Alfonso Soriano Should Not Be Hitting Cleanup

Alfonso Soriano, presumably before he fails to get on base.

I like Alfonso Soriano.  Many Cub fans do not, and the reason for this is the man signed a $138 million/8 year contract and then presumably failed to live up to expectations.  Is this a fair assessment?

His career numbers before joining the Cubs:

.281/.512 SLG/.321 OBP

34HR per year, 39 doubles per year, 25 Stolen Bases per year

After joining the Cubs:

.266/.498 SLG/.317 OBP

26HR per year, 32 doubles per year, 10 Stolen Bases per year

Let’s be clear, Alfonso Soriano is not a great player, especially when factoring in his horrific defensive skills and sub-par OBP.  But he shouldn’t be blamed for the Cubs throwing a boatload of money at him just because he wasn’t worth it.  Was he supposed to sit Cubs management down and say, “Listen.  I don’t get on base very much.  I’m lousy at it, way below the MLB average, and as my speed decreases and the ravages of age set in, this is only likely to get worse.  I’m not much of a left fielder, so you’ll have to deal with that, and you can’t expect me to put up the same power numbers in my mid-thirties as I did in my late twenties. Lastly, you do realize that I’ll be impossible to trade in the back end of this deal due to my age and bloated contract, right?”

Perhaps he did say this, and the Cubs responded with, “We don’t care.  We have lots of money and know shit about baseball.  Here’s roughly 18 million dollars a year, and we’ll pay you that until you’re 38 years old.”

When someone asks if you’re a God, or when they offer you $136 million dollars for eight years of work, the answer is the same – you say yes.  It’s not Soriano’s fault that he’s entirely rational and his employers are idiots, so people should get off his back.  Especially since the numbers tell us that he is the player the Cubs expected him to be, given his history.  His splits are worse after joining the Cubs, but barely, and while he doesn’t steal anywhere close to as many bases, he also doesn’t get himself thrown out as much in the process.  The man has lived up to his contract through five years.

However, I do have a suggestion for the Cubs, and that is to stop hitting him so high in the lineup.  So far this year, Soriano has an OBP of .255 when batting fourth and .240 when batting fifth, the only spots in the lineup he’s been placed.  Despite Soriano’s subtle decline in the past few years, these numbers are staggeringly bad for any major league hitter, even with a small sample size.   Batting order isn’t a huge deal, but there’s a good rule of thumb to follow and it is this:

If someone is great at getting on base, bat him higher in the order.  If he is lousy at it, bat him lower in the order.

This is because the higher in the lineup a player is, the more times he will come to the plate, per game and over the course of the season.  If this seems blatantly obvious, I would argue that it is worth pointing out BECAUSE TEAMS STILL DON’T DO IT!

The Cubs are not alone in this bizarre practice, the first-place Dodgers have yet to drop leadoff man Dee Gordon in the order, despite his .250 OBP.  Gordon has blazing speed, but he’s killing his team by batting leadoff.  It’s a nice bonus if your team’s leadoff hitter has great speed, but it means nothing if he can’t get on base at better than the MLB average, and he’s nowhere close.

It’s striking to consider the Dodgers are way ahead in their division, despite batting someone first in the order who is terrible at the one thing that really matters for a leadoff hitter, OBP, and despite having a team that is assembled by people who fundamentally don’t understand the value of getting on base.

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