Alfonso Soriano: Not Terrible Last Year, but in 2011? Maybe.

Sometimes I get an idea in my head -- such as: Alfonso Soriano is terrible -- that in fact is not nearly as founded or correct as it aught be. In fact, Soriano was worth nearly 3 wins laster year (according to Fangraphs WAR), which in no way makes him worth his contract, but makes him worth something.

I guess because of his terrible, albatross contract I've come to intrinsically assume he will be a shell of a man in 2011. But this is neither correct, nor fair. In fact, look at how I felt about Alfonso Soriano at the beginning of the year:

He's hitting more line drives -- which means more hits -- and taking more walks. He's undergoing a career low in Swinging Strikes % and a career low in Swing % (which tends to mean more walks) coinciding with a career low in Zone %.

In laymen's terms: pitcher are throwing more outside of the zone, and Alfonso just takes a step back and smiles while it sails by. In the past, he tried to deposit those balls into beer cups. And he got away with it when he was younger, but now he's making the pitchers treat him like an adult.
Well, it turned out that Soriano would keep his Swing % low, but his Swinging Strike % would increase back to career norms. This means Soriano would wait for his pitch, and then miss it.

The most disturbing trend with Ol' Alfy is the rapidly growing willingness among pitchers to throw him garbage. His discipline numbers (courtesy of Fangraphs) look disgusting:

In addition to his decaying discipline numbers, Soriano's offense (as measured by wRC+) and his observable speed have both edged closer toward terrible.

That's not to say Alfonso Soriano will be terrible in 2011, but he's not probably going to be great. Unless he learns some new tricks (like walking), then he's going to continue his downward journey.

This is one of the scary things about the Cubs potentially pursuing Albert Pujols. If Pujols is indeed looking for a 10 year, $300 million contract, then he would be earning $30M annually into his 40+ birthdays. If you like watching the memory of Alfonso Soriano slowly die, then the Pujols contract would be a great get.

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  1. I do wonder if Albert's conditioning/work ethic and the fact that they've "protected" him by hiding him at 1B (which he plays very well btw) will enhance his longevity. I understand your concerns about the length and size of the contract (I saw Doc Blume had the same concerns) but I wonder if you just use 7 WAR as a baseline and consider that he produces at that level for 2-3 more years before he suffers the half-WAR decline for the remainder of his contract, whether it'd still be worth it.

    With Soriano I guess he's only had two good years out of the 8 he's being paid for. I thought it was a stupid deal when they signed it (even before I learned about SABR and all this new math stuff) but he actually was pretty good and helped the Cubs to back-to-back titles. I don't have any animosity towards Fonsi unlike some other Cubs fans, I just want him to do well despite the fact that he's aging and slowing down. I had the idea of trying to convert him into a 1B (I figured part of the aging had to do with him having to cover so much ground in LF and his being a "speed" player on the bases), as a way to protect his legs but still get some value out of his bat since his numbers are slugging-heavy. I don't know if he could've handled it, but I would have liked to see them at least try.

  2. Good points Kin. I think Pujols very may well age like Barry Bonds or Frank Thomas -- good to the last drop -- but he could just as likely follow the path most sluggers do -- which is fall off a cliff after age 37ish. It's uncertain.

    At the same time, I'd be much more willing to spend that kind of dough if the Cubs had a DH to slot Albert into and give him additional rest.

    I think in the end, I don't like the thought of Pujols to the Cubs because it lacks efficiency and precision. It's essentially a huge bet on his health and aging curve.

    Concerning Soriano, a move to first would nearly negate his defensive value -- which is the bulk of his value presently -- but it feels inevitable at some point. Maybe he could actually mosey on over to 3rd for a spell, giving how well his arm rates in the outfield. This would also push Ramirez across the diamond and give him more life in the NL.

  3. Concerning Soriano --> 3B, with Baker inexplicably on the roster (well, it's okay because he mashes lefties, but still) and the fact that Barney and DeWitt can play that position, plus Marquez Smith and Josh Vitters maaaaaaaaaaaaybe able to fill the role, probably not the best idea but I've been wrong before. Plus we can always put the immortal Koyie Hill there because he's that awesome. I also don't think the Cubs keep Ramirez after this year (they should buy him out for 2012 and let him walk or trade him or whatever) plus Ramirez definitely doesn't want to play 1B. I don't know how that would work. I'm of the philosophy that anyone can play 1B which is why Soriano --> 1B doesn't seem all that insane to me.

