Alfonso Soriano and the Antithesis of Situational Hitting

Used to be, earlier in his career, Alfonso Soriano was the very model of an undisciplined hitter. He got a lot of press, because he was a Yankee, and back in 2002, Soriano drew 22 unintentional walks while striking out 157 times. He also mashed 39 dingers, so it’s not like there was much reason for Soriano to change. But as time has gone by, it seems like Soriano has drawn less attention for his hacking, probably because it’s become entirely familiar. And probably because he’s managed to have a hell of a career, so it’s not like the hacking really dragged him down. Soriano with a different approach might not have been as good as the Soriano we’ve been able to observe.

But Soriano’s still very much a hacker. As a rule of thumb, if a young hitter is pretty undisciplined, he’s likely to remain pretty undisciplined as an older hitter. That is, if his career survives. Soriano, for his career, has four times as many strikeouts as unintentional walks. That makes for a similar ratio to those belonging to Reed Johnson and Jeff Francoeur. During the PITCHf/x era, 515 players have batted at least 500 times. Soriano’s rate of swings at pitches out of the strike zone is the tenth-highest in the group. That Soriano has a career .351 wOBA is a testament to his ability to punish a variety of pitches, but the hacking still gets him in trouble, and Thursday provided a wonderful example. Thursday, in a game between the Cubs and the Reds, Soriano went and had himself an unforgivable plate appearance in a critical spot. Or what would have been a critical spot, if the Cubs weren’t dreadful.

The scene: it was the eighth inning, and the Reds were up 1-0. Jonathan Broxton was pitching, and the Cubs had one out and runners on second and third. Soriano came up to pinch-hit, even though Dale Sveum had a full bench. A hit or a fly ball or a slow grounder could’ve at least tied the game. Broxton threw four fastballs and the Cubs didn’t tie the game.


The Cubs lost 1-0. It hardly means anything to the Cubs, who aren’t good, but the Reds are looking to make the playoffs, so every win counts. Pretty much every win could’ve at some point turned into a loss, but the turning points usually aren’t so conspicuous. As Alfonso Soriano struck out against Jonathan Broxton, the Cardinals could’ve been irritated.

That could easily be a stand-alone image right there. It says a lot while saying a little, which is kind of the point of pictures. But I’m never one to be afraid of running something into the ground, so let’s examine this plate appearance in greater detail. Hypothesis: Soriano is too much of a hacker. Evidence: this and several other plate appearances over the course of Soriano’s entire career.

Of interest is that Broxton pounded Soriano inside. A couple days earlier, Broxton and Soriano faced off under different circumstances, and the plate appearance went differently:


The previous time Soriano had seen Broxton, Broxton stayed away. This time, Broxton came in, because this time, the bases weren’t empty. Broxton had to prevent that runner on third from scoring, so he didn’t want to give Soriano an opportunity to get the barrel of the bat on the ball. By throwing high, inside fastballs, Broxton could get weak contact or no contact given adequate location. Soriano, in turn, would’ve had to be looking for something he could drive. These were circumstances of so-called “situational hitting”, and Broxton would’ve been looking to minimize quality contact, while Soriano would’ve been looking to maximize quality contact. Certainly, Soriano wouldn’t want to put himself behind by swinging at a first pitch inside off the plate.


What you see is contact and a decently-hit foul ball. You might think, then, that Soriano was only a hair away from converting this chance, but that’s a pitch that can only really be hit foul. In order to get your bat all the way around, the angles don’t work. Look at the location, and keep in mind the off-center camera angle:


We can also use Texas Leaguers for additional visuals. Here’s the path of the pitch to Soriano, and an approximation of the path if the pitch were perfectly straight out of the hand:


If that were a straight fastball, it would’ve clipped the inside edge. But of course, fastballs aren’t straight, and Soriano has seen a lot of fastballs, and a lot of Broxton fastballs. You have to anticipate tail, and that pitch was only going to bore in toward Soriano’s body. Which it did. And he swung. Here comes pitch No. 2!


In Soriano’s defense, he didn’t go all the way around. In Soriano’s…offense?, he went too far around, at a very similar pitch. The location was basically the same, the movement was basically the same, and if Soriano learned a lesson from the first pitch, it didn’t take until he’d already committed to offering. The same shots as above:



Ahead 0-and-2, Broxton understandably threw another inside fastball off the plate. It was a little too high and a little too inside, and Soriano watched it, and nearly got hit by it. It would’ve been a terrible pitch to swing at, but then, Soriano had already attempted two terrible swings, so. A swing there would’ve cemented this as the worst plate appearance of the season. Instead, I guess there could theoretically be an argument. Let’s move on to the 1-and-2 pitch and wrap this thing up.


