Consistency meter: Alfonso Soriano

Five-tool players are extra valuable for one simple reason: They have a positive impact on every category. Only a handful of players are truly five-faceted, and even fewer keep up this standard of production over a period of time. That is why Alfonso Soriano is so impressive; he has been a five-tool player his entire career.

image
Soriano sporting a uniform that would make any fantasy owner proud (Icon/SMI)

+------+-----+-----------+-----+-------+----+-----+-----+----+
| YEAR | AGE | TEAM      | AB  | BA    | HR | RBI | R   | SB |
+------+-----+-----------+-----+-------+----+-----+-----+----+
| 2004 |  28 | Rangers   | 608 | 0.280 | 28 |  91 |  77 | 18 |
| 2005 |  29 | Rangers   | 637 | 0.268 | 36 | 104 | 102 | 30 |
| 2006 |  30 | Nationals | 647 | 0.277 | 46 |  95 | 119 | 41 |
| 2007 |  31 | Cubs      | 579 | 0.299 | 33 |  70 |  97 | 19 |
| 2008 |  32 | Cubs      | 453 | 0.280 | 29 |  75 |  76 | 19 |
+------+-----+-----------+-----+-------+----+-----+-----+----+

Soriano certainly has had an impressive prime, but looking at the end of the above chart gives the impression that perhaps his golden years are behind him as he enters his ninth MLB season.

Compounding the concern is his recent injury history, something he never experienced in his first six seasons, save a minor hamstring injury in 2004 that has been recurring throughout his career. His broken finger in 2008 did result from a hit by pitch, meaning I would label it a fluke, but nevertheless I would call Soriano a medium injury risk in 2009.

With all this in mind, let’s look at his stats to see what we can expect from him in the upcoming season.

Power ability

For a leadoff hitter Soriano has always been notoriously powerful, setting the record for most home runs to lead off a game in 2003. His power totals peaked in 2006, when he hit an astounding 46 home runs, but have since returned to normal, settling in around 30.

If you’re new to THT Fantasy Focus and are unfamiliar with True Home Runs (tHR) or any of the other stats I’m using, check out our quick reference guide. These stats provide a much clearer picture of a player’s talent, so it’s well worth taking a couple of minutes to learn them.

+------+-----+-----------+-----+----+-----+-------+--------+--------+--------+
| YEAR | AGE | TEAM      | AB  | HR | tHR | HR/FB | tHR/FB | nHR/FB | OF/FB% |
+------+-----+-----------+-----+----+-----+-------+--------+--------+--------+
| 2006 |  30 | Nationals | 647 | 46 |  33 |    20 |     14 |     17 |     47 |
| 2007 |  31 | Cubs      | 579 | 33 |  28 |    17 |     14 |     14 |     44 |
| 2008 |  32 | Cubs      | 453 | 29 |  24 |    18 |     15 |     14 |     45 |
+------+-----+-----------+-----+----+-----+-------+--------+--------+--------+

Soriano seems to have the ability to outperform his True Home Run (tHR) totals by about five—a few other players just seem to be able to do that—so I would not consider Soriano’s totals the past two years out of line. The other good news is that if we extrapolate Soriano’s totals from the past two years to a full season’s worth of play (remember he missed time in both years), we get 35 home runs for 2007 and 32 for 2008.

Now for the bad news. Soriano will be 33 years old next season, so I would expect about three fewer home runs from him simply because of his age. And then there is the ominous downward trend in power ability. I cannot say for sure (not that I can say anything for sure) if the downward trend will continue, but I can try to explain part of it. To do that, we will need to look more closely at his batted ball data.

+---------+---------+------+-----+--------+-----+-----+--------+-----+
| LAST    | FIRST   | YEAR | AB  | OF/FB% | FL% | LD% | IF/FB% | GB% |
+---------+---------+------+-----+--------+-----+-----+--------+-----+
| Soriano | Alfonso | 2006 | 647 |     42 |  11 |  14 |      4 |  29 |
| Soriano | Alfonso | 2007 | 579 |     41 |   9 |  14 |      2 |  34 |
| Soriano | Alfonso | 2008 | 453 |     36 |  22 |  11 |      3 |  29 |
+---------+---------+------+-----+--------+-----+-----+--------+-----+

While it appears that Soriano’s outfield fly ball percentage (OF/FB%) has been stable, if we include the ever-intriguing fliner into the mix, a decline in OF/FB percentage appears. An admittedly slight decline, but enough to explain part of his recent drop in power.

Just as I cannot say if his decline in power will continue, I also cannot substantiate any claim that his fliner percentage (FL%) will remain at 22 percent in 2009. Twenty-two percent is well above the average 11 percent fliner rate, but also not extreme enough to guarantee a meaningful regression.

To clarify, (and I invite you to skip this paragraph if you feel you understand) when looking for home runs, outfield fly balls are optimal because they go over the wall the highest percentage of the time compared to the other types of batted balls. Fliners are better overall in terms of run production, but do not become home runs very often. So when Soriano hits 13 percent more fliners and five percent fewer outfield fly balls as he did in 2008, his home run totals are gong to suffer, by about three home runs. If he were to hit fewer fliners in 2009, his outfield fly ball percentage almost surely would tick up a few points, resulting in a couple of home runs.

From this information—despite all the uncertainty mentioned above—we still can come up with a reasonably small range for Soriano’s expected home run total in 2009. My low end projection is 24 home runs. In making this prediction I expected the same high fliner percentage and some time missed because of injuries. The high end projection is 32 home runs, which is assuming good health for the most part.