    Re: Pujols, I think he keeps himself fit enough that he might not fall off a cliff until he's 39 or so, but I can't be certain of that. I guess like Neyer said earlier today in one of his SBNation posts, if predictions were easy there would be no dumb contracts. But I don't necessarily think the proposed Pujols contract is'd be getting 5-6 years of good production from Pujols, then the remainder would be just him selling tickets for the Cubs...and while the production would be substandard for Pujols, I'm guessing he'd still be more than a replacement level player. With Pujols, I would err on the side of ZOMFG rather than "meh".

  4. So are you saying that I shouldn't take Soriano in the 7th round of my fantasy draft and maybe go with Fernando Perez? He is a switch hitter...and a poet. Win.

  5. @Kin: Barney and DeWitt would not be starters on most playoff teams. Barney especially. And Marquez Smith will probably never see the light of day unless some smart team mercifully Rule 5's him.

    My issue is that moving Soriano to 1B not only underutilizes his arm, but it also prevents 1B from being used by a more productive, worse-fielding player (say an Adam Dunn type player who mashes but can't do much else).

    If Pujols get $30 million annually, that leaves maybe $90 million to build a team with. The Cubs can certainly do it -- they could do it even if Pujols was replacement level. It just saps the fiscal flexibility that is otherwise a competitive advantage for this team.

    If the Cubs sign Pujols, count me against his greatest supporters. I just can't help but be a pessimist and worry wart -- especially when it comes to big contracts (remember, sabermetricians at the time did not condemn the Soriano contract).

    @Will: Quit fooling around. Perez is first round material.

  6. Haha Brad, I never said Barney, DeWitt or Baker were the best options...obviously the way the Cubs are built now isn't ideal. I'm just thinking stopgap during this stretch of time when the Cubs should be rebuilding but aren't because the fans are crazy and think we should contend every year even when we can't :-P I'm extremely annoyed that Smith was left unprotected from Rule 5, and that the Cubs don't seem to want to use him despite his listed skills (just looking at his minor league and winter league stats this past season made me drool). But it's entirely possible they know something we don't, and I'm being angry for nothing.

    I understand your concern with Soriano and I have talked about this before with other similarly well-versed and intelligent Cubs fans. Soriano to 1B is absolutely not ideal, but my point is 1. you move the worst fielding OF out of the OF, 2. you continue to draw some offensive production out of that albatross contract and 3. you open up another OF spot for Colvin and eventually Brett Jackson. That's the only reason I'd even try it...otherwise, I'd either DFA or salary dump Soriano somewhere or just leave him in LF.

    I have no idea what's the best thing to do with Pujols. My feeling is that wherever he goes, the team MUST commit to a long-term contract to secure his services. Whichever team does that will get awesomeness for 4-5 or more years before he rides off into the sunset. If he's on Bonds-ian supplements though he could go until he's 45, but that's a story for another time :-)

    Also, while I like Reed Johnson, I hope Perez makes the team as the backup OF. He's just a really funny dude.

  7. @Kin: Agreed on Perez! He's truly one of my all time favorites! Here's hoping he starts showering in Evian soon:

    ...and bam:

    Also things to consider with the Pujols contract: If the recession goes double dip, then his contract becomes a mega burden. In 2009, a win was worth ~$4.5 million. In 2010, it was worth ~$4.0 million.

    If baseball takes a hit (maybe a post-steroids era hangover coupled with a slow growth in the labor market), then the value of a win could drop back to $3M (circa 2004) and suddenly 8 WAR from Pujols isn't worth $32M anymore, but $24M. In other words, we could pay similar talent $8M less and get approximately equal value.

    Of course, the opposite could happen -- we could enter a new deadball era and suddenly hitter's WAR becomes tail heavy. A guy like Albert Pujols would be a bargain at $30M.

    So there's lots of risk involved in such a long term contract -- and that makes me quite wary.