Goatriders of the Apocalypse

Alfonso Soriano

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Alfonso Soriano - the Modern Day Mr. Cub

 

Mr. Cub
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A couple of Novembers ago, I was in Pennsylvania with my brother.  We were at a banquet celebrating the conclusion of a season of rodeo - I am nothing if not multi-faceted - and on the way home, while tuned into sports radio and chattering about who-knows-what, we heard "...signed Alfonso Soriano to an 8 year deal worth a reported 136 million..."

The only problem was that we didn't catch the name of the team that signed him.  I immediately discounted the Cubs.  There was just no way the Cubs would drop that kind of coin on a guy, it was ridiculous to suggest otherwise.  Yet, Karl insisted that he heard the name "Cubs" in that report.  I hijacked his cell phone and made an incredibly expensive, long distance call to Canada, where I asked my fiancee to scour the online news sources to see what was being reported.  She found nothing.  It would be roughly 30 minutes before everything was confirmed, and that was when I knew that, for perhaps the first time in my adult life, the Cubs were serious about winning.

Alfonso Soriano came to Chicago as the most expensive free agent they have ever signed, and as the cornerstone of a resurgent offense that will soon have taken them to their first back-to-back post season appearances in about 100 years.  He also came with baggage.  Let's not forget that this was a guy who almost refused to play for the Washington Nationals when they wanted to move him from second base to left field.  This was a guy who hated batting anywhere but leadoff, despite the fact that he draws minimal walks while hitting prodigious amounts of homeruns.  This was a guy who threatened to be a headcase on a team only a few years removed from the biggest headcase ever.

It's been true that in his first two years with the team, Soriano has continued to worry some of us, and he's displayed behaviors that, on losing teams, would probably have turned many of the most caustic Cub fans against him.  He was moved to center field his first year in Chicago, but within a month the experiment was abandoned and the put him back in left.  He continues to hit way too many homeruns to be a leadoff hitter, but Lou Piniella insists on leaving him there.  He's been injured in base-running plays that could best be described as "bone-headed."  And, worst of all, the most common example of his flakiness, Soriano insists on doing a ridiculous little one-handed hop-catch on almost every routine pop fly that comes his way in left field.  Said hop has also been responsible for time on the disabled list earlier this year, although Alfonso insists that his calf was a ticking time-bomb and he would've been hurt regardless.

And yet, while his antics have annoyed some, Alfonso Soriano's behavior and attitude have elicited few complains from the Cubs clubhouse.  "He's one of our leaders," said Lou Piniella on August 14th of this year. Soriano has been noted for his positive attitude, his constant smile, and his enthusiasm on the field. His constant smile and pleasant demeanor mixed with his deadly offensive ability has to elicit comparisons with another Cub of a bygone era - Ernie Banks.  Is it possible that Soriano has quietly accomplished what Sammy Sosa loudly failed to do?  Is Soriano the positive clubhouse force that the Cubs had lacked for years?

Soriano certainly brings a number of positives to his game.  Despite his defensive oddities, he has one of the best arms in the outfield.  In 2007, Soriano led all left fielders with 19 assists - 6 more than the second best tally, despite having played in 20 fewer games.  So far in 2008, only 3 left fielders in all of baseball have more assists than Soriano's 9, and the major league leader Pat Burrell's 12 total assists come in 46 more games played.  The Fonz may never win a Golden Glove, but he certainly has a Golden Arm.

Equally important to the success of the Cubs has been his bat.  In 101 games played, Soriano has 29 homeruns, 72 RBI, and is batting .289 with a .350 OBP.  He's also stolen 19 bases in 21 tries.  Without Soriano in the lineup, the Cubs are only 2 games over .500 at 25-23.  With him, the team is 30 games over .500 at 66-36.  It can't be entirely coincidental.

