Looking at his numbers–a .310 BA and a .422 OBP–you would say that Fukudome was doing his job as a leadoff hitter. Never an admirer, even I will admit to being impressed at Fukudome’s ability to (a) coax balls out of pitchers who are not missing the strike zone to anyone else, and (b) somehow persuade umpires to call all the borderline pitches his way. If you need a walk, Fuke is your man, and in fact he could serve a useful role as a pinch hitter leading off the eighth or ninth innings. After he walks, you could put in a pinch runner.
But he is simply not being productive as a leadoff hitter. He doesn’t drive in runs, obviously, but neither does he get around the bases to score runs. In the table below, I compare Fukudome to other National League leadoff hitters in terms of runs, RBI, runs per plate appearance and runs-plus-RBI per plate appearance. Fukudome needs ten plate appearances to score a run. He needs 7.7 PAs to score a run or knock one in.
I know that the Cubs this season are notorious for stranding runners, and obviously Fukudome is affected by the problems the Cubs have had getting productive at-bats from Byrd, Ramirez and Pena; but I can’t help noticing that Barney and Castro have been able to score runs and drive in runs at a reasonable clip. If Barney can score runs hitting second, then why can’t Fukudome do it with Barney and Castro hitting .300 behind him? Then there is Tony Campana, who in a handful of PAs has scored six runs to Fukudome’s nineteen. That is about a third as many runs in roughly a sixth as many plate appearances.
Fukudome’s failure should only be a mystery to those who have been persuaded by the current statistical campaign to downgrade the importance of speed on the bases. Fukudome is 34 now and has lost a couple of steps since coming to the Cubs. He wasn’t fast to begin with, but he scored 79 runs his first two seasons. This year he is on track for 60. He should not be leading off. Campana should be. In spite of his average and his OBP, Fukudome in the lineup every day is one of the things that is wrong with the Cubs.