Alfonso Soriano: enigmatized
Some of our regular readers were commenting recently on the uniqueness of Alphonso Soriano. Their view was that it is difficult to really describe the type of player that he is since there are so few similar players to compare him to.
That got me thinking about how that uniqueness might best be described. As our commenters knew so well, it’s not easy. Soriano’s like a lot of players, in certain ways, but quite unlike them in others.
After the jump, some thoughts on the enigma that is Alfonso.
For this analysis, I’ve focused on offense as the attribute of Soriano’s game that has been most highly valued. Looking at Soriano’s career milestones, I settled on a control group of the 37 players (including Soriano) with 400 career HR and 400 career doubles. While nearly all of those players are clearly better than Alfonso, I thought it would be fun to see the parts of Soriano’s game that are most similar to particular members of that group. In the comparisons that follow, unless otherwise noted, I am referencing that control group.
- Soriano neither scores nor drives in many runs for a player with his power credentials. Among the control group, Soriano is one of only four with fewer than 1 RBI per 7 PA and also fewer than 1 Run per 7 PA. The others are Cal Ripken, Carl Yastrzemski and Billy Williams.
- Soriano is equally likely to score a run as drive one in. Though his RBI and Run production are near the bottom of the group, having nearly identical RBI and Run totals puts Soriano among some elite company: Yaz again plus Mel Ott, Stan Musial, Frank Robinson, Jeff Bagwell and Chipper Jones; the only players in the control group with career Runs > 98% of RBI and also career RBI > 98% of Runs.
Speed and Baserunning
- Among our control group, Soriano is one of 11 with 200 steals, but of those 11, one of only 3 with triples amounting to less than 11% of steals. The others are A-Rod and Gary Sheffield.
- Soriano has the 8th highest WAR Baserunning Runs (both absolute, and per PA) in the control group but, among the 11 players with 200+ steals, his WAR Baserunning Runs ranks ahead of only Sheffield, Andre Dawson and Reggie Jackson.
On Base Percentage
- Soriano’s 0.321 career on-base percentage is the lowest in the control group, one of only 4 players (with Cal Ripken, Ernie Banks and Andre Dawson) below the .350 level.
- Even adding in Soriano’s stolen bases, his Secondary Average is still only 30th of 37 in the control group. Of those below Soriano, only Dawson and Dave Winfield have 200+ stolen bases. Soriano, Dawson and Winfield are also lowest in Total Average scores for those with 200 steals.
- Soriano and a young Alex Rodriguez (1998) are the only players in the control group with a qualifying season accumulating less than 1.5 points of batting average per hit. Soriano did it in consecutive seasons (2002-03). His 2002 season with 209 hits is second only to Jimmy Rollin‘s 212 hits in 2007 for most hits by a player batting .300 or less.
- To show how strong the control group is, Soriano’s .504 SLG ranks only 28th of 37. Soriano’s .272/.321/.504 slash is almost identical to Ernie Banks with .274/.330/.500 .
- Soriano and Ernie Banks are the only players in the group whose career SLG percentage comprises over 60% of their career OPS.
Whiffing but not Walking
- Soriano and Reggie Jackson are the only players in the group with a Strikeout to RBI ratio of more than 3:2. Those two are among only 11 players with 8000 PA and the same 3:2 strikeout to RBI ratio.
- Soriano has the highest strikeout to walk ratio in the control group, at 3.57:1. Only 4 other players with over 5000 PAs have a ratio above 3.55:1 – Jose Hernandez, Tony Armas, Shawon Dunston, and Alex Gonzalez.
- Among the control group, Soriano’s strikeout rate of one per 4.7 PA is fourth highest, behind only Jim Thome, Reggie Jackson and Willie Stargell.
- Among the control group, Soriano’s walk rate of one per 16.9 PA is second lowest, ahead of only Andre Dawson at one per 18.3 PA
- Soriano is one of just 4 players to accumulate negative WAR Fielding Runs at a rate of more than 1 per 110 PA. The other three are Jason Giambi, Manny Ramirez and Gary Sheffield
As I trust is apparent form the foregoing, Soriano’s presence in the control group is very much on the fringe. This is further evidenced by his career WAR, 2nd lowest and only slightly ahead of Paul Konerko, another recent inductee to the club.
So, who is Soriano most similar to? There are a number of names that have cropped up more often than others, among them Andre Dawson, Gary Sheffield, Reggie Jackson and Dave Winfield. Soriano’s most similar player shows up as Matt Williams, though with a low 899 similarity score. Lee May is another comparable hitter but both he and Williams were leadfoots compared to Soriano.
Enough fence-sitting, you say. Strictly on raw numbers, I’m going with Andre Dawson from the control group. Take a look.
Same sort of impatient hitter who strikes out a lot, especially relative to walks (though, in that respect, Soriano is really in a class by himself). Similar slash and OPS+. Similar stolen bases.
But, of course, it’s not really about raw numbers.
Dawson played in a lower run-scoring environment and played his prime in a tougher hitters’ park. And even though dWAR does Dawson no favors (based on my observational estimation), he is still far and away Soriano’s superior. Bottom line, Dawson was basically worth two Sorianos and more.
So, there you have it. Soriano’s enigmatic status is fully justified. As Howard Cosell might have said, he IS the ONE, the ONLY, Alfonso.
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