Soriano appears to be one of the few players whose numerous problems are easily surpassed by his positives.  Any criticism that can be levied against him can be retorted.  He is only 2 years into an epic 8 year deal, but he has so far been worth every penny, despite his freak injuries, in spite of his little oddities, and that fact alone makes him special.  The Cubs have spent considerable money on Soriano.  He has missed considerable play time.  And yet, Jim Hendry and Lou Piniella have to feel that he's been worth every penny so far.  He's so special when he's healthy that we can put up with the stretches when he's not.  He's the modern day Mr. Cub.  His mere presence elevates the team, his demeanor improves the atmosphere of the clubhouse, and his raw ability and talent turn losses into wins.  The Cubs are the best team in baseball right now because they are well-rounded, but they would be run-of-the-mill without this man.

It remains to be seen if, six seasons from now, Soriano will be pulling his weight on the team.  Who knows, he may not even be a Cub when his contract ends.  But what is true is this - on a team that hasn't won anything since before the Titanic sank, if Soriano helps the Cubs win now, his burden of a contract will absolutely be worth it later, even if he himself can no longer deliver.  It sounds ridiculous, but it's true.

Should Soriano play in the All Star Game?

As the All Star Game nears, Alfonso Soriano is becoming a topic of controversy and conversation.  Naturally, he wants to play - even if it might make him appear a little selfish, at the end of the day it's very human of him to want to be there.   However, he appears unlikely to return to the Cubs until the series after the break - assuming he doesn't do a rehab stint first - and the Cubs may be interested in protecting him from the unnecessary risk of injury, thereby denying him a place in the All Star Game.

While I think it's pretty cool that the Cubs have so many players at the game, it isn't entirely necessary that they all play.  I for one would much rather see Soriano wait and come back healthy.

Besides, the objective of the All Star Game is to win homefield advantage for the World Series.  Considering that his timing will be off even if he's healthy enough to play, I'd rather Alfonso not take a bat out of the hands of the NL All Stars. 

Regardless, the man heals fast, doesn't he?

 

Fonzerine

 

Alfonso Soriano may return early

When Alfonso Soriano retires from baseball, he could probably get a job in the horror movie industry. Just when you think his body's been riddled with enough bullets that the threat of doom is over, the Fonz would slowly rise up once more and descend on the horrified teenage campers. He heals that fast. We'll call the movie "The Return of the Fonz," which will be followed by "The Return of the Fonz... Returns Again." We'll make millions!

According to the Tribune, The Fonz - who leads National League outfielders in votes - will shortly be re-examined by doctors in order to determine if he's healing as freakishly fast as it appears. Not surprisingly, Alfonso wants to play in the All Star Game, and he's hoping to be ready before then.

Just keep in mind that Alfonso healing quickly and producing strongly are not synonymous. He may be back in early July, maybe, but he might not be his old productive self until August - if at all this year. That said, it doesn't appear as though Jim Hendry has even thought to consider my sensible idea of cheaply signing Kenny Lofton to bat leadoff until Alfonso's return, so let's hope for two things - a) Alfonso recovers as quickly as he thinks he will and 2) the growing flock of scrubs used to start in his place produce a little.

The Sorianoless Cubs

Goat Friend and Iowan broadcaster Jon Miller recently EMailed me from his boat because he'd noticed something of particular interest. 

To paraphrase - because copying and pasting is just too much like cheating - Jon has noticed that in the 19-or-so games that Soriano has not played, the Cubs have averaged 7 runs per game.  In the 51-or-so games in which Soriano has batted leadoff, the Cubs have averaged 4.98 runs per game.  Pitching-wise, it's a wash - without Soriano, the pitching staff is allowing 4 runs a game, and with him, they're allowing 3.98.  Likewise, without Soriano, the Cubs are 12-7, a .631 clip.  With him, they are 33.18, a .647 clip.

First and foremost, I think that neither Jon nor myself would suggest that the Cubs are a better team without Soriano.  In terms of why they've averaged so many more runs per game without him, a lot of it has to do with the drubbings they've dealt Pittsburgh, and the relatively small sample size.  Over a 19-game span, even the Royals can look like the Yankees.

