According to multiple sources, the Braves are very close to acquiring Derrek Lee from the Chicago Cubs for a handful of prospects. For the Braves, who made a few deals at the deadline that netted them Rick Ankiel and Alex Gonzalez, this could be a move that makes them a serious threat in the playoffs.
While it may be obvious to notice a lack of fly balls by Lee this year, which seems to be dangerous for a first baseman playing at Wrigley, the loss has been mitigated by an increase in line drives and a decrease in infield flies. Take those into account and Lee is actually doing better than he was last year in that regard. His HR/FB rate has been a huge problem, which is a career low for Lee. If we use the wisdom behind xFIP on Lee and adjust his HR/FB rate to his career average (16.4%), then he’d be at ~19.7 homers this year rather than just the twelve at which he currently sits. But we know that for hitters, unlike (generally) pitchers, HR/FB is not just a matter of luck but is deeply rooted in skill….Lee is “underperforming” on his BABIP on each batted ball type with the worst offender being line drives. Sure, it’s nice that Lee is hitting more of them, but if they’re not going for hits, and especially extra bases, then it’s not as important.
Lee’s HR/FB rate has jumped up to 12.9% in that time, with his wOBA up to a more respectable .330. It seems as though Lee is beginning to snap out of his season-long funk, and if the Braves can strike while the iron is hot, they’ll certainly be happy.
In terms of the logistics of bringing Lee aboard, the Braves have some maneuvering to do. It seems as though the odd man out will be Troy Glaus, who has looked brutal since the All-Star break. Glaus, who was killing the ball in May and June, is now down to a line of just .239/.343/.406, very poor numbers for a first baseman with below average defense. ZiPS does think he’s good for a .342 wOBA for the rest of the season, but the bat isn’t good enough, nor the defense strong enough, to warrant a spot at third base in the absence of Chipper Jones, who is out for the season. It seems as though the Braves lineup the rest of the way will look like this:
The Braves also have Nate McLouth coming back from his injury, but he just hasn’t shown he’s ready to be play very competitively just yet. Brooks Conrad should also see some time playing around the diamond, although his defensive gaffes at third base the other night may force Bobby Cox to use him primarily as a pinch-hitter.
Without knowing exactly what’s going back to Chicago just yet, this seems to be a solid trade for the Braves. With Lee’s contract up at the end of the year they can use Lee not only to stopgap for Freddie Freeman in 2011, but also seriously compete for a World Series title.
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