My Cubs unrequited love is one that should have never been. It was truly love at first sight when he made his debut, but the fact that it is now unrequited is a tragedy of Lou Brock proportions. The recently DFA’d Tony Campana is the source of my one way love affair. This scrappy little white guy stole my heart like so many other Cubs fan with his blazing speed and his blazing speed. Unfortunately as quickly as the Tony Campana era began it was over in Chicago.
I mentioned Lou Brock to start because it is such a fitting comparison. A middle twenty something speedster that is underappreciated by Cubs management and destined to thrive once he leaves this lovable loser organization. Brock was traded midseason at age 25 and Campana made it through his age 26 season with the Cubs. Brock in his Cubs tenure managed to hit .257 with 50 stolen bases while being caught 20 times. Campana on the other hand actually hit .262 and stole 54 bases while only being caught 4 times. What is even more amazing about this feat is that Campana managed to steal that many bases in less than a third of the plate appearances while being caught a fourth of the time. I am not saying that Campana is likely to become a Hall of Famer but at least the Cubs got something for Brock.
Leadoff hitter has been a sore spot in Cubs history. Half a season of Kenny Lofton has been the best Cubs have had in the past three decades, and the Cubs have always lacked speed. The Cubs have not lead the league in stolen bases since there last World Series appearance. Coincidence?
The Cubs current “leadoff” hitter is David DeJesus. I say “leadoff” hitter because he is painfully inept at a leadoff hitter’s primary job which is to create havoc on the basepaths. DeJesus last year only managed to steal 7 bases the whole year. Worse yet is the fact that DeJesus was caught stealing 8 times. DeJesus is a pitiful excuse for a leadoff hitter with his low average and putrid stolen base percentage.
The reason I am even writing this blog is because the Cubs had a choice. They had a choice between two players that are supposed to fill the same role in 2013 on the team, and that is a left handed hitting CF that will leadoff. The Cubs choose the 33 year old DeJesus who hit a paltry .263. Tony Campana was not much better, but he was better in the limited playing time he received in 2012 at .264. Campana has been improving during his limited playing time in the majors as evidenced by the jump in average from his .259 rookie campaign. So the Cubs for some reason choose the older, weaker hitting, less dangerous player in a rebuilding year.
The frustration really comes from never having a true chance to see what Campana could do in a full season in Chicago. Campana has been a solid leadoff option in the minors posting a .301 career batting average, but the real loss is Campana on the base paths. Doing some very rough figuring it is not hard to see Campana as a 100 plus stolen base threat. If Campana batted leadoff for an entire season it is safe to assume that he would get at least 690 plate appearances. Campana’s career major league on base percentage would mean that he would get on base 211 times in that season, and the rate that he steals bases at 53% of the time he is on the bases would mean that he would have a staggering 110 steals in a full season. Imagine that, a Cubs hitter that could challenge the Cardinals famed base stealers of Brock and Coleman. That is to say nothing if Campana continued to improve and became the hitter he was in the minors. You might be looking at the man who could break Rickey Henderson’s single season mark.
Beyond what Campana offers in terms of his own numbers is what he offers to an entire lineup. A base runner like Campana is a nightmare for the opposing pitcher and will cause more fastballs to be thrown. The Cubs just so happen to have a supremely talented fastball hitting shortstop that struggled mightily last year. With Campana in front of him, I wouldn’t have been shocked to watch Castro blossom into a .330-.350 Tony Gwynn like hitter because Campana would mask Castro’s weaknesses in pitch recognition. This is the part of the game that you can’t glean from the numbers that makes a guy like Campana so valuable.
I will miss this threat on the bases because it is fun to watch, but beyond that I truly believe that the lack of speed is a part of the curse of this team. The Cubs have been built like a softball team for far too long, and many fans claimed that letting Campana go was for the best because of his lack of power, forgetting of course that isn’t a leadoff hitter’s job. This approach to lineup construction has netted zero appearances in the world series in nearly seven decades much less a championship. The last Cubs World Series winner, by the way, lead the league in stolen bases. So using post hoc ergo propter hoc to become a real contender this team needs that stolen base threat. I just hope that Boy Blunder and his dream team didn’t miss the mark again like the last twenty something outfielder they gave up on.