Alfonso Soriano’s Platoon Value

Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer took over a mess of a roster, one good enough not to completely embarrass, but bad enough to show no signs of improving. Thus, their seeming first order of business is to rebuild. The term rebuilding is consistently misapplied, as the common perception is that teams in such situations must deal away all valuable pieces at once in order to stockpile prospects. While shedding payroll and converting costly players that don’t truly benefit the team right now into stars of the future is certainly a part of rebuilding, it isn’t everything. Another frequent tactic is creating the perception of starting anew by unloading costly players signed by the previous regime.

The Cubs are certainly implementing the latter tactic by attempting to move Alfonso Soriano. According to Bruce Levine of ESPN Chicago, Cubs owner Tom Ricketts is willing to eat most of the remaining $54 million on Soriano’s contract to facilitate a move. The writing is on the wall: Soriano’s days in a Cubs uniform are numbered, and it’s simply a matter of time before numerous teams come calling for an inexpensive outfielder with a decent bat and underrated fielding skills they can deploy in a left field platoon.

At $18 million per season, and in a full-time starting role, Soriano has negative value — his salary outweighs what his production typically costs on the market. But at $2-3 million per year, and in a role that limits his playing time, keeps him healthy, and allows him to face predominantly lefties, a league average year isn’t out of the cards. Though Soriano is a sunk cost, it makes more sense for a rebuilding team to eke out some prospects, after selling suitors on these factors, than to keep him around and platoon him themselves.

Soriano is 36 years old, and is coming off of a statistical down year. However, at that age, it’s entirely possible that a .325 wOBA is his talent level moving forward. Sure, he posted a .353 wOBA in 2010, and surpassed the .370 mark in 2008, but he walked much more. Never patient at the plate, Soriano managed walk rates north of eight percent in those seasons, compared to his meager 5.3 percent rate last season. With BABIPs below .300 in each of the last three seasons, a dip in walk rate inevitably leads to low on-base percentages. Despite a .244/.289/.469 line in over 500 plate appearances, Soriano performed better against lefties.

Against oppo-handed hurlers, he managed a .271/.312/.500 line, and hit a homer every 17 at-bats (he hit one every 39 ABs against righties). Compared to himself, the numbers are certainly improved. Compared to the league split, it wasn’t as impressive, as players tend to perform better in their favorable platoon situation.

Cumulatively, however, from 2008-11, Soriano has a .350 OBP, .533 SLG, .252 ISO and .372 wOBA against lefties, which ranked 18th out of the 51 NL players with 500+ PAs against lefties in that split-span. He also managed a 9.5 percent walk rate, which isn’t gaudy by any means, but is certainly respectable.

Teams can’t simply expect the same split-production to occur moving forward, as the lack of consistent playing time could hamper Soriano’s production, but the odds are that he would relatively thrive in a platoon role somewhere. He could tally 330 PAs and hit .275/.340/.520. Add that to a positive UZR mark and he would carry value above the remaining portion of his salary not picked up by Ricketts and the Cubs.

While Soriano plays an awkward left field with what looks like a lack of coordination, he rates very favorably. UZR isn’t the gospel, but when a guy posts 2007-11 marks of +33, +16, -3, +5, +3, it seems safe to say he can field. Since switching to left field in 2006, Soriano has a cumulative +60 UZR, one-third of watch is attributable to his ARM rating. Since 2006, only Chase Utley‘s +68 and Adrian Beltre‘s +65 outpace Soriano, and his arm only paled in comparison to Jeff Francouer and Jayson Werth.

The range leaderboard for qualifying players in that span is equally amusing, as Soriano, at +49, ranks second to Carl Crawford‘s +60, but the next closest competitor is Matt Holliday at +18.

If Soriano was on the free agent market right now, a number of teams would seek his services. He can hit lefties and field well, and that is usually enough for a team to have interest in a one- or two-year deal at $2-3 million per season. By moving Soriano at this juncture, the Cubs would create the perception of starting from scratch — Aramis Ramirez signed with the Brewers and Carlos Zambrano was traded to the Marlins — and Soriano would play in his most productive role elsewhere. That is, of course, unless the interested Orioles try to use his “name value” to “put butts in seats” and any other tired cliche by playing him every day. Fortunately for all parties involved, Soriano will likely only waive his no-trade clause if dealt to a contender.

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Eric is an accountant and statistical analyst from Philadelphia. He also covers the Phillies at Phillies Nation and can be found here on Twitter.

24 Responses to “Alfonso Soriano’s Platoon Value”

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  1. ole custer says:

    fwiw, i think it’s perfectly reasonable in establishing that his OF defense isn’t bad to include his outstanding +49 UZR from 2007/2008, but at the same time, that +33 year screams “outlier” in the “it’s not repeatable and it occured 5 years ago” way. that shouldn’t discount that it happened–it did, or well, the model said it did–but the notion that you’re buying anything more than an average defensive outfielder at his age seems to be pushing it. in fact, bRef’s defensive stats rate him (far) poorer over the last three years–all say he provided negative value as a fielder.

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  2. JDanger says:

    The UZR/eye-test discrepancy is enough to make a man drink at night.

    The hard stuff.

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    • MikeS says:

      That’s what I was thinking. I read that he can field well and I was wondering if the author had ever seen him try to play left field.

