Every year Chicago Cub fans have the debate as far as who should be the every day right fielder, and this year is no different. You have your fans who demand that Tyler Colvin be given the job, and given a chance to show what he can do when given a full time shot. Then you have the other half of the fan base, who wish to see Kosuke Fukudome continue to start in right field and play every day. So far in Spring Training, if you go off what appears to be the lineup that has been run out most often, Cubs Manager Mike Quade believes that Fukudome should be the starting right fielder for the 2011 season; and I fully agree with him.
I bet some of you are wonder why I would want a player who struggles every year to deliver a batting average or power numbers that make him respectable. Granted, Colvin has the power numbers that fans like to see out of players, but that is the only place where Colvin has the edge. In just about every other statistic and skill that matters, Fukudome has an edge.
In the same amount of at bats last year Fukudome had less home run and RBI, but that is where everything ends for the young Colvin. Fukudome not only had a higher batting average, a higher walk percentage, lower strike out percentage and more importantly, a higher on base percentage by over 50 points. Based on that final statistic alone, Fukudome should not only get the nod to be the every day right fielder, but he should also be permanently placed into the starting line up at lead off. At least against the right handed pitchers, as he struggles badly against left handed hurlers.
The main problem with Fukudome, and where he loses most of his support amongst the fan base, is his very inconsistent play. He annually has a torrid April and May, but his June and July numbers are horrid sending him into the tank. While his batting average suffers and generals dips month after month, one thing that never falters is eye at the plate. He has a very keen batters eye, and that makes him dangerous; especially in the lead off spot. With him getting on base at a near .400 clip, he will be on base a lot for the heart of the order just waiting to be driven in.
I have often made comparisons between Fukudome and the Chicago White Sox slugger Adam Dunn. The base premise of my comparison says that Fukudome is Dunn without the power, but with a glove. Both men struggle to hit for an average that could be considered respectable, but most men are beasts in the on base department. Both men know how to draw a walk, and getting on base is the most important non power statistic in the game. Get on base any way you can, and you give your team a chance to get another run. That is why Fukudome should get the job ahead of Colvin. Nothing against the kid, in fact he should be crucial to this teams success in the coming year, and I will get into that soon, but Fukudome is the man to get the job done in right field for the Cubs.
Who knows, perhaps this will be the year that Fukudome is finally able to put forth a complete season of acceptable baseball with the bat. However, nothing that he has done so far in his major league career has suggested that this is even possible. He will likely never hit for a high average or for the power that he was expected to bring with him from the Japanese League. However, if they would actually decide to keep his Japanese hitting coach with the big league team all season, instead of just the few month or two, maybe he could carry his hot April and May throughout the season. I know that is a long shot, but what could the possible downside be? He can not go through any bigger of a slide as the year goes on then he normally does. I believe that experiment would be worth a few hundred thousand more, or whatever you would have to spend to keep him over here.
For the upcoming season, with Fukudome likely leading off, he likely will not have many RBI opportunities, which is okay. The lead off hitter is not expected to be a big run producer. His job is to simply get on base for the big boppers behind him. Getting on base should continue to be his primary weapon on offense. I see him doing what he typically does, hitting for around .260 with maybe 12 home runs and perhaps 50 some RBI. I would also expect him top get on base around close to a .380 average. Of course, if he actually has a respectable batting average, his on base percentage could easily top the .400 mark.