Derrek Lee Is Younger Than You Think

Why Cubs fans shouldn't sweat Derrek Lee's age -- at least not yet

Derrek Lee is 33 years old. Last year, he hit .291/.361/.462. These are very solid numbers, but they represent a decline from Lee's power-slugging days of 2005, when he had 46 home runs, 199 hits, and 50 doubles. That was Lee's career year. He was 29. Like we said, he is now 33.

So there are some questions to ask now, and the Chicago Tribune asks them today. Is Derrek set for a decline? Are injuries a concern? And will he ever be the Derrek Lee Cubs fans got used to in 2005, but his power "mysteriously" dropped off?

The thing is, there's not all that much mystery to it. We live in an advanced baseball age, one where statistical analysis can help us realize just what to expect from Lee in 2009, at his advanced age. And there are some encouraging things to report.

For one, Lee has skills that will develop well into old age. He's not a pure power hitter; for most of his career, he relied on contact and a sharp eye to get on base, and both are skills that don't atrophy with age. His natural athleticism is also a plus, and his value as a defensive first basemen should remain in tact for years to come.

But perhaps the most encouraging thing about Lee is that, even if he declines this year, he'll still be a solid, above-average first baseman on a team that doesn't need him to slug home runs. Let Aramis Ramirez and Alfonso Soriano and Geovany Soto handle that. If Lee is good for a .360 on-base percentage and 30 or 35 doubles, that's plenty. Even if Lee takes a step back, he's in the midst of a really good offensive team that should more than compensate for his lost ability.

So don't sweat it, Cubs fans. There's no guarantee Lee will decline so soon. And even if he does, there are plenty of home runs to be hit all around him.

Eamonn Brennan is a Chicago-based writer, editor and blogger who thinks it must be sad to be baseball player; everyone peaks at 27. You can also read him at Yahoo! Sports, Mouthpiece Sports Blog, and Inside The Hall, or at his personal site, Follow him on Twitter.

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