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Tuesday, July 7, 2009

How Long Can You Keep This Up?

Last April, Derrek Lee was two years removed from his wrist injury, coming off of a season that OPS wise was his second best ever (even with only 22 homers), and he had one of the best Aprils of his career, with a .364/8/23/.437/.682 line, adding up to an 1.118 OPS. The Cubs were off to a hot start and most Cub fans were happy with the idea that the Derrek Lee we saw in 2005 was finally back in full force. Then the calendar rolled over to May, traditionally Derrek's worst month in the majors, and it hit hard, dropping him to a .234/5/14/.269/.411 line that month for a .681 OPS. From there on until the rest of the season Derrek never hit more than 2 homers in a month or posted a monthly OPS higher than a mediocre .787. He began to roll over into double play after double play, finishing with 27 and earning the moniker "DPLee" on many messageboards. Opinions varied on his prospects for the 2009 season, with many meathead Cub fans openly calling for the Cubs to drop him out of his customary third spot in the lineup or to replace him with 29 year old "rookie" Micah Hoffpauir outright.

April of this year came and with the Cubs struggling, much of the fans' frustrations were vented on Derrek, who posted his worst April in a decade, when he posted a .173 average and a .478 OPS for the Marlins in May of 1999, back before he'd established himself as a major leaguer. This April Derrek's line was a ghastly .189/1/10/.253/.284 for a morbid .537 OPS. The calls for Hoffpauir grew louder and even led some rational bloggers to wonder if maybe the change would have to be made soon.

But then something incredible happened. Lee entered May, his worst month, and caught fire like he hadn't done since April of last year or even 2007. For the month of May he hit .313/4/9/.403/.552 with a .955 OPS. June came (traditionally his best month) and he didn't disappoint, hitting .333/6/20/.417/.556 with a .973 OPS, the first time he'd put back to back months together with an OPS of at least .900 since his monster 2005. How has he done in his 5 July games? He's off to an even greater start, with a .300/4/12/.333/.900 line and a whopping 1.233 OPS. Needless to say its one of the better hitting stretches of his career, all at the age of 33 and after what appeared to be a year of decline.

So what the hell happened? It seems a bit weak after three years to use the "his wrist was hurt" excuse, so I won't. However, the bulging disk that has bothered him on an off since 2007 seems a likely culprit, and perhaps the treatment has finally given him the comfort to drive the ball with authority once more. The question that's most important, however, is if he can keep this up.

I say yes he can. Why? His swing is just perfect right now, and while he's bound to cool down from the homer hitting tear he's been on this week, there's no reason he can't continue his success of the last two months as long as he keeps driving both fastballs and breaking balls the way he has been and punishing pitchers' mistakes that he was missing just three months ago. He's got protection in the lineup again, with Aramis back to save the day. But most of all he's going to do it because just like me, he hates the troglodytes that called for Micah Hoffpauir with the white hot rage of a thousand burning suns.

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