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Why Alfonso Soriano Will Be A Dud in 2006
by Asher B. Chancey, Baseball Evolution
February 22, 2006

So, the prospect of living within an hour of two different baseball teams has worn off considerably from over the summer. This may be due to the fact that over the summer, living here was a novelty and a privilege, but now it has become a reality not of my own doing. Nevertheless, I will probably once again do the D.C. Daily Diary. This time, I will be able to maintain it throughout the entire season, rather than just for two months, so that should be exciting.

 
Oh Soriano, oh don't you cry for me 
One of the underlying themes in the Diary this season will have to be Alfonso Soriano. Last season, I made merciless fun of Cristian Guzman as he stunk it up for the Nationals all year after I predicted that he would. It is less obvious that Soriano will have a bad year in 2006 than it was that Guzman would stink in 2005, but I am still pretty sure that he will.

I must say up front that my feelings about Soriano are not personally motivated. Of course, we all remember pre-season 2002, when Soriano made my fantasy team as a tenth round auto-draft pick, and I threw caution to the wind by waiving him immediately (I think I said something about him being an overrated Yankee bozo). Though I lessened the blow by picking up Junior Spivey and riding him though his terrific debut year, I cried myself to sleep all summer as Soriano went on to be the top ranked player in fantasy baseball in 2002.

No, I have no personal animus towards Alfonso Soriano. In fact, I am partial to him because, as we all know, I am as big of a fan of the power/speed guys as anybody, and Soriano's three 30/30 seasons make him a tasty treat. His 40/40 near miss in '02 was very frustrating.

Nevertheless, despite the fact that I kind of like the guys, Alfonso Soriano will suffer in 2006, for several reasons.

First, I long ago compared Alfonso Soriano to Juan Samuel – power/speed second basemen who strike out a lot and can't take a walk to save their life. (Soriano's career high for walks was 38, set three years ago). In order for this comparison to stay true, Soriano's four year run of solid to excellent play has to end this season.

Second, Soriano's peripherals have been in steady decline for the last couple of seasons. In 2005, his average and his on-base percentage hit the lowest they have been since his rookie year in 2001. He is two years removed from a season in which his OPS was below league average (98 OPS+), and at ten percent above league average (110+) last season, he is hardly where he was in his two best years with the Yankees (131 and 128).

Third, Soriano has benefited from playing in strong lineups in his career, and this year he will not be in such a lineup. In his two big years with the Yankees, he batted leadoff for a team which led the league in runs per game and OPS+, while finishing second in team home runs. In his second season, the Yanks were third in runs/game, second in OPS+, and third in team homeruns. If you think hitting at the top of that order did not help Soriano, you are naοve.

Then, Soriano got traded to the Rangers and batted third. The Rangers of 2004 were no slouches, as they finished fourth in the league in runs/scored and fourth in homeruns, but the Rangers were merely middle of the road in OPS+. Remember, this was the year that Soriano's OPS+ dropped below league average. Soriano's second year with the team, they finished third in the league in runs/game, but dominated the league by hitting 31 more homeruns than the second place team (New York, with 229). The Rangers also finished higher in the OPS+ department, tied for fourth with 106.

It would be tempting to argue that Soriano's teams succeeded because of him, rather than vice versa as I have suggested. But the stats simply indicate that this isn't true. There is an important reason for this – the player Soriano replaced on the Rangers, and who replaced him on the Yankees was Alex Rodriguez, so you wouldn't expect the offensive numbers to change very much. Sure enough, neither team experienced significant variance between seasons with Soriano and seasons without.

Now Soriano will be headed for the Nationals. After played four good seasons with teams at or near the top in team offense, Soriano joins the team that occupied the very last place in the league in team runs/game, team home runs, and was near the bottom in team OPS+. In fact, last season the Nationals were the only team in Major League Baseball to score fewer than 4 runs per game, coming in at a stellar 3.94.

For the first time in his career, Soriano will not have a strong supporting cast, and by this he will be hurt.

Where were we? Oh yeah . . .

Fourth, Soriano has not only enjoyed a team advantage throughout his career, but he has also enjoyed a ballpark advantage. In 2004 and 2005, the Rangers have scored 1.5 runs and .9 runs per game more at home than on the road, respectively. Soriano will now join a team which scored .75 fewer runs per game at home than on the road.

Fifth, and this is an interesting one, Soriano has never been the best offensive player on his team! I didn't realize this until I sat down to flush out my thoughts here, but consider where Soriano ranked on his team each of the last four seasons:

- 2002 – Third, behind Jason Giambi and Bernie Williams (and maybe Jeter)
- 2003 – Third, behind Giambi and Jorge Posada (and maybe Nick Johnson, who only played half the season)
- 2004 – Fifth, behind Mark Teixeira, Hank Blalock, Michael Young, and Kevin Mench
- 2005 – Fourth, behind Teixeira, Young, and David Delluci (and maybe Kevin Mench again).

There are two logical questions which arise from this. First, if Alfonso Soriano now joins a team in which he is considered the best player (competing against the likes of Jose Guillen, Ryan Church, and the oft-injured Nick Johnson), how will he adjust to being the team's star and leader? On the contrary, if he is generally to be considered the third to fifth best player on the team, how bad of a season does he have to have to be the third to fifth worst player on the Nationals this season? Either way, it is an issue.

Sixth, Soriano is changing leagues. Going from the stronger hitting American League to the weaker hitting National League. I think that the idea that it is harder to hit in the NL may be a myth, but it is out there.

Essentially, Soriano will be leaving a situation in which everything has usually gone in his favor, and arriving in a situation in which everything will be going against his favor. Throw in the fact that there is an already brewing controversy concerning whether Soriano will agree to be moved to the outfield, and the fact that Soriano turns 30 this year, and the whole thing seems to be a recipe for a very disappointing season for Alfonso Soriano, Washington National.

In other news, if you consider that Brad Wilkerson will be experiencing the exact opposite of each of these factors, it could be a very good year for him.

2006 Prediction:
Alfonso Soriano - .247/.298/.494; 25 HR 85 RBI 87 Runs
Brad Wilkerson - .262/.377/.488; 32 HR 97 RBI 97 Runs

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Disagree with something? Got something to add? Wanna bring up something totally new? Asher B. Chancey resides in Alexandria, Virginia, and can be reached at asher@baseballevolution.com.


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