That said, the real interesting sampler will come over the next few weeks.  I believe Colin posted something to the effect that the Cubs should score roughly 4 fewer runs without Alfonso in the lineup while he's out - how that will translate in the wins-loss column is anybody's guess.  Will the Cubs win roughly the same number of games, except they will be closer in score?  Or will the rest of the Cubs lineup step up and lay some offensive smack down on their rivals?

As we've said about a million times, the Cubs are such a good, complete team, that they should win even without their talented left fielder.  However, my sports fanatic friend at work thinks we're all crazy, because he believes that Soriano is hands-down the best hitter on the Cubs, and they will ache from his loss. 

Burnett: saying the right things

A.J. Burnett has been in the news lately as he has been lamenting for the chance to play in a city where they love baseball.  I've been speculating that Burnett would be a Cub probably since the middle of May.  As we draw nearer to the trade deadline and as the Blue Jays fall farther from contention, it seems likely that they'll be dealing A.J. before the end of July.

As somebody over at the Desipio boards said, it would be like the second coming of Kerry Wood.  Burnett has great strikeout stuff, questionable durability, and he seems to find it impossible to win more than 12 or 14 games in a season.  

However, while I question his durability, Burnett would evoke more confidence than even Ryan Dempster in a short series - at least, for now.  He's not my first choice, but as I said recently, I'd rather see Burnett than no improvement at all.   In the past, Jim Hendry has seemed unable to formulate a Plan B when Plan A fails - this time, however, perhaps he can do everything possible to land Sabathia but keep a trade for Burnett as a backup option. 

Hoffpauir and Patterson Up, Hart Down; And A Look At Our Second Base Options

Well, here it is. Hoffpauir and Patterson are up. Kevin Hart is shipped out. And Patterson is playing left and leading off today. You could push me over with a feather after hearing that last one.

I’ll hopefully update this post in a little while, but in the meantime, here’s a table showing our options at second base, should DeRosa see playing time in left:

Mark DeRosa
AB
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
BB
SO
SB
CS
AVG
OBP
SLG
OPS
MLB
208
40
65
13
0
8
35
29
46
3
0
.313
.398
.490
.888
Projected
263
40
76
15
1
7
40
30
54
2
1
.289
.362
.433
.795
Eric Patterson
AB
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
BB
SO
SB
CS
AVG
OBP
SLG
OPS
AAA
181
27
59
13
3
5
26
10
41
10
0
.326
.361
.514
.875
Translated
184
20
50
9
2
4
19
7
44
8
0
.273
.301
.408
.709
MLB
6
0
0
0
0
0
1
0
3
1
0
.000
.000
.000
.000
Total
190
20
50
9
2
4
20
7
47
9
0
.263
.289
.395
.684
Projected
325
40
85
15
3
8
37
22
64
13
6
.262
.308
.400
.708
Mike Fontenot
AB
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
BB
SO
SB
CS
AVG
OBP
SLG
OPS
MLB
88
16
21
7
0
2
12
12
16
2
0
.239
.337
.386
.723
Projected
229
34
60
15
2
5
26
23
43
4
2
.262
.329
.410
.740
Ronny Cedeno
AB
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
BB
SO
SB
CS
AVG
OBP
SLG
OPS
MLB
95
19
28
7
0
1
19
10
16
3
1
.295
.368
.400
.768
Projected
234
30
65
12
1
5
30
15
43
5
3
.278
.321
.402
.723

Patterson can run the bases, no question. Projections for defense: DeRosa +4, Cedeno +2, Fontenot -3. DeRosa's played worse than that so far this season, while Cedeno and Fontenot have played better. I don't have projections for Patterson. I’ll leave Patterson at a zero, then, and I’ll leave the other numbers unadjusted for now.

