Goatriders of the Apocalypse

Utilizing Alfonso Soriano better, and lessoning his importance

This is my maiden voyage on blogging on this site, outside of a couple of comments occasionally, and a few random ideas I put in the shout box. Hopefully, my occasional rantings can create some good discussion points about some topics that possibly havent been discussed as much.

By the title of this posting, I assume many of you will assume that I am in favor of, like most Cub fans are, of moving Soriano down in the order to a more traditional RBI slot. While that idea admittedly does have some limited appeal for me, I basically differ from most of you when I tell you that I really like having him bat leadoff for us. His power potential for extra base hits and home runs changes how an opposing manager has to configure his bullpen late, and it gives our most dangerous hitter extra at bats in a game potentially. When you look at it like that, having Soriano bat 5 times in a game vs having a Ryan Theriot type bat 5 times seems like a very good idea.

Also keeping in mind that our bottom hitters in our 6-8 spots last year were among the best in the league, it is obvious to me at least that for an efficient offensive team that we will need an RBI producer to be batting in the 1 hole, so he can drive in some of those players on base at that time. This is emphasized often I know, but it is true: A "leadoff man" only actually bats leadoff once a game as a guarantee, at any other time we need everyone to be a run producer as often as can be.

So, therefore I agree with having Alfonso Soriano bat leadoff, as other players such as Rickey Henderson and Brian Downing have in the past although I realize those players were much more patient than Soriano is, and each had much higher OBP.

But, so often we seem to be a team that is completely dependent offensively on Soriano. When he is playing, our Cubs were the best team in baseball. When he was injured our out of the lineup, we were a mediocre team. Not only did we miss his power, we missed his explosiveness, and in reality were a much easier team for opposing managers to manage against.

Add to that fact that Soriano is a player who I think we all agree feasts against average to bad pitching, and who struggles against the premier pitchers in the league. Since all you see in the playoffs is big time pitching, Soriano will always likely struggle in those situations, at least on the whole. It isn't a matter of "choking" in his case, it is just in my judgment a lack of ability.....Soriano is what he is. And when your most critical player has a big flaw, it is no shock that your team might struggle.

And so, here was my conclusion watching the Cubs in the playoffs, and which has been in my mind since the season was over: The best answer to make us a better lineup isn't to REPLACE Soriano, it is to both make him MORE EFFICIENT, and LESS IMPORTANT to the overall success of the roster. But how could we do that?

I have a couple of ideas for us to discuss.

First, let's talk about making him more efficient. I mentioned above that we need a thumper at the top of the lineup who can drive in runs, because we have an unspectacular but efficient bottom of the lineup, which can often give alot of opportunities to drive in runs. What I think we can do to maximize the use of Soriano's power is to not discuss the top of the order so much, but to instead discuss the batting order at the bottom!

This idea may be counterintuitive, but I want to put a high on base pct player in the nine spot, right ahead of Soriano. In the national league, the nine spot is traditionally the pitchers spot. While we have decent hitting pitchers (Zembrano and Marquis come to mind), the still aren't as good as everyday players. Plus, late in games we are often using bench players in pinch hitting roles in this nine spot, who are often not that effective. This means that we usually have our worst hitters consistently batting right ahead of our best, most dangerous hitter arguably.

So, I think we can make Soriano more efficient, and perhaps can produce 10-15 more runs for the year if we bat our starting pitcher 8th instead of 9th. This isn't unprecedented....Ned Yost and Tony LaRussa each did this often last year, albeit for a different reason than I am proposing it for us.

Using Theriot for an example, how many more runs would Soriano drive in with Theriot batting in front of him? I would estimate that Soriano could get about 40 or so more runners on ahead of him for an entire season with a player with a .350 OBP batting in the 9th spot instead of a .200 or so OBP out of our 9 spot a year ago. Now, I realize that making this move also has other effects throughout the lineup, but I think in general that just making this simple little adjustment makes us about 10-15 runs better as a team. I'll be interested in seeing some of the smarter, more stat conscious posters opinions on this matter. I think it at least merits discussion and some analyzation.

The second step is to make Soriano LESS IMPORTANT to the overall offense. In other words, since he likely will slump in the playoffs again, we don't want to just be screwed when that happens. But how can we do that?

This means to me that we have to really really focus on getting a great OBP out of whomever we bat second, and we need to develop more speed so we can score in multiple ways. By adding speed, I do not mean stealing more bases necessarily, but I do mean that we need to develop an ability to hit and run more, and to run the bases better. We don't go from first to third enough on singles, and we don't score enough from second on singles. We are conservative, which is ok.....but we can improve in this area a little by adding a bit more speed and aggressiveness somewhere on our team, particularly on our bench. I think Joey Gathright was a good addition to our bench for that reason.

So, with Soriano leading off, what we really need to maximize our chances offensively is to put a very high quality hitter who can get on base a ton right behind him. Ideally, this guy bats left handed and also can improve our defense at some position too, and it would help us immensely if he could run the bases well and aggressively. On our current roster, this ideal player doesnt exist, unless Fukodome would happen to emerge. There is considerable doubt about whether that will happen, but it isn't out of the question. Evaluating our own players/roster correctly will be the most important task Jim Hendry faces this winter.

