Alfonso Soriano just posted his best fantasy season since 2006 – the year before he signed his mega-deal with the Chicago Cubs. In 2013, the Cubbies finally managed to shed themselves of an aging Soriano by trading him to the similarly aging Yankees.
Soriano was a four category monster last season, posting 34 home runs, 18 stolen bases, 84 runs, and 108 RBI. His .255 average didn’t hurt too badly either, although those in OBP leagues suffered to the tune of a .302 on base percentage. This is why you’ll find Soriano ranked ninth on Zach Sanders’ list – nestled between Jacoby Ellsbury and Matt Holliday. The performance was worth $26.
Owners of Soriano in 2013 saw a huge return on investment. He was the second Soriano to be drafted in most leagues (remember Rafael Soriano?). He was picked 188th overall in snake drafts while auction owners shelled out an average of $4.
Despite home run totals ranging from 24 to 34 over the past four seasons, fantasy owners have largely viewed Soriano as a platoon bat which explains the low draft cost. He’s mashed lefties more effectively than righties over that four year period, but he’s remained effective against same-handed pitchers. The only consistent discrepancy in his platoon data is a lower BABIP and walk rate against right-handed pitchers. We have enough data to expect those trends to continue.
The degree of difference is about five percent fewer hits on balls in play and about a four percent reduction in walk rate. All told, we can expect Soriano to reach base about seven to nine percent less frequently against right-handers. That reduces his overall production enough that he’s scarcely above fantasy replacement level (aka Josh Reddick) per wRC+. Of course, that’s deceptive since it doesn’t account for the actual categories being counted.
Soriano dealt with a multitude of injuries after signing his contract with the Cubs, but he’s managed to stay healthy and play 151 games in the last two seasons. This extended string of health probably explains why his stolen base totals spiked from two in 2011 to six in 2012 to 18 in 2013. Those who like geometric progressions can expect 54 stolen bases in 2014, but more pragmatic owners should be wary about paying for steals with Soriano. He’ll provide some if he stays healthy, but health is such a large expectation for a player entering his age 38 season.
If we take a look at Soriano’s spray chart from 2013, we notice similar patterns to yesterday’s study – Bryce Harper. Soriano makes a lot of pull outs in the infield. Teams are only now beginning to embrace shifting against right-handed hitters, but Soriano appears ripe for the shift. With the Rays leading the charge, we can expect more and more teams to shift against Soriano. That will probably result in a lower BABIP.
The other result we see is that he still has big power. With an average fly ball distance of 293 feet and some very deep red dots on the above chart, we can be quite confident that his home run power will hold up while healthy. His distribution of home runs was not as uniform as Harper’s, but he can drive them out to the opposite field. With Yankee Stadium as his home, he’ll have plenty of opportunity for some “just enough” type home runs to right field.
Soriano has shown over a large sample that he hits hard pitches for about twice the ISO as other pitches. This information isn’t easily leveraged by fantasy owners, but it is part of his profile.
After taking a walk through the data, it seems that expectations around Soriano depend mostly on his health. A healthy Soriano can pop about 30 home runs, steal around 10 bases, and drive in oodles of runs batting in the heart of the Yankees lineup. But the wrong kind of injury could cause that skill set to collapse entirely.
When healthy, his platoon splits are such that he can be played every day with the knowledge that he’s relatively unimpressive against same-handed pitchers. A minor injury may force fantasy owners to only use him against left-handed pitching, which erodes his value.
Fantasy owners who benefited from his $26 showing in 2013 should be happy, It’s a good lesson that we shouldn’t forget about Soriano on draft day. At the same time, we can’t overreact to a late career renaissance without taking on a lot of risk. For what it’s worth, Steamer projects five category production of 64/23/75/10/.238 (R/HR/RBI/SB/AVG). That type of line was worth around $9 this season, and that’s probably roughly the cost at which you should target him.