wOBA
Defense
Offense/112
Defense/112
Runs/112
DeRosa
0.352
4
1.36
0.69
2.05
Cedeno
0.318
2
-1.95
0.34
-1.60
Fontenot
0.326
-3
-1.17
-0.52
-1.69
Patterson
0.311
0
-2.63
0.00
-2.63

This isn't giving Patterson any credit for his baserunning, which is a plus. And I’m not entirely behind those defensive estimates. Cedeno looks like the best option of the three, although I think Murton is probably a better left fielder than any of them are second basemen. (These, unlike my full WAR numbers, are not adjusted by position.)

In wake of Soriano's injury, we must not lose sight of the bigger picture

owww...that's gotta sting a liddle...From Jump Street, let me state that I do not think losing Soriano is a good thing at all.  Colin whips out the numbers that clearly state that there will be a short term dropoff while Soriano heals.  Obviously Murton/Hoffpower don't produce what he does on an annual basis - if they did, then it would be they making thee eight-figure salaries!  What really sucks is that he just got his legs back.  And Kurt ventures that in the long run, Cubs players of late have not had much luck recovering their power from broken hands, particularly from Soriano, whose main gift from God is his wrists, and this particular fracture metacarpal is closely adjacent to said Wrists of God.

I knew, sitting here watching my guys, Our Cubs, run off the best record in baseball, that it was too good to be true.  Mark Prior, Kerry Wood, Sammy Sosa...all too good to be true.  Several times I thought and mentioned that the only thing that could stop us in 2008 is injuries.  When you saw Pujols get hurt and Yovanni Gallardo get hurt, as a hypersensitive, oversuperstitious Cubs fan, you had to wonder...Where's Ours?

Hopefully, this is it.

I honestly think, though, that it could be worse.  I have stated on here time after time that I think Alfonso Soriano is nothing more than a backup generator - a failover system that occassionally - nay, frequently - can carry a team for weeks at a time while everyone else struggles.  There is NO 2007 Division Crown without his September.  And yes, when taken on an annual basis as Colin has, the man produces abundantly.

Thing is, though, is that his contributions are not consistent.  He differs from, say, Ramirez, who pretty much produces at the same rate every day.  You know that, if you write him in the lineup for a week, that he will give you hits three times out of ten, probably a homer, about four RBIs, and he'll walk a few times.  Managers and teams tend to LEAN on people like Ramirez, they count on him, and when players like him lose time, the loss is quantifiable.

With Soriano, on the other hand, you just don't know.  He HAS been giving us more consistent production the past couple of weeks, yes.  But you honestly don't know what we're going to miss out on the next six weeks.  Might he hit 12 bombs and drive in 30?  Or might he hit .150 and chase every pitch thrown at him?  He isn't going to be there, probably the rest of the year, to pick us up when we need it...that's the great loss with Soriano.  Our Plan B is gone for 2008.  However, it isn't the end of the world if Murton plays there the next six weeks.  We could still play winning ball, if...

.Dempster's big blue Cubs balls..we don't forget about the pitching!  Sure, Dempster whipped out his big brass nutts last night and went the distance, and for the moment, you have to feel confident that Wood and Marmol are rested enough.  For now. 

Lemme ax u a question - consider Z's last two starts, do YOU feel confident that he is going to go out there today and mow them down? Do you feel confident that the offense is going to keep bailing Lilly out from under his early-inning catastrophes?  July is only three weeks away, do YOU know where your Marquis de Suck is?  Still with US, that's where he is.

They're talking up Sean Marshall as the next  callup, saying that he has made the most progress in Iowa.  His last start?  Five runs in six innings.  But hey, he only walked one.

We can't lose sight of the fact that we still need a solid middle-of-the-rotation guy, to minimize the amount of time we have to see Wuertz and Lieber and Hart and yeah, even Marmol and Wood.   

How will Soriano’s injury impact the Cubs?

