Write Derek at drksmart @ gmail.com
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by Derek Smart
So, Matt Lawton is now a Cub, filling a need the club has sported, really, since the end of the 2003 season when Kenny Lofton played his last game in blue pinstripes - the role of leadoff man.
I've had a chance to sleep on this deal some, and the more I think about it the more I like it. Not only does it put someone at the top of the lineup who will get on base enough to take true advantage of the power of men like Lee and Ramirez, but Lawton adds speed on the basepaths and above average defense.
True, he's not a prototypical corner outfielder, hitting more like a very good up the middle player than anything else, but take a look below and see how he fits in with the current roster.
As things stand, he's becomes the third best hitter on the team when looking at Equivalent Average (EQA), and if one takes in all of his on-field contributions over the season thus far via WARP1, his defense in the outfield makes him the second most valuable player in the Cubs regular lineup - worth nearly a win more than Aramis Ramirez, due mostly to The Ram's sub-standard defense at the hot corner.
Quick caveat: I use WARP1 because it's an easy way to express a player's overall contribution to his club by stating how many wins he's worth, and it works well as a comparison tool. However, I have my qualms about the defensive component, as I do about all defensive stats, so I try to take that aspect with a grain of salt. In the case of Lawton vs. Ramirez, my guess is that the defensive differences bring them closer to even, rather than making Lawton clearly superior, but that's partly my bias towards offense talking. Draw what conclusions you will.
While the player sent to the Pirates was Jody Gerut, the deal should be more accurately seen as Lawton for Jason Dubois, and considering the needs of the team, that's an excellent haul, indeed. Add in that part of the reason why Gerut was acquired was because early discussions with the Pirates about Lawton were fruitless, and one has to like it even more. I'd be curious to know if this was part of the plan all along, but whether it was or not, it's another piece of masterful dealmaking by Jim Hendry.
Still, while I think this move is very important in setting this club right, more hope rests in the return this Friday of three fallen warriors, and if you ask me, the risk-laden drama of whether Williamson is ready, Nomar is steady, or Wood is all systems go will tell the story of the rest of the 2005 season.