Write Derek at drksmart @ gmail.com
Write Phil at phil.bencomo @ gmail.com
Position Report: Second Base
by alex ciepley
2003: Mark Grudzielanek (121 G), Ramon Martinez (42 G), Tony Womack (14 G),
Others (8 G)
2004: Grudzielanek, Todd Walker
Christian: Grudzielanek performed better than anyone could have expected last year, putting up the second-best offensive stats of his career. I can't foresee a situation in which he duplicates those numbers now, at age 34. More likely he reverts to the mean, settling around 275/315/370 and continuing to play a passable defense.
Given how weak the Cubs offense was last year, losing that much offense from secondbase is gonna hurt. Luckily, the Cubs have hedged their bets a bit by bringing in Todd Walker, whose career-worst SLG (.428) last year is just short of Grudz' career best (.436 in 1999). Walker is a butcher in the field, which is troubling, but I hope that Dusty Baker will understand the need to punt a bit of D in exchange for some baserunners.
I hope, but I don't anticipate. For better or worse, Grudz earned his starting job for this season and Dusty isn't the kind of guy who would take that away from him unless he really stinks up the joint. Look for Walker to play occasionally (1-2 games a week) at second and possibly spell Moises Alou in left field. Alongside Todd Hollandsworth, he'll be a decent lefty bat off the bench and a guy who Cubs fans can point to and scream, "WHY ISN'T HE PLAYING???" every few days.
Alex: If Dusty doesn't care to use Grudzielanek and Walker in an offensive platoon, maybe the Gods of Sandberg will implant the idea of a defensive platoon in his noggin. Grudzielanek isn't a great fielder; he's league average. But that makes him notably better than his keystone Doppelganger. Let's break out a chart:
Rate2 is a defensive rate stat, which shows you how many runs a fielder saves or allows at his position per 100 games -- so, looking at the above chart, Grudz last year saved 2 runs above average with his glove per 100 games, while Walker allowed 16 more runs than average per 100 games. Add up the totals for the past three years, multiply it by a 162-game schedule, and it comes out that Grudzielanek has been about 13 runs better than Walker each season with the glove, or a little over one win.
This isn't an overwhelming margin, but the little things might count in this division. The Cubs should consider throwing Walker and his better bat onto the field whenever Prior and Wood are on the mound, since that pair's absurdly high strikeout rates -- and resulting low percentage of balls in play -- limit the damage a poor fielder can do. Similarly, the Cubs' relief core, with its own high k-rates, should make it more tenable for Dusty to make not a defensive late-inning substitution, but an offensive one, letting Walker slip onto the field when the Cubs are close in the late going. Grudzielanek, on the other hand, could be defensive caddy to Zambrano and Maddux, two extreme groundball pitchers. Hey, it's not Jose Vidro, or even Michael Young, but it's something.