So, what I think we need is not necessarily a new leadoff guy....in fact, I believe moving Soriano would be a major mistake. But what we really need to do is to concentrate on adding a player who can bat SECOND (behind Soriano, in front of our sluggers), SEVENTH (we need a high OBP here to bat in front of the pitchers spot in my new batting order idea) and NINTH (we need a guy to get on baseĀ alot ahead of Soriano).

So, who is available who may fit those multiple criterias?

Well, there aren't very many (if any at all) perfect fits.....which I think more than the budget and ownership uncertainty is why we haven't done much yet. The perfect move isn't a clear one, especially in the shaky free agent world.

I'll have some suggestions on possible trade targets in my next blog post, but this first maiden voyage on goatriders.org is already too long. Hopefully, some of these rantings have made sense to you, and we can discuss them as smart baseball people and crazy cub fanatics.

As always, the above is just my opinion.

Tbird

I couldn't disagree more

Soriano is a major part of this lineup, as well he should be for the money he makes. When he was signed, was it to be a good defender that gets the rally started? I sure hope not, if you are gonna throw that much money at someone I would hope that you expect them to drive in runs, score runs, hit home runs, and steal bases. Soriano doesn't bring tools to the table that a lead-off hitter should possess, he is a prototypical #3 hitter - he's a free swinging guy, with some decent wheels, and you can't throw a fastball past him - so put him in the 3 spot.

I agree that getting Soriano the highest number of at bats is a good strategy, as he is one of the best hitters on the team, so naturally you want him to get a lot of at bats. The problem however lies in the quality of the situations that he is going to be able to hit in sitting in the lead-off slot, where he leads off at least once and every at bat after that is after the nine hole, which is the Pitcher's spot.

This is all you need to know: last season 284 of Soriano's 453 at bats came with no one on base, which is nearly 63% of his at bats. Take a deep breath, count to 12, and think about that for a second..........................

Last time I checked its difficult to drive in runs when no one is on base, and the batter can only score one run per at bat still I'm pretty sure. So by leading Soriano off, especially in the NL, you are doing the opposing manager and pitcher a favor since the most damage he can do 2/3rds of the time is hit a solo HR. Just moving him down one spot in the order would do wonders and moving him down two spots would be ideal. By hitting him 3rd you ensure the fact that he will see some pitches with Aramis Ramirez hitting behind him, and also as a result you can move D-Lee down in the order too & he can lend some protection to Ramirez. So you move Big Baby down in the order and it benefits, lets say it together, the TEAM!!!!!!!

This is such a basic move that a blind cat with arthritis would be able to see the impact it has on the batting order as a whole. If Soriano wasn't such a baby and had even a shred of being a team player in him, he would be willing to shut his mouth and hit where he helps his team the most. If Soriano were a good leadoff hitter then this wouldn't even be a conversation, but he's not --> he doesn't get on base, he doesn't see a lot of pitches per at bat, and he doesn't steal bases like he used to. Then again he was also the player that cried and refused to take his position in LF when he was on the Nationals, but I suppose that was because he was such a good defensive second baseman right? There's no "I" in team, but there's one right smack dab in the middle of "Soriano" coincidentally - as Soriano can't see past the end of his own nose. If the team doesn't come before the individual players on it, then you aren't going to see a whole lot of success as a team. The Cubs were in existence for over 100 years before Soriano was ever a part of it, and the Cubs will be in existence 100 years after he is gone - its just too bad that he is too much of a PRIMADONNA to realize that the Cubs are bigger than he is. Pinella enables him and so does everyone else, I refuse to enable Soriano's selfish actions.

Soriano isn't the end-all or be-all player in the cubs lineup because from the lead-off spot he can't possibly carry the team for any amount of time. The Cubs go as Aramis Ramirez goes, and if you aren't going to give him anyone to drive in hitting in front of him and no protection behind him, then the lineup won't be as effective as it could be.

So your idea is to make Soriano less important? And to do that you're basically suggesting they bat the person who should be leading off behind him to try and cover the fact that he is a shitty lead-off man? So the person that Soriano should be driving in instead hits behind him, yeah that's not backwards at all. Why don't we just have the CF and RF carry Soriano on their shoulders from the dugout to his position so that he doesn't develop any blisters on his feet while we're at it? I got an idea; why don't we stop treating him like a Princess and start treating him like a player on the team?

Thanks for the reply

Thanks for reading what I took the time to write, even if you disagreed with it.

I agree with the premise you brought up that we need to get more runners on ahead of Soriano, so he has more opportunities to drive in people. That is why I want to use a Tony LaRussa idea, bat our pitcher 8th, and have a legitimate major league hiter bat ninth for us, so Soriano will have more opportunities to bat with players on. Combine that idea with this fact: A lead off hitter will bat approximately 40 more times throughout a season than a batter batting third.

The other obvious factor is that Pinella has said he is batting him first, no matter what happens.....so I'm trying to figure out a way to deal with that fact, to make him more effective while still leaving him in the lineup where he no doubt will be anyway.

