MLB: Is Alfonso Soriano Back?

Tom LeshContributor IIIApril 16, 2012

CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 12:   Alfonso Soriano #12 of the Chicago Cubs breaks his bat on a two run single scoring teammates Darwin Barney and Starlin Castro during the third inning against the Milwaukee Brewers at Wrigley Field on April 12, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Brian Kersey/Getty Images)
Brian Kersey/Getty Images

Fans and even the front office are talking up a turnaround for Alfonso Soriano, the beleaguered, maligned and overpaid Cubs left fielder.  There is even an article on this site that implies he is on a hot streak.  Through nine games—he had and off-day on Sunday—Soriano is batting .313.

A legitimate question is whether Soriano is back or whether this is just an illusion.  The answer is that it is likely just an illusion.  Looking behind the obvious numbers, things are not so rosy.  The single biggest stat that stands out is his BABIP, batting average on balls in play.  It is .400! 

That is just an astonishing number, and it obviously cannot last. 

Just to give you an idea of how remarkable this number is, Sta Musial's career BABIP was .320.  Soriano's best BABIP was .335 back in 2002, and his career BABIP is .313.  This is just an impression, but I have watched most of the season so far and it just seems he is getting a lot of bloop singles and seeing-eye hits.  This cannot last.

Another revealing statistic is this.  His slugging average is .313, woeful even compared to his substandard production in 2009 through 2011.  All his hits are singles.  He has no home runs and no extra base hits. 

Traditionally, at least in recent years, Soriano has not been a slow starter, and his best numbers have been early in the season, well before the All-Star break.  Last year he hit ten home runs in April.

His strikeouts and walks are pretty much in line with career numbers.  But, batting clean-up, he has left 17 men on base in the nine games he has started.  There really is no denying that Alfonso Soriano is a player in serious decline since the 2008 season, and no amount of happy talk is likely to change that.

One thing I will say is that he seems to have been energized on defense.  He has caught several balls he would ordinarily have muffed.  I was out at the game last Wednesday when he made an astonishing catch of a line drive to left field against the Brewers.  This was astonishing not just because it was good but because it was Soriano making the play.  I think it took fans a while to react just because they expected him to botch the play.