More inside than the first pitch, and more inside than the second pitch. It’s funny — because of the camera angle, you can’t actually see where this baseball is caught. Soriano’s body is in the way. There was no reason for Broxton not to throw this pitch again, because Soriano had demonstrated a willingness to chase it, and chase it he did, for a third time. The other damning visuals:


ugh geez


ugh geeeeez

That was all for Soriano. Toward the end of the plate appearance, he was forced to defend the plate, but that was because of his mistakes earlier in the plate appearance, so it’s hardly a valid excuse. The next batter made an out and the Cubs were dismissed, having barked without biting. Soriano did a terrible job of situational hitting, and if he were a rookie instead of a 37-year-old, he might’ve been benched as a consequence. Instead, the Cubs will keep trotting him out just waiting for someone to want to take him off their hands.

A glance at Soriano’s swing map for the season to date:


Soriano, in 2013, has swung at a lot of pitches. The three he swung at against Broxton were the third-most inside pitch, the second-most inside pitch, and the most inside pitch. That’s a sad little constellation of swings at inside fastballs, and they came at just the most terrible time.

After Soriano returned to the dugout, the Cubs’ broadcast talked about how it was unfortunate that it wasn’t David DeJesus, since he’s pretty reliable in such situations. Soriano, instead, makes too many unproductive outs. As an interesting twist, in both 2011 and 2012 Soriano was above-average at driving in runners from third with fewer than two outs. Last year his conversion rate compared to those belonging to Billy Butler and Derek Jeter. Soriano hasn’t been dreadful, situationally, but over his career he has been decidedly below-average, and on Wednesday he was awful. On Wednesday, Soriano had one chance, and it’s hard to imagine he could’ve done a worse job. Sometimes, it pays off to be over-aggressive at the plate. Other times, you just look like you’re bad.

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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

21 Responses to “Alfonso Soriano and the Antithesis of Situational Hitting”

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  1. alamosweet says:

    The best thing you can say about that at bat is that at least Soriano is not afraid of getting hit by the ball.

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  2. seattle matt says:

    for a second there, i thought the frowny face on the swing map was just more pitches at which fonz has swung and missed.

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    • Doug Lampert says:

      Ditto, but the circle arround the three inside pitches was clear to me as a mark rather than a bunch of pitches.

      I think it’s the eyes that do it. Two little dots look a lot like pitch locations, and once you’ve categorized them as such the frown HAS to be more pitches because that’s the only way it makes sense.

      Then you look harder and realize what it is.

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  3. Well-Beered Englishman says:

    I strongly dislike this camera angle.

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  4. Jon L. says:

    Looks like Soriano got fooled by the deceptive camera angle.

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  5. Jason B says:

    He’s also swung at a couple that were 2 feet low and about 2.5 feet outside…so there’s that.

    I mean, even if you manage to make contact with those, what’s the best-case scenario?

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  6. Ctownboy says:

    One thing NOT discussed about that horrible Inning was that with runners on First and Second and no Outs, Cody Ransom laid down a Sac Bunt. I HATE when position players lay down Sac Bunts to begin with but this case was even worse.


    First off, Ransom went 2 for 4 with a Double and a Home Run on Tuesday. On Wednesday, he was 1 for 2 with a Single in the game before the Sac Bunt.

    Second, Ransom bunted on a 2 and 0 count. In my opinion, just plain stupid. If you have a 2 and 0 count and are bunting to begin with why not TAKE A STRIKE? Even at 2 and 1, you have two strikes to work with to get a successful Sac Bunt. Meanwhile, what if the pitcher remains wild for the rest of your At Bat and you get Walked? The runners are advanced just as they are with a Sac Bunt AND no Out was given away in the process.

    There are reasons why bad teams are bad and low scoring teams don’t score a lot of Runs. One of them is that Sac Bunts are unnecessarily called for or called for too often and the second is the Manager sending the WRONG batter to the plate in critical situations.

    In my opinion, Sveum made TWO bad mistakes that Inning which cost the Cubs a chance at not only scoring a Run to tie but more than one Run which might have led the team to victory.

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    • Simon says:

      What Ransom did on Tuesday is pretty irrelevant to whether the sac bunt is a good idea or not. Cody Ransom is a .218/.304/.395 career hitter – he is bad at hitting. If you’re ever going to sac bunt, then runners on 1st and 2nd, no outs, down 1 in the 8th and a poor hitter up is a pretty good time.

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    • Baltar says:

      Ransom got so confused by your capitalization gone wild that he just decided to bunt.

