For some reason, Alfonso Soriano of the Cubs is a real lightning rod; some folks love him, some despise him.
And some, like me, can both admire him, and see the weaknesses in his game. A.k.a, “eyes wide open”.
Sometimes, I like to tweak ol’ Alfonso; though he compiles some prodigious stats, I think he is somewhat overrated, and have always thought so, and I’ve explained why in the past.
Way back in May, when he had just come off the DL, and was hitting .160, and the rest of the team was just killin’ it, and winning without him, I had the unbelievable gall to ask if his contributions might not be as essential as the accepted wisdom says they are.
Here’s the exact paragraph that seems to have hit such a nerve:
The question to ask is not “where should Soriano bat”. The right question to ask is “should he be playing at all?”.
Now I’ll admit, I could have phrased that better. What I really meant was, why rush this guy back into the lineup? They had players who were already producing, why would you yank one of them, for a guy hitting .160? Give him a few days off, here and there, let him try to work back into his hitting groove a little bit, and then it makes sense to put him at leadoff again. Maybe he was still hurt a little bit, or had lost some timing, or just didn’t like playing in the cooler weather? Who knows?
But at that time, his return off the DL seemed to be THE singular event bringing the Cubs run production down dramatically, and given the choice between his batting leadoff or not playing at all, with a .160 BA, well, is that really a tough call?
The point is, it seemed to be hurting the team. As in, “fewer runs”, and “fewer wins”. And where I come from, team results trump everything else.
But Soriano excites some fans so much that my suggestion that he does have weaknesses, and is not perfect, and that these weaknesses could hurt the team sometimes, and that no matter what his name is, anybody who is hitting .160 stinks right now, was not well-received.
So, OK, let’s turn the tables. I’ll invite those who criticize my take on this — and you know who you are — to give the baseball case (not the financial one) supporting the following: inserting a .160 hitter at leadoff into a lineup that was scoring 7+ runs a game, and then watching that run scoring drop precipitously for 5 games. Now. What do you do?
Fast forward to today. Now it’s August, and after another stint on the DL, this one six weeks long, Soriano is hitting the cover off the ball. And I’m starting to see evidence he is a better team guy than I’d given him credit for. He seems to be more selective at the plate lately, especially in the last couple of weeks since he came off the DL; in particular, he is laying off that high fastball. So this is a nice adjustment, that helps not just his stats but the team as well, and I tip my cap to him.
And one thing I hadn’t realized before is that he is a very popular player in that clubhouse, and since I value that intangible highly, I’ve changed my views on him a little bit, for the better.
So I’ll admit, I was probably a little too tough on the guy back in May. It happens.
It could be that my perceptions have been colored by the memory of his horror show World Series with the Yankees in 2001, and his horror show World Series with the Yankees in 2003, and his horror show playoff series with the Cubs in 2007.
Full disclosure: I’m just not somebody who gets all jazzed about regular season individual stats, unless they lead to post-season team success. Not everybody views it that way, and that is understandable, and this kind of base assumption is usually what causes disagreements like this. But I frankly just do not care about individual accomplishment. It tends to obscure what is important.
And what is important? Well, every player, and every coach, and every GM, in every sport, says the same thing: they would trade individual achievement for a title any day of the week.
Hey, lookee here, its Soriano’s postseason line:
G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG 41 160 14 36 3 0 4 18 9 49 .225 .279 .319
So, here’s your chance, all you Soriano fans. This is the guy you defend like your very existence depends on it. And just to pre-empt the “sample size too small” argument, 41 games and 160 AB is a pretty decent sample size. It’s a quarter of a season, almost exactly.
And remember, this is for a guy known for his offense. A guy who, without his offense, would not be in the major leagues.
Just 36 hits in those 41 games, and only 7 are for extra bases (3 doubles, 4 homers). Doing the math, that means 29 of those hits were singles. A strikeout-to-walk ratio of 5-1. 14 Runs, and 18 RBI, which isn’t horrible, but it sure isn’t good. Multiplying by 4 to get 162 game equivalents, that would be 56 Runs, and 72 RBI.
These are not numbers worthy of a guy who is in the major leagues only for his offense. And his career regular season numbers are much better, obviously: .283/.328/.520. His 162 games averages for R/RBI/HR are 107/95/36.
So he is clearly a very good, even great, offensive player … in the regular season.
He is just as clearly not a good offensive player … in the post-season.
Stats like this do not lie. And I remember well, watching that ’01 World Series, and the ’03 World Series, and just thinking, “man, this guy can’t take the pressure”. And I’ve seen nothing in the interim to change my mind. And no matter how great a guy plays during the regular season — and even if his play is the key factor in getting his team to the post-season — I downgrade him if his performance drops off dramatically in that post-season.
In my world, a player who is paid the huge bucks, and wants all the attention that comes with it, and yet, can’t perform when the bright lights are on, deserves extra criticism over his flaws, no matter how many other fans salivate over his homers in July and August.
For some, I guess, $17,000,000 a year is a fair wage for a guy who rocks in the regular season, and doesn’t do much in the post-season. For me, sorry, we need more from a guy like that.
But still, given all that, I really do like and respect Soriano. In the regular season. I just expect more from him in the post-season, because he is insanely talented, and just seems to succumb to the pressure, based on available empirical evidence. But I’d love nothing more than for Alfonso Soriano to prove me wrong this October.
Please, please, Alfonso, prove me wrong. Millions of Cub fans want to pop Champagne in October, and we need you to be at your best to make that happen.