Alfonso Soriano’s been one of my favorite players for a while now. This guy is without doubt a multi-skilled talent – - blessed with good power, speed on the basepaths and an above-average arm.
He put together a string of productive seasons with the New York Yankees and Texas Rangers. They led up to a breakout year in 2006 with the Washington Nationals, when he smashed 46 home runs, stole 41 bases and posted a .560 slugging percentage. This season was simply phenomenal, and it positioned him for the biggest contract in Chicago Cub history. They signed him to what was the fifth-largest total package deal in major league baseball – - an 8-year, $136 million agreement.
Check out manager Lou Piniella’s comments when Soriano was signed:
“He likes the leadoff spot and there is none better…a young man who can get on base and steal some bases and hit the ball for extra base power and hit it for a homer. We are talking about the best leadoff hitter in all of baseball.”
Soriano then provided the Cubs with two years of productivity, although it wasn’t at the level that they were anticipating. He missed a combined 80 games over those two years.
Then came 2009. This year, his struggles have increased. Soriano is batting .234 with 14 home runs. He’s only stolen 7 bases. His on-base percentage is barely over .300. Not exactly the numbers that you’d want to see from your lead-off hitter. Which is why they have moved him to bat fifth in the lineup.
Let’s look into what could be wrong with Soriano:
- He’s 33 years old. I’m 33 years old too, and I’ve been battling injuries for the past few years now (similar to Soriano). Once you reach a certain age, those nicks and bumps start to take their toll. Whoever said that 30 is the new 20 certainly wasn’t an athlete. Or maybe so, but they were on steroids. Well, you get the picture.
- The non-contending status of the Nationals exaggerated his statistical prowess. There’s certainly something to be said for the numbers that Alfonso put up in 2006. But just maybe the fact that Washington didn’t have other dangerous hitters and weren’t in close games proved to be the reason why his stats were so prodigious that season. In addition, Soriano spend most of the year in the leadoff spot. That tells you something about the ability of the team to put players on base ahead of him. He hit 30 solo home runs that season. That tells me that opposing teams were in a position to let a run or two slip away – and they didn’t even attempt to pitch around him. Unbelievable.
- Something in the Wrigley Field ivy got to him. That shrubbery on the outfield walls just looks downright nasty. Maybe some kind of mutated species of bug bit him right after he arrived in Chicago. The bite gradually got into his blood stream and affected his reflexes and timing. Well, it could have happened.
In my estimation, Fonzie is a 3-4-5 spot hitter. This guy has always been a free swinger, and for the remaining years of his career that is not going to change. He happens to have power and speed, but that should not automatically make him a candidate to be a leadoff man. His employer should think of it as simply an additional attribute that he possesses.
Don’t set him up for failure. A guy who strikes out as much as he does should not be pressured to get on base. He has never been that type of player. The Cubs should really think about their approach if they are banking on a return on their rather large investment.