Overall I expect Soriano’s power totals to remain the same as last year, around 28 home runs. Let’s now check on that batting average of his.

Contact ability

+------+-----+-----------+-----+-------+-------+-----+-------+--------+-----+--------+---------+
| YEAR | AGE | TEAM      | AB  | BA    | tBA   | CT% | BABIP | mBABIP | LD% | BIP/HR | BIP/tHR |
+------+-----+-----------+-----+-------+-------+-----+-------+--------+-----+--------+---------+
| 2006 |  30 | Nationals | 647 | 0.277 | 0.255 |  75 | 0.302 |  0.300 |  20 |     11 |      15 |
| 2007 |  31 | Cubs      | 579 | 0.299 | 0.273 |  78 | 0.337 |  0.313 |  20 |     14 |      16 |
| 2008 |  32 | Cubs      | 453 | 0.280 | 0.274 |  77 | 0.305 |  0.312 |  23 |     12 |      15 |
+------+-----+-----------+-----+-------+-------+-----+-------+--------+-----+--------+---------+

First off, if you are wondering why Soriano is also outperforming his True Batting Average (tBA), it is because tBA uses the tHR numbers. If we cancel out the home run noise his tBAs for 2006, 2007 and 2008 become .267, .280 and .283 respectively. That makes things look a bit rosier, but besides that not much else is happening. Let’s look at those plate discipline stats.

+------+-----+-----------+-----+-----+------------+------+-------------+----------+
| YEAR | AGE | TEAM      | AB  | CT% | JUDGMENT X | A/P  | BAT CONTROL | BAD BALL |
+------+-----+-----------+-----+-----+------------+------+-------------+----------+
| 2006 |  30 | Nationals | 647 |  75 |         85 | 0.65 |          85 |       52 |
| 2007 |  31 | Cubs      | 579 |  78 |         93 | 1.07 |          84 |       57 |
| 2008 |  32 | Cubs      | 453 |  77 |         90 | 0.94 |          83 |       57 |
+------+-----+-----------+-----+-----+------------+------+-------------+----------+

Soriano has below average judgment, and makes about just as many passive mistakes and aggressive ones (A/P). Interestingly, he was more passive in 2006, his monster home run year. He is about average in terms of hitting balls inside the zone (Bat Control) and is exactly league average at hitting balls outside of it (Bad Ball).

Soriano will never be a great average hitter, but for the time being it appears that he still will bat somewhere in the .270s. If you feel he will hit the high end of his power projection, expect something closer to .280, and if you feel the opposite, think high .260s.

Speed ability

+------+-----+-----------+-----+----+-----+-------+------+-----+-----------+-------------+
| YEAR | AGE | TEAM      | AB  | SB | SBA | SBO%  | SBA% | SB% | FAN SPEED | FAN BALLOTS |
+------+-----+-----------+-----+----+-----+-------+------+-----+-----------+-------------+
| 2004 |  28 | Rangers   | 613 | 18 |  23 | 0.220 |   16 |  78 |        84 |           8 |
| 2005 |  29 | Rangers   | 637 | 30 |  32 | 0.186 |   25 |  94 |         0 |           0 |
| 2006 |  30 | Nationals | 647 | 41 |  58 | 0.206 |   39 |  71 |        84 |          27 |
| 2007 |  31 | Cubs      | 579 | 19 |  25 | 0.201 |   20 |  76 |        82 |          32 |
| 2008 |  32 | Cubs      | 453 | 19 |  22 | 0.211 |   21 |  86 |        73 |          56 |
+------+-----+-----------+-----+----+-----+-------+------+-----+-----------+-------------+

Soriano has stolen at least 20 bases every season of his career, and certainly has the potential to steal a lot more. Recurring leg injuries have prevented him from reaching his potential and since joining the Cubs he has been attempting to steal a lower percentage of the time (SBA%). If his legs are not bothering him in 2009, I could see Soriano stealing up to 30 bases, but more realistically I see him getting about 15-20 steals.

Final thoughts

If you were nervous about selecting Soriano in your draft, I would not worry because it seems that this will not be the year he burns out. My biggest concern with him is injuries, and he is not even a high risk compared to plenty of other players.

If you want him on your team, you will have to take him early. In the mock drafts I’ve seen and participated in, he has gone as high as 16th overall and as low as 34th. With my second-round pick, I probably would not pull the trigger on him but in the third I would have no reservations selecting him.

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Comments

  1. Jon Samuelson said...

    Um, I really don’t find a lot of fault with your articly, but…

    I like Alfonso Soriano, he’s a hell of a hitter.  I’d take him on my team.  But isn’t one of the “tools” fielding ability?  Isn’t Soriano politely referred to as a butcher in the field?  I’m just sayin’…

  2. Brandon Isleib said...

    Unless Paul is thinking of a 5×5 league where stats are tools.  Well, obviously the stats are tools to win the league, but…it could happen.  Stranger things have.

  3. Paul Singman said...

    Jon, I checked on Soriano’s defensive stats and according to UZR/150 he is actually about an average left fielder. There are just about the same amount of guys above and below him.

    Still, a player’s defensive abilities as a fantasy owner mean nothing to me unless they are in danger of being benched, or could have their position switched to a less desirable position.

    A perfect example of this is Soriano when he was moved from second base to the outfield.

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