Soriano is going to to the DL for six weeks with a broken hand.

The return of Micah Hoffpauir a day early won’t be the end of the roster moves:

Infielder-outfielder Micah Hoffpauir will come up today from Class AAA Iowa to take Soriano's place on the roster. The Cubs need another hitter for the American League parks coming up.

It's possible they could recall either outfielder Matt Murton or infielder-outfielder Eric Patterson from Iowa by Friday. Currently, the Cubs are carrying 13 pitchers.

Mark DeRosa moved from second base to left field Wednesday. Expect DeRosa to see significant time in left during Soriano's absence, which will be about six weeks or even longer.

So, I’m operating under the assumption that two of Patterson, Hoffpauir and Murton will be called up. Hoffpauir has the least baseball talent of the group, so of course he’s the only one that’s guaranteed a callup.

What I’ve done is taken a player’s minor league numbers and figured out their Major League Equivalency – essentially an estimate of how they would have performed in the majors. Then, I combined those numbers with their MLB numbers. All of those numbers were then fed into the ZiPS projection tool, which uses those figures (in combination with their career numbers) to come up with a projection. (I also did a projection on Soriano for the rest of the season, based upon his numbers to date. Here’s an explanation of how projection systems work.) Here’s the table:

Eric Patterson
AB
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
BB
SO
SB
CS
AVG
OBP
SLG
OPS
AAA
181
27
59
13
3
5
26
10
41
10
0
.326
.361
.514
.875
Translated
184
20
50
9
2
4
19
7
44
8
0
.273
.301
.408
.709
MLB
6
0
0
0
0
0
1
0
3
1
0
.000
.000
.000
.000
Total
190
20
50
9
2
4
20
7
47
9
0
.263
.289
.395
.684
Projected
325
40
85
15
3
8
37
22
64
13
6
.262
.308
.400
.708
Micah Hoffpauir
AB
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
BB
SO
SB
CS
AVG
OBP
SLG
OPS
AAA
62
12
19
4
0
3
15
1
12
0
0
.306
.308
.516
.824
Translated
62
9
16
3
0
2
11
0
13
0
0
.259
.268
.417
.685
MLB
14
4
8
3
0
0
1
1
6
0
0
.421
.450
.579
1.029
Total
76
13
24
6
0
2
12
1
19
0
0
.316
.325
.474
.798
Projected
191
21
52
12
0
8
33
13
36
1
0
.272
.319
.461
.779
Matt Murton
AB
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
BB
SO
SB
CS
AVG
OBP
SLG
OPS
AAA
177
25
55
10
1
1
14
28
16
3
2
.311
.411
.395
.807
Translated
184
18
47
8
0
0
10
21
17
2
2
.254
.330
.316
.646
MLB
14
2
3
0
0
0
4
1
2
0
0
.214
.267
.214
.481
Total
198
20
50
8
0
0
14
22
19
2
2
.253
.327
.293
.620
Projected
286
39
79
15
0
8
35
31
37
2
1
.276
.347
.413
.760
Alfonso Soriano
AB
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
BB
SO
SB
CS
AVG
OBP
SLG
OPS
MLB
211
36
60
11
0
15
40
15
46
7
1
.284
.330
.550
.880
Projected
341
57
97
21
1
21
63
23
76
13
5
.284
.330
.537
.866

All three of them represent a sizable falloff. Hoffpauir is the one most capable of replacing Soriano’s power in the lineup, but that’s really damning with faint praise here. Murton is probably the best hitter of the group, given his superior on-base percentage. (Although his projected advantage over Hoffpauir is mighty slim.)

Of course they still have to play defense. So let’s look at some defensive projections, measured in runs saved/allowed versus the positional average. Murton projects as a +3 corner outfielder over the course of a season, Patterson as a +8. (Soriano projects as a +6; the projections don’t know about his leg injuries this year.)

