Wayback Machine: Derrek Lee’s Ridiculous 2005

I have no thoughts to offer on the Cubs bringing in Anthony Iapoce to be their new hitting coach. He seems like a guy they like and someone who buys into the importance of launch angle, so that’s good enough, right? Instead, let’s dive into one of the most outstanding seasons that any Cubs hitter has had in recent memory – Derrek Lee’s otherworldly 2005.

It’s hard to overstate just how good Lee was in 2005. It was almost certainly the season a Cubs hitter has had since Sammy Sosa’s absurd year in 2001 in which he hit 64 home runs (among lots of other really great things). Lee wasn’t just better offensively than Kris Bryant’s 2016 MVP year, he was much better. Now, Bryant was worth more fWAR because of the pretty significant differences between positional value between first and third base, but still!

Check out how Lee’s 2005 compares to the best cubs offensive seasons since 2001 by wRC+.

Sammy Sosa 2001 .328 437 .737 64 .465 186 9.9
Derrek Lee 2005 .335 .418 .662 46 .444 170 7.0
Sammy Sosa 2002 .288 .399 .594 49 .416 157 5.1
Anthony Rizzo 2014 .286 .486 .527 32 .397 155 5.3
Derrek Lee 2009 .306 .393 .579 35 .413 150 5.2

Before we get to Lee’s 2005, it’s ok to stop and be surprised that KB’s 2016 isn’t on the list. I certainly expected it to be. I also wouldn’t have guessed that Rizzo’s best offensive season was 2014 nor would I have expected Lee to make 2 appearances on the list.

Anyway, how about that 2005 season by D-Lee? I came into this prepared to write an article about how good he was that year and I still was surprised to see how well he performed. His 170 wRC+ was just about in line with a peak Albert Pujols season (he bested Pujols by 3 points in 2005).

Lee did benefit from a fairly high .343 BABIP, but you can’t reach the heights that he reached by BABIP’ing your way into it. Lee did a very good job avoiding soft contact in 2005, as he did for much of his career, and generally hit the ball with authority all year.

In a season as good as Lee’s, there are going to be a lot of great games. One that has always stood out is his 5 for 5 performance in Los Angeles in the first half of the season. This game demonstrated what made Lee so great as a hitter as he was able to both hit a long home run and also spray the ball all over the field with authority.

Lee had 5 separate games in which he recorded 4 or more hits en route to winning the batting title, the only Cub to do so in the 2000’s. The quantity of such performances helped Lee to the batting title with a .335 average. He only had 107 RBIs, if you care about such things – I think the disparity between Lee’s mammoth performance and his relatively low RBI total are evidence that you shouldn’t.

It may be quite some time before the Cubs are lucky enough to have a hitter put up a season like Lee’s 2005. Kris Bryant is the only guy on the roster who strikes me as definitely at least capable of it, but as we’ve seen, his best season to date wasn’t particularly close to Lee’s in terms of pure offensive output.

If Bryant (or anyone else) can put together a season like that we can only hope he’ll be surrounded by better teammates than Lee was. The 2005 Cubs managed to win only 79 games.

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