I was impressed with the stat that listed all his at bats out of that spot with no one on base. Is there anyway for us to know how many times Derrek Lee batted with no one on ahead of him in the 3 spot, and perhaps to compare the two numbers? If possible, another neat number in my opinion to know would be to see how often the teams who batted their pitcher 8th had their leadoff batter at the plate with no one on, just to try and quantify how effective my idea might be in real life. Maybe you or someone else can post that....it may turn out that my idea sucks after all.

Again, thanks for the response and taking the time to write with such enthusiasm and passion.

Another thing to consider....

You have to realize that Tony LaRussa batted his pitcher 8th for a far different reason than what you are proposing. The reason LaRussa batted his pitcher 8th was to give Albert Pujols more RBI opportunities hitting out of the 3rd spot in their order. The idea behind the move for the Cardinals was that after the first time the pitcher hits the batting order resets with the nine hitter acting as a 2nd lead-off man, and in all of Pujols at bats after his first he becomes the cleanup hitter with 3 position players batting in front of him.

In what you're proposing I don't see it having much effect, as you would likely be limiting whatever hitter gets stuck hitting 9th, as that player would get less at bats in good situations. The guy that hits 9th would likely either lead-off or bat with 1 out nearly every plate appearance. Instead of asking any of your players to sign up for 4 at bats per game in those circumstances, why not just quit beating around the bush and let the guy lead-off and get on ahead of Soriano from the 1st inning on. Because if this idea did work, and the 9 guy gets on ahead of Sori, then why wouldn't you want to utilize the person from the first time through the order all the way to the end of the game? In your scenario Soriano still undoubtedly gets no less than one at bat per game with no on base, no questions asked. Suppose Soriano is healthy in 2009 and plays in 150 games, hitting him lead-off you guarantee him at minimum 150 plate appearances with no one on for him to drive in, so even with someone other than the pitcher in the 9 hole the original problem still isn't averted.

I'm not sure

Soriano would have a hissy fit if he were moved out of the lead off spot as he has mentioned on more than one occasion that he would bat and play wherever Piniella thought was best for the team.

As far as using a high OBP man to hit 9th so Soriano can get the most AB's and increase his chances of driving in runs doesn't makes sense T-bird. Would not it be better to have that high OBP hitter getting the most AB's instead of the least?

I don't know the number of Lee's AB's with no one on base, but it should be higher with a couple of 300 hitters in front of him, than Soriano's with the #8 and #9 hitter in front of him, no matter where the pitcher hits.

Your best hitter hits third, period. If the Cubs acquire Bradley, you could have a nice R-L-R-L going at the top of the order with The Riot, Mighty Mike, A-Ram and Bradley. Big whiff machines with power typically bat 5th and Soriano would have more RBI chances than you could shake a stick at there. He'd also have some protection with Lee behind him.

Soriano's speed is an asset to be sure but I think the Cubs acquired Soriano primarily for his power and Soriano getting 40 or 50 less AB's shouldn't be the overriding factor.

Why are they called "premier pitchers"?

Who rakes against premier pitching? Why are they called premier pitchers- because most hitters can't hit them- right? So whoever repeats this nonsense is either not thinking or not thinking well. Here is a list of pitchers and Soriano's OPS against them:

Sabathia- 1.248
Escobar- .960
Carpenter 1.108
Glavine 1.208
Mulder 1.170
Haren 1.235
Smoltz .945

There are others he hits very well and some he doesn't- like everyone else. I don't think it's particularly useful to even discuss this. This particular meme is just stupid! Like Soriano or don't- it doesn't matter, but saying he can only hit inferior pitching is making up a reason for your feelings. There are places to look for facts like this- like here

Its Obvious

There is no doubt in my mind that Soriano SHOULD NOT bat lead-off, and if you want to use the logic that Lou won't move him so it can't happen then you also have to take into account that Lou also stated that he'd never bat the pitcher 8th in his lineup. The reason that he said he wouldn't was because he felt it was an insult to have a position player bat behind a pitcher, he was asked the question in a pre-game interview during this past season. Soriano would be better in any of the spots in the order 2 -6, where you could make an argument for any one of them, but until the team's roster is finalized its tough to say exactly which is best. The one thing that is certain is that he isn't a good lead-off man, and there is a better man for the job already on the team in Ryan Theriot. Imagine if the Cubs signed Milton Bradley and moved Soriano down in the order, that would be like acquiring 2 bats for the middle of the order - while not losing a thing at the top of the order, if not improving the top of the order

Derrek Lee had 320 plate appearances (46%) with men on base, and he had 378 plate appearances (54%) with no one on base. Aramis Ramirez had 322 plate appearances (50%) with men on base, and he had 323 plate appearances(50%) with no one on base. Ready for this? Alfonso Soriano had 199 plate appearances (39%) with men on base, and he had 304 plate appearances (61%) with the bases empty. So all those extra at bats you get for Soriano come at the expense of putting him up there with no one on. Thats 105 more plate appearances that he had with no one on base, and remember he missed nearly 2 months of the season as well. www.baseball-reference.com is the site I used to find these statistics.

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