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  7. Kiss my Go Nats says:

    He has a slightly negative WAR right now, but I’ll bet he will finish positive. Probably around 2 WAR. He has been that good or better most seasons. 2012 WAR was 3.6. My reasoning on his improvement centers on ISO; His current ISO is awfully low at .090. In 2012 his ISO was .237 and most of his career it was similar. When the summer comes full force, he will get his ISO much closer to his career mark of .230 and you CUB fans wont be as unhappy as you are now.

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  8. Ctownboy says:

    Kiss my go nats,

    I am not a Cubs fan. Actually, since 2009, I am not a fan of any team. I am just a baseball fan.

    I have been watching Major League baseball since 1975 and it angers me how the Steroid Era has dumbed down the players AND the Managers.

    Before the Steroid Era, Sac Bunts were necessary because Home Runs were harder to hit and scoring Runs was hard to do. So, players were good at bunting, stealing bases and hitting and running.

    Then the Steroid Era came about and the ONLY thing players started to do was swing from their heels and HOPE they hit a Home Run. Fundamentals and SMART baseball went out the window.

    Now that era is over, we have dumb ball players and Managers AND fewer Home Runs.

    People talk, write and complain about a lack of scoring, fewer Home Runs being hit and more Strike Outs but they NEVER talk about baseball intelligence being down also. They don’t talk about players NOT practicing bunting over the Winter or teams NOT taking infield practice or playing pepper before games.

    To me, a SMART player wouldn’t have been bunting to begin with but if they were, they sure as heck wouldn’t have done so on a 2 and 0 count. As far as the Manager goes, a SMART one wouldn’t have sent up Alfonso Soriano to Pinch Hit in that situation.

    If he was too old, his knees were acting up or it was too cold for him to start the game (even though he had three Hits and stole two bases the night before) then he was NOT the right guy to send up at that moment ESPECIALLY since the Reds had the infield back conceding the tying Run and the Cubs just needed a guy to be bale to make contact.

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  9. Ctownboy says:

    This is off topic but I would really like to see an article from FANGRAPHS or some stats from SABR which shows how many Outs were made and how many Runs were scored AFTER a position player attempted a Sacrifice Bunt.

    I am pretty sure in the Marlins series against the Reds that there were four Sac Bunt attempts (at least one was from a Pitcher) which resulted in four Outs and no Runs being scored.

    Add that to a runner on Second getting thrown out at Home by Jay Bruce when he was trying to score on a Single to short Right Field and Juan Pierre (?) getting thrown out at Home plate by Zach Cozart when he tried to score from Third by going on contact and that is two Innings worth of Outs made by dumb plays that resulted in ZERO Runs scoring.

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  10. Al Dimond says:

    So… this brings up the question of the magnitude of difference between hitters that play to the situation and hitters that get played by the situation. A basic way to measure this is taking run-scaled WPA/LI (that is, WPA/LI times number of runs in a win) and subtracting wRAA, right? It would have to be calculated separately each season.

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  11. John Roberts says:

    You have to fault the current roster construction here too. In this situation, Barney would have been a far better choice as a pinch hitter, given his contact rates. Soriano could have been saved for possible deployment against Chapman in the 9th. But since the Cubs are carrying SIX outfielders, Sveum might have not felt so comfortable using Barney.

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  12. JuanPierreDoesSteroids says:

    Am I the only one that tried to scroll the first picture?

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  13. BookWorm says:

    “ugh geez” is the single greatest editorial comment ever made in a FanGraphs article. It perfectly matches the sentiment that a Cubs fan must feel when seeing Soriano swing at that pitch.

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  14. skmd says:

    article says a lot about Soriano, but what does the subtext say about Sveum -both using Soriano to pinch hit when better options were available, and having ransom bunt on 2-0? Sveum’s honeymoon in chicago is beginning to come to an end.

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  15. Jay29 says:

    I wonder if O-Swing% could be modified to reflect how far away from the zone a ball is, to give “Weighted O-Swing” or something. What I mean is, a swing at a ball 2 inches off the plate is not as bad as a swing at a ball 16 inches off the plate. Maybe that would give a clearer picture of who the worst offenders are outside of the zone, and might excuse some of the players who only go a couple inches out of the zone to protect the plate with 2 strikes.

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  16. RVan says:

    Thank you for an excellent piece.

    I happened to watch the game live and noticed the same sequence of pitches, it was quite baffling. It’s refreshing to hear commentary from another baseball fan that you normally would not see in the traditional press.

    Doubleday designed the game to be played with 3 outs. The Cubs chose to play that inning with 2, which holds them at a 33% less chance of scoring when it comes to productivity. Broxton had been laboring all season and to bail him out on a 2-0 count is just baffling. Then he went ahead and tried his best to pitch around Soriano by tactically giving him 4 straight inside pitches. Mission accomplished.

    Looking forward to many more reads.


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