Fukudome Lives

2008 was a roller coaster ride of a rookie season for Kosuke Fukudome. He started off strong, hitting a game tying home run in the bottom of the 9th in his major league debut that endeared him to Cubs fans from the start. He hit .327/.436/.480 in April and rode that hot start to an All-Star game appearance.

The second half was not as kind, however. He hit just .217/.314/.326 after the All-Star game, pounding the ball into the ground and showing little power. He lost playing time after the team acquired Jim Edmonds, and was basically a reserve in September. His ability to hit for enough power to play regularly became a regular topic of discussion, and the team went out and signed Milton Bradley over the winter, pushing Fukodome into a center field platoon with Reed Johnson.

He didn’t exactly inspire hope and confidence that a rebound was coming with a poor performance in the World Baseball Classic, either. For a lot of Cubs fans, his second half collapse and struggles in the WBC were part of a trend that showed Fukodome simply wasn’t a very good hitter.

So much for that. Fukodome is hitting .357/.491/.714 in his first 55 plate appearances of the season. He has nine extra base hits in 12 games. To put that in perspective, he had 11 extra base hits after the all-star break last year. He’s almost matched that in two weeks of the 2009 season. Fukodome has excellent plate discipline, so when he’s hitting for power as well, he’s a very good player.

Sometimes, a slump is just a slump. Pitchers didn’t figure out Fukodome last year – he just had a bad couple of months. It happens. The Cubs still look like the best team in teh National League to me, and their center fielder is one of the reasons why.

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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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But the question that gets raised is : How do you know that last year’s first half — and really, it was only a great April — wasn’t the fluke?

Obviously, fukudome’s not a .215 hitter, but there’s no real evidence to suggest he will pit up anything more than an 800 OPS or so in the majors — at best.