Goatriders of the Apocalypse

How bad is Soriano defensively?

Everyone's talking about Soriano's defense recently. Bruce Miles is pretty representative of the general mood:

Alfonso Soriano just may be the most maddening player in all of baseball.

Soriano giveth.

Soriano giveth away.

If the Cubs played hockey, Soriano would be a "minus" player for the season.


But the play that will have most people talking this morning happened in the ninth, when Soriano was playing the field -- a place where he has become a measurable liability.

If you'll excuse a pedantic aside for just a minute - Miles claims Soriano is a measurable liability in the field, but doesn't provide what measurements he's looking at. I know Miles is a Baseball Prospectus subscriber, so I suspected he might be using the Davenport Translations. But Soriano's DT card shows him as a plus defensive outfielder so far this season.

[The DTs use Clay Davenport's Fielding Runs Above Average to evaluate defense; they're a form of adjusted Range Factor, so far as I can discern. The problem with adjusted Range Factor is that it uses things like pitcher handedness and team flyball to groundball ratio to fill in the gaps where there isn't enough data to make any conclusions, in much the same way that Jurassic Park's geneticists used frog DNA to fill in the gaps in their recovered dinosaur DNA. This is why adjusted Range Factors go on terrible rampages, eating people and destroying Land Rovers.

Okay, maybe that's just a reason they're unreliable.]

So I don't know what Miles is using as a source for that statement; I suppose that 90% of his readership doesn't particularly care about the intricacies of defensive metrics, so it probably wasn't particularly relevant to the article. I do know what defensive metrics I use; I explain Zone Rating in a previous post. Again, thanks to Jinaz for his method of converting BIS ZR into a plus-minus metric. [Note: ZR does not include any sort of an arm rating. Those are computed separately, and as of now I don't have any in-season data to compute that from.]

As of this morning, Soriano is -2.3 plays, or about two runs, below average. I don't think anyone would conclude that's good, but it's still an improvement over the likes of Adam Dunn.

What's curious is that the past two seasons, Soriano has been a plus defensive left fielder, according to zone rating metrics (again, not including an arm rating.) What's going on here?

First, it could just be a simple sampling issue. I know it looks like data and observation are converging here, but it's hard to draw definitive conclusions from only 56 chances. It's still very early in the season, and things could improve.

But if the data is correct, then I have two theories:

  1. Soriano's range is reduced due to his leg injuries; he's not getting to as many balls as he was the past two seasons.
  2. Felix Pie and Jacque Jones were both exceptional defensive center fielders; Johnson and Edmonds at this point in their careers are slightly below average. So perhaps having a plus center fielder corraling balls in left center masked some of Soriano's deficiencies that we're now just noticing.

They don't have to be mutually exclusive. If it's the first, we can hope that his defense will improve if/when he legs do; if it's the second, we can go a long ways towards remedying the issue simply by recalling Felix Pie and letting him try to play through his troubles on offense.

But Soriano's defense in the outfield is livable, especially for a team that's considering using Micah Hoffpauir as a starting outfielder.

[The biggest weakness on the Cubs defensively so far has been the middle infield - DeRosa's 1.8 plays below average, a substantial improvement over where he was a few weeks ago; there's reason to hope for improvement. Theriot is, to date, the third-worst shortstop in the NL according to zone rating, with 4.6 plays below average.

My gut feeling is that his inferior tools for the position are being overexposed this season, but that could just be a product of my incredible frustration watching him one-hop a throw to second base from the hole. I have enough of a reputation as a "Theriot basher" to have people take my opinions here skeptically (and please, be skeptical; fair and reasoned argument helps everybody learn more and think more critically about their own positions) but Theriot's defense so far has been a much greater liability to this team than Soriano's.]

Dis and dat

I'm not sure that Ronny Cedeno would be any improvement over Theriot at short. I suppose that once Theriot's batting average falls below .280, then Lou will make the change. Is there anybody out there that the Cubs could trade for that would be improvement but wouldn't cost the team significantly in current personnel or prospects?

It's an open question how good Cedeno would be at short.

He obviously has the physical tools to play a good defensive shortstop - good range, a plus arm. And I know everyone was traumatized by his high error totals in 2006, but he was able to compensate for those with his ability to get to more baseballs, coming out as just a bit below average.

If Cedeno has really turned a corner and is able to cut down on his mistakes in the field (I know, I know - I wouldn't bet real money on it either) he could be a plus defensive shortstop.

As far as outside candidates - I don't know what would be available, exactly; a lot of the trade candidates you would expect to see available are on the DL currently, which makes it difficult to gauge the market for shortstops right now.

Soriano Defense

Im just scurious as to why you can't move Soriano to right field if you are not going to yank him in unison with the starting pitching when it is hold and save time in the game. Would it be that disruptive for Fukudome to play left instead? Or change in Hoffpauir for defense and reasonable power? This would be the second game where Soriano has cost a game directly (the other was against the Cardinals....sorry to bring that up). I mean, if the Cubs are behind come the 7th inning or later, then you leave Soriano in---if they are ahead you pull him when the relievers show up---or play him in right the whole game like flipperfooted Sosa.



1) Hoffpauir is almost certainly the worst defensive outfielder on our roster that isn't a catcher. (Okay, okay - maybe Lee and Ramirez would be worse defensive outfielders as well, but I'm not betting on it.)

2) The reason you don't do that is because... what's the point of swapping Fukudome and Soriano on defense? If the "correct" defensive arrangement was to have Dome in left and Soriano in right, the team would do that all the time. Left is (mildly) the easier defensive position of the two.

The Dome is here to play RF

Probably as they signed Soriano last year, they envisioned him in RF. But he wasn't havin' any of that!

More chances in left than right on average?

I guess in the back of my mind I was assuming that left field see more chances/action overall, due to a predominance of right-handed hitters--maybe that's a poor assumption on my part. So why is left field easier, then? Just a matter of throwing distance on triples and such?


The arm is a big part of it.

Right fielders have slightly more chances than left fielders per season, about 20 or so, according to STATS, Inc's data:


Either of them has the arm to handle right, so it's really a toss-up, I guess.

Left versus Right Field

Wow, I would have never thought that right saw more action than left. Mathematically 20 more chances in 162 games is .8 more per game---or a pinch less than one. So I guess the reality is that there is no statistically SIGNIFICANT difference between the two slots. Thanks for the stats info...Im quite surprised by all of this...I thought the joke about sticking someone in right field had some truth behind it....go figure...looks like my little league stats just increased in overall little league fantasy baseball value.


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