Carlos Lee hit 26 home runs in 2009. This was enough to lead the team, sadly, but it also marks the lowest home run total in Carlos Lee's career since 2002, in which he also hit 26 home runs - but in 140 games. In 2008, Lee hit 28 home runs, but only in 115 games as he missed a quarter of the season thanks to getting plunked by Bronson Arroyo. So let's take us a look at Lee's 2009 home runs, and see what we can see:
(Thanks fo HitTracker for the home run stats)
Home runs by inning:
Average True Distance:
2009 - 390.8'
2008 - 393.1'
Vs. RHP: 20
Vs. LHP: 6
25 of Lee's 26 homers were to the left-field side of 90 degrees (and the other was to just right of dead-center.
First-Pitch HRs: 6
After 1-0: 8
After 0-1: 12
Solo HRs: 13
Runners on: 13
vs. NL Central: 16
Okay, so there's some quantifiable evidence to note that Lee's power is simply declining (captip to FanGraphs for this):
Percentage of pitches outside the strike zone in which Lee swung (swang? swinged?): 24.4%. This is down from 30.7% in 2008.
Pitch% inside strike zone, resulting in a swing: 69.5% (up from 69.1% in 2008).
Total % of pitches Lee swung at: 46.6% This is the lowest percentage since 2002, down from 51% in 2007 and 49.7% in 2008.
Pitch% outside strike zone resulting in contact: 70.7%, down from 72.1% in 2008.
Pitch% inside strike zone resulting in contact: 93.8% - a career high.
Total percentage of contact made when swinging at all pitches: 87.7% - another career high.
Total percentage of pitches seen in the strike zone: 49.3% - same as 2008, but tying a career low.
Percentage of pitches in which the first pitch was a strike: 55.7%
What is to be learned here? Carlos Lee is seeing fewer pitches, he's being more selective, he's making contact at the highest rate of his ten-year career, and he's just not getting the pop he once was. All of his homers were pulled, except for one. This is true in 2008, as well. But in 2007, Lee hit 32 homers, and seven of them were to center or opposite field.
So it doesn't look as though Lee's overall swing has been affected, just his home run power. And with three years, $55m-ish remaining? That's not good.