Cubs need to make more wholesale changes, but the term "fire sale" means you sell at a loss. I'd rather think of it as a "Going Out of Contention Sale."

    Still, it'd be hard to say goodbye to Soto and Dempster.

  15. The Cubs can call it Win The World Series In 2015 Sale if they want to get the fans interested. I agree about Soto and Dempster. Dempster's turnaround as a starter has been one of the more impressive things I've seen over the last few years. He just keeps doing it too. I mentioned after 2008 when they re-signed him that I thought those years in the bullpen would likely have extended his peak. I don't know if that's what has happened or not, but certainly saving some mileage from 2003 to 2007 has helped him out in recent years.

  16. I remember thinking when signed Dempster, "Why the heck do we want a 3-7 pitcher?"

    Oh, how the times have changed. But still, Dempster has changed too. He went from shaky closer to stud starter -- a most unusual transformation.

    I wonder how much of that was him finding out he was tipping pitches. It seems like a lot of his success coincides with his adoption of the funny windup.

  17. I've wondered that too, Brad. I also think we have to give a lot of credit to Rothschild here. He's a very good pitching coach (decreases walks, increases strikeouts). Credit also goes to Lou whose idea it was to start him. He saw something with Dempster that made him think he could be effective in the rotation and pitch a lot of innings.

    The Cubs have taken a beating for how they've handled pitchers over the years and I think most of it is unfair. Ted Lilly and Ryan Dempster became top of the rotation starting pitchers with the Cubs and Larry Rothschild.

  18. I think a lot of the abuse comes from the Prior and Wood collapses -- which were freak incidences and not the fault of the staff.

    Their handling of Carlos Zambrano was obviously not great and I'm afraid about their plans for Cashner, but outside of that, our pitching has been really good throughout the Hendry era.