Hoffpauir’s defense is an absolute cypher. We can look at minor league defensive numbers – Hoffpauir played 13 games in the outfield last season at AAA and was just off the charts bad. But he only played in 13 equivalent games in the outfield, hardly enough to pass judgement on.

What we do know is this. Hoffpauir has been a first baseman pretty much since his days in college. That tells me that, up until Lou Piniella saw him hitting this spring, nobody involved in talent evaluation saw much of a future for him in the outfield. Based on a charitable set of assumptions – that he’s an average defensive first baseman, and that he has the tools necessary to play the outfield – you’re looking at a –5 fielder. Again, that’s the charitable view.

Let’s assume that Soriano misses 36 games, and let’s assume that whoever fills in for him will average 3.1 plate appearances per game. That’s 112 plate appearances. We can figure out runs above average on offense and defense over that period in time. So, put it together and what have you got?

wOBA
Defense
Offense/112
Defense/112
Runs/112
Soriano
.367
6
2.82
1.03
3.86
Murton
.337
3
-0.10
0.52
0.42
Hoffpauir
.336
-5
-0.19
-.086
-1.06
Patterson
.311
8
-2.63
1.38
-1.25

Again: I'm making some charitable assumptions on defense for Hoffpauir. Even still, he lags significantly behind Murton, even while they're basically tied as hitters. The problem is that a lot of Murton’s value is wrapped up in his walks, while Hoffpauir’s value comes more from his low-wattage power.

That’s assuming that any of them were to be filling in for him in left field. There are two other players on the Cubs who could be filling in in left: Reed Johnson and Mark DeRosa. That requires a bit more chaining to figure out, because then you have to also look at who’s playing center or second while those two are playing fill-in. I’ll take a look at that later.

Soriano out six weeks

For the second straight season, Alfonso Soriano is going to miss a tremendous amount of time due to a freak injury.  Last year, the Fonz injured his leg while hustling for third.  This year, he'll be out for more than a month after suffering from a broken hand on what may have been a bean ball.

So much for the advantage of a St. Louis team without Albert Pujols.

Unlike his leg injury of last year, which merely cost him his speed, Soriano's injury is likely going to effect his production for the rest of the season.  Much as Derrek Lee wasn't the same after breaking his wrist a few years back, it's likely that when the Fonz returns, he won't be coming back with his homerun swing.

Well, silver lining - maybe he'll be a better leadoff guy if he can't rely on hitting homeruns.

Minus the silver lining - the Cubs are in for a rough six weeks; this may very well be the test of who they are as a team.  They are complete enough to win even without Soriano, or at least, that's what I keep telling myself.  But the objectives have changed - where before the Cubs were perhaps a 100-win team, we now have to lower our expectations.  If they can exhibit even a .500 record in the next six weeks, we'll have to be satisfied.  If they perform worse than that, we'll have to accept that they could and should get better when he returns.  And while Jim Edmonds and his offensive production was before a luxery, it now becomes a necessity - the Cubs will need him to step up and perform while Soriano recovers.

All that said, the Cubs are well on their way to winning again tonight, and they could and should sweep the Braves tomorrow.  But, as I mentioned not too long ago, they have an incredibly rough stretch of games coming up.  2008, which until recently looked very, very easy, just got stressful. 

Soriano has a broken hand

Reportedly a minimally displaced fracture in the fourth metacarpal in the left hand.

From the Trib:

Alfonso Soriano will be in a splint for three weeks with a broken bone in his left hand, and is expected to miss approximately six weeks of action.

X-rays of the hand taken at Northwestern Memorial hospital revealed a minimally displaced fracture of the left fourth metacarpal, located just under the fourth finger on his left hand.

Soriano was hit in the left hand by a pitch from Braves starter Jeff Bennett and was removed from the game for a pinch-runner in the second inning..

The Cubs will call up outfielder Micah Hoffpauir from Triple-A Iowa on Thursday to take Soriano’s place on the roster. 

More updates later.

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