Chicago Cubs and Kosuke Fukudome Need to Capture April Magic

Posted on April 26, 2011

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Chicago Cubs outfielder Kosuke Fukudome is impossibly dependable, a man by whose annual offensive rise and fall one could set the tides or the solstice. Every year, he hits well precisely through the month of April. Every year, he thereupon falls into a tailspin of whirling dervish strikeouts and ground balls to the right side. This year, this Monday, he notched five hits in a single contest against the Colorado Rockies, bringing his season slash line to .478/.571/.500.

Fukudome is a great and patient hitter with enough power to be a star, but only seems able to consistently square up the baseball during thew early part of the season.

After Monday night, Fukudome is just one hit shy of 100 in his four March and April circuits of the big leagues. He is a career .347/.458/.540 hitter before May 1, and his 43 RBI prior to that date outstrip his career totals in May and June combined. Fukudome is a .264/.373/.411 hitter overall for his career.

A few factors probably play into Fukudome’s perennially premature bloom.

  1. He certainly has more time for his friends and family in Japan during the offseason, although he elected to stay in Chicago this winter and try to accustom himself to the city more. All that likely puts him in good head space coming into the year.
  2. Fukudome has always said he prefers hitting in dome-style stadiums, where lighting is generally dimmer and less natural. It may well be that the abundant cloud cover afforded by stubborn springs in Chicago agree with Fukudome’s eyes when reading incoming pitches. After the inevitably bright days of Spring Training, this effect is perhaps even more pronounced.
  3. Fukudome works hard on his swing. It is a delicate mechanism, not the crude sort of hammer-swing taught to young American sluggers but a motion founded on flexibility, timing and balance. Those can be easy to fine-tune in practice but tough to sustain over a long period.
I think perhaps the best reason is the second, although the third seems too immutable and joyless not to be true. One way or another, though, Fukudome gets people believing every year that he will sustain his success long enough to be an impact player for the Cubs. I am usually his first victim; so it is again in 2012.
Get the man some glare-cutting sunglasses to wear as the season matures. We might just have the next .400 hitter on our hands. Realistically, though: Why cannot Fukudome post a .373-plus OBP from here onward and be a solid leadoff option for the fluid Cubs lineup? No reason. Exactly.
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