By Tim Baffoe-
(CBS) .384/.476/.767. That’s Cubs first baseman Bryan LaHair’s slash line as of May 10, 2012.
Gaudy numbers for sure. Eye-popping really, even if through just 31 games of the regular season, especially when I would bet that today if you polled a large number of baseball fans across the country, very few would even know the guy’s name.
LaHair is the early leader in the clubhouse for feel-good story of this MLB season. He’s 29, in his 10th season as a professional ballplayer, and just now having a major impact on a major league roster.
With the exception of the exceptionally soft dreamers, Cub nation knew for the most part that the 2012 season was a wash back in Spring Training. “Watch Theo try to build, monitor Starlin Castro, pray that naked pictures of another team’s GM get into the Cubs hands and there becomes a taker for Alfonso Soriano” was basically the March mantra.
As the Blackhawks crapped the bed and Murphy’s Law threw up all over the Bulls, I found myself scared to death of the fact that Chicago baseball would have to bridge the gap between now and football season. Bryan LaHair is a nice sugarcoating to that tough pill at the moment.
2012 isn’t his first appearance in The Show. He was in a Cub uniform for 20 games in 2011, hitting a respectable .288 in scattered duty with an unremarkable two home runs. He signed with the organization in 2010 after being stuck in the Seattle Mariners farm system for most of the last decade. The Mariners gave him a shot in 2008 for 45 games after getting rid of megabust Richie Sexson. LaHair hit only 3 homers in those games, and Seattle was unimpressed.
Strange that the Mariners would feel so, since LaHair has always showed the ability to produce in the minors and hit 26 long balls just before he was allowed to walk away and sign with the Cubs. Credible people in the game long said of him that he could always hit. Stranger, downright ironic, is that the guy who has toiled for years in lower levels just dying to be with a big club was really only named the Cubs first baseman to start this season—after slugging an amazing 38 homers in AAA Iowa in 2011—because the front office feels star prospect Anthony Rizzo needs more seasoning on the farm (he’s currently hitting .356/.420/.661 in Iowa).
LaHair’s OPS is 1.243, second in the National League behind only arguably the game’s best player over the last season-plus, Matt Kemp of the Dodgers. He’s reached base in 25 consecutive games. If not for him on Wednesday the Cubs and Braves anemic offenses might still be having a staring contest in 83rd inning (and while Atlanta is third in the majors in runs scored, I reserve the right to call a team that gets blanked by Paul Maholm “anemic”).
The on-base streak will obviously end, and probably soon. The chances LaHair’s OBP stays within 300 points of where it is now by season’s end are that of Sofia Vergara showing up at my door wearing nothing but grilled pork tenderloin. I would say that for most any player in his position right now, not just because his name isn’t Kemp or Cabrera.
Everyone with half a brain accepts the fact that George Herman LaHair—as Nick Shepkowski has dubbed him tongue-in-cheekly—is going to fade. His numbers are Ruthian at the moment. His batting average of balls in play is an obscene .510, which leads all of baseball. For those unfamiliar with BABIP, it’s a pretty good measure of how lucky a hitter is. “Luck,” so to speak, does not tend to sustain in this game, and so high a BABIP almost always recedes (and the converse for a low BABIP is often true).
But the good news—for the dreamers and rational Cub fans alike—is that math says LaHair’s inevitable decline might not be terribly drastic. Bradley Woodrum of Fangraphs takes the numbers that I’m too dumb to figure out and makes a pretty convincing case that LaHair’s work isn’t Shane Andrewsian
That makes me feel good. As a long-jaded Cubs fan, no team highs or lows were going to faze me this season, but that doesn’t mean I wanted to eat a giant turd sandwich. LaHair is providing something to feel good about. In a season where the Cubs were contenders I would not put LaHair’s story on such a pedestal and would be far more concerned with wins than individuals, but it’s fait accompli in 2012, so I am allowing myself this little treat.
Bryan LaHair is a good ballplayer who has toiled in the minors for years and has earned this. He’s a nice story for now.
Enjoy your Bryan LaHair. Enjoy it!
Tim Baffoe attended the University of Iowa and Governors State University and began blogging at The Score after winning the 2011 Pepsi Max Score Search. He enjoys writing things about stuff, but not so much stuff about things. When not writing for 670TheScore.com, Tim corrupts America’s youth as a high school English teacher and provides a great service to his South Side community delivering pizzas (please tip him and his colleagues well). You can follow Tim’s inappropriate brain droppings on Twitter @Ten_Foot_Midget , but please don’t follow him in real life. He grew up in Chicago’s Beverly To read more of Tim’s blogs click here.