Filed:February 17, 2009
Well, that didn't take long. Position players aren't even due to report yet, and the pot in Cubdom has already been stirred with news that Lou Piniella will try hitting Alfonso Soriano further down in the lineup.
Specifically, when asked about middle portion of the batting order, Piniella had this to say:
''We've got a combination of Derrek [Lee], [Milton] Bradley, [Aramis] Ramirez, and I'm not going to [rule] out the possibility of throwing Soriano in that mix, either.''
You know, it's not only the prerogative of the major league manager to experiment with his roster during Spring Training, it's practically an obligation. Unless you're coming in at the bottom of the competitive cycle—and your GM has committed to you for the duration of the rebuilding phase—managers generally don't have the luxury of giving guys much time to develop in season. And by develop, I mean not only rookies looking to stay on with the club, but guys who you want to do different things, or take on new responsibilities. One need only look at the Soriano in center field experiment of a few years ago to see my point.
No, you've got to try some things, let some guys reach a bit, let some fail, and really look at how to maximize the collective talent. It's just not enough to keep doing what you've been doing.
Here's the thing though. Soriano pounding AA and AAA pitchers in the thin Arizona air for a few games is not going to change seasons worth of experience that shows he's a poor middle-of-the-order bat. New York tried this experiment. Texas tried this experiment. Even the Cubs tried it for a few games. Want to know what they found?
Alfonso is a rally killer, who receives a disproportionate amount of breaking balls when batting lower in the lineup—breaking balls that he can't hit. A few seasons ago, he was considered a middling slugger in Texas, with feast or famine tendencies. Good for making the Baseball Tonight highlight reel, but worthless for making the club any better on the field.
Traded to Washington, Frank Robinson wisely sticks him in the lead-off spot. Soriano saw more fastballs, as teams tried not to put him on base, in fear of his speed and the likelihood of extending the inning. He prospered, and re-invented himself into the $130 million man that we know him as today.
This isn't small sampling either, with over two seasons worth of at-bats hitting third through seventh in the order to prove it. Think about a 100 point OPS drop, and you'll start to get the picture.
You know, in the financial markets, you normally make decisions based off of either the fundamentals, or the technical analysis. When they both converge in agreement, there's just no question really. In Soriano's case, both show he's a marginal power hitter lower in the lineup, and with no superior replacement to take the lead-off spot in his stead. Aaron Miles or Ryan Theriot? Please. That just makes a bad idea that much worse. Lou needs to sell on this idea. Quickly.