A fresh look at the Soriano dilemma | Bleader

Monday, March 3, 2008

A fresh look at the Soriano dilemma

Posted By on 03.03.08 at 12:45 PM

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Bill James is back with a new spring baseball annual, The Bill James Gold Mine 2008. It's not as exhaustive as his old Baseball Abstracts. Instead, the idea is to gather together interesting "nuggets" of information from his $3-a-month Bill James Online subscription Web site. James presents contradictory information on Alfonso Soriano, the Cubs' leadoff man. James disses Soriano, and rightfully so, as a "30/30/30 man": 30 homers, 30 steals, and 30 walks a season. That last figure is anemic for a leadoff hitter, whose main job after all is to get on base, and Soriano's .337 on-base percentage is reason enough for many Cubs fans to push for him to be moved down to fifth in the order. But Soriano wouldn't see as many fastballs hitting behind rather than in front of Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez, and Soriano is an aggressive hitter who needs to see fastballs. James shows he was third in the majors last year in swinging at pitches out of the strike zone with 467, and has led the majors every other year but one since they began compiling such data in 2002. (Vlad Guerrero got him by 33 swings in 2004.) James concludes that, as a mixture of speed and power, "Alfonso Soriano is to Willie Mays as Kerry Wood is to Roger Clemens." Double ouch. Yet don't overlook that James also cites how the Cubs were ahead after the first inning in 53 games last season, best in the National League and almost a third of the time, not least of which because of Soriano's 12 leadoff homers. Those early leads played a large part in the success of the Cubs' starting pitchers. Me, I think there's something to letting a player find a comfortable place -- in the lineup and on the field. I say just leave Soriano in the leadoff spot and deal with it, perhaps by batting an on-base machine like Kosuke Fukudome second. Even as the top proponent of on-base percentage, James would be the first to allow there's more than just OBP to being a good leadoff man.

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