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    • Drew says:

      I think he’s probably a fringe average fielder still. His instincts are absolutely terrible and are what causes him to look more like Adam Dunn in the outfield. However, he still has passable speed and his arm strength is good. I still think UZR overvalues his defense, but I don’t think he’s quite as bad as most people make him out to be. It’s just that when he does screw up, he looks really bad.

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      • JDanger says:

        Right, the unique brand of awkwardness with which Soriano plays LF lends to some powerful and lasting images. I have no doubt those images lead fans to believe he is a far worse defender than he actually is.

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      • Fiery Furnaces says:

        Flat out missing fly balls with 2 out kills the fan base. No doubt about it.

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    • John Beasley says:

      Chase Utley? Adrian Beltre? How many Cubs games have you watched the last two years? Honestly. Arm strength notwithstanding, Alfonso Soriano is not an average-fielding LF. 2007 was an aberration based on teams running on him and learning the hard way that he’s got arm. But his speed is greatly diminished, and his routes are Little League-esque. Further, the Cubs constantly shifted their defensive OFs Byrd and Fukudome more toward LF than (at least I) would have expected on a number of occasions, certainly to give Byrd more range toward LF and reduce the widened “double gap” created by Soriano’s awful speed to his left.

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    • Greg K says:

      Agreed. Especially that Carl Crawford having the best range of any outfielder malarkey. If he did, he would have A. not been a complete travesty in the smallest LF ever and B. caught that ball.

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    • Eminor3rd says:

      I agree. I know that I shouldn’t be in the habit of dismissing numbers for my subjective eye test, but this dude stumbles around like Manny Ramirez out there.

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  3. ezb230 says:

    “While shedding payroll and converting costly players that don’t truly benefit the team right now into stars of the future is certainly a part of rebuilding, it isn’t everything. Another frequent tactic is creating the perception of starting anew by unloading costly players signed by the previous regime.”
    This seems like a distinction without a difference. The cubs are swapping old/overpaid players for whatever young/cheap players they can get. How is this not starting anew? Who cares where those expensive players came from?

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    • Cardinal Rules says:

      At first I thought I knew what he was trying to say. Something like releasing the player just so that fans don’t have to see him play after so many years of frustration from poor performance relative to salary. Thus giving the perception that things have changed even though they’re still paying the player. But then he goes on to say, “Though Soriano is a sunk cost, it makes more sense for a rebuilding team to eke out some prospects…than to keep him around and platoon him themselves.” I suppose if the deal really didn’t involve the receiving team assuming any of the contract, it is technically different from “shedding payroll and converting costly players that don’t truly benefit the team right now into stars of the future,” because the team wouldn’t be shedding any payroll. I still don’t think that this adds anything to our “common perception” of what rebuilding is.

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      • ezb230 says:

        i guess i’d say that unloading holdovers for no value and simply for the sake of appearing to rebuild is something other than rebuilding, not a different aspect of rebuilding. i don’t think that’s what the cubs are doing, though.

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  4. Andrew says:

    I wish Atlanta would take a chance on him. Lefties have owned us recently.

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  5. Garrett says:

    Soriano’s value as an outfielder came almost completely from his ability to throw runners out. Teams learned to stop running on him in 2009, and his defensive numbers dropped off dramatically after that. His range has declined steadily due to a number of leg injuries, and his glove has always been pretty abysmal. Any team looking to add him should probably think of him as a DH going forward, as his defensive numbers aren’t going to get any better.

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    • DavidCEisen says:

      “Teams learned to stop running on him in 2009, and his defensive numbers dropped off dramatically after that.”

      So your argument is teams no longer try to take extra bases, so he has no value?

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  6. BABIP says:

    Hey there,
    This is pointed to any fangraphs writer.

    I would like to see an analysis of Starlin Castro’s defense. As a 22 year old SS with good range and a high error total it would be interesting how his numbers look when you put together the full picture and how he compares at his age to other shortstops. Thanks! love the site.

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    • Colin says:

      So what you seem to be saying is you want an article that puts what is apparently bad fielding at SS into a positive light so you can feel better about it?

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  7. Joe C says:

    If he’d agree to play RF, I’d like my Red Sox to grab him to platoon with Sweeney. The Sox everyday outfield is good enough defensively to absorb whatever hit they may or may not take part-time with Soriano. And Fenway itself should only encourage a rebound in his productivity versus LHP. Plus, given Theo’s familiarity with the farm system it should be easy enough to agree on a fringe prospect.

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  8. Jack Nugent says:

    “… it seems safe to say he can field.”


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  9. shel says:

    soriano to the yankees for DH; cubs pay all but 3mil per yr, get one or two AA pitchers. theo should be making himself a nuisance in cashman’s voice mailbox.

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  10. CircleChange11 says:

    one-third of watch is attributable to his ARM rating.

    Was this written with a Southern accent?

    The Cubs may be paying players more money to play for other teams than they are paying players to pay for them. Awesome. Oh, but with all the freed up money, they can sign some really good FA’s, because that’s a strength of Epstein (joking).

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  11. The Stick says:

    Soriano is deathly afraid of the ivy covered bricks in Wrigley, I’ve seen him jump at the edge of the warning track many times instead of getting back to the wall. I’ve seen Theroit and Castro run hard back to the infield trying to catch short fly balls while Soriano jogged in with no intent on making a play on the ball. That Soriano has a positive UZR makes me not only question but despise the stat. Maybe I’ll like UZR better when Soriano is DH’ing 3 times a week in Baltimore and I don’t have to watch pregnant rhino on ice stakes type routes he takes on routine flyballs.

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