Monday, February 16, 2009

Leading Off the Spring with a Lineup Debate

It didn't take Lou Piniella long to find something fun for us all to discuss/argue/blog about. He suggested that he is toying with the idea of moving Alfonso Soriano out of the leadoff spot into a run producing spot in the lineup.

First, let me state in very clear terms: I do NOT think that Alfonso Soriano is a good leadoff hitter.

His OBP in the leadoff spot of .342 is mediocre at best. He is not a threat to steal 40 bases per year anymore. He strikes out way too much. These are not good things to say about your leadoff man.

Having said all of that, I still believe that moving Soriano down in the lineup is a mistake. I never thought I would end up defending Soriano's leadoff abilities, but unfortunately, leadoff is where Soriano performs best. He has 700 games at leadoff in his career, versus 505 games in all other spots in the lineup. Both sample sizes are large enough to draw some reasonable comparisons.

As a leadoff hitter, Soriano has a .293 batting average, .342 OBP, and .892 OPS. His homerun rate is one every 16.5 at bats.

Hitting elsewhere in the lineup, he is at .263/.304/.770. His homerun rate is one for every 21.8 at bats. That is a significant dropoff in performance.

The players last year that put up similiar numbers that I could find were: Adrian Beltre (.266/.327/.784), Corey Hart (.268/.300/.759), and Brandon Phillips (.261/.312/.754). Do we really want the equivalent of Corey Hart in the middle of our lineup as we try to win a World Series?

Especially when Soriano's .892 OPS in the leadoff spot is comparable to Jason Bay, Ian Kinsler, Ryan Braun, and Miguel Cabrera's numbers from last year. Yes, there are fewer opportunities to drive in runs from the leadoff spot, but losing 122 points off his OPS in the transition would negate any gain in run-producing opportunities he gets.

Perhaps if we had a real leadoff man ready to be plugged in, we close our eyes and add Soriano to the list of players we need to exceed their career numbers for team success. But, there really is nobody on the roster. In theory, Fukudome of April/May 2008 fame could work, but we have no idea which version of Fukudome is going to show up this year.

Theriot's OBP is fine as long as he bats in the .300 range. But he just doesn't draw enough walks to be overly effective as a batter with no power at all, and he certainly is not an improvement over Soriano. Fontenot is an interesting possibility, but there is simply not enough career data there to make any sort of accurate projection.

The answer, unfortunately, is to perfect my time machine and prevent Hendry from signing Soriano in the first place and having a place to put Manny Ramirez. But lets face it, if I invent a time machine, I'm going to be busy throwing blocks in the stands near the Cubs bullpen during the 2003 NLCS, so we'll have to live with Soriano being on this team.

There is a possibility that the drop in Soriano's production could be attributed to batting at places in the order where he did not want to be. He has always stated that he feels most comfortable hitting leadoff and has resisted any attempts to move him. This year, he says he will do whatever Lou wants him to do. I still think he doesn't really want to move in the order, but at least he is saying the right things this year that could indicate some maturity, and thus a better ability to make the psychological transition to a run-producing spot.

Lou knows the statistics as well as anyone, so he may just be giving everyone something to talk about, or he may be seriously considering it. Nobody really knows but Lou right now, but it sure is fun to have something besides steroids and playoff collapses to talk about.


Arnold said...

Corey Hart sang "Sunglasses at Night" in the '80s.

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