Offensively, Tyler Colvin and Alfonso Soriano have been very nearly the same player this season. The two outfielders' batting averages, on-base percentages, slugging averages, and walk rates have hovered within very narrow margins of one another for the past two months:
|Category||Tyler Colvin||Alfonso Soriano|
Here are the differences between them:
1. Colvin, 25, has superior speed. This may be apparent. Soriano is 34 and has been slowed by leg injuries since arriving in Chicago in 2007. Colvin's speed, however, is not merely the residue of youth. He ranks 23rd of the 213 players who have amassed 350 or more plate appearances this season in speed score.
Both men, incidentally, are and have long been efficient but choosy base-stealers: Colvin is 6-for-7 in stolen base attempts as a big league player after swiping 44 bases in 60 tries in the Cubs' farm system, while Soriano has 52 thefts in 64 attempts since signing with the Cubs prior to the 2007 campaign.
2. Colvin strikes out more often. In fact, of those same 213 players, only 14 have whiffed more frequently this year than Colvin per time at bat. Soriano has always racked up strikeouts, but has never struck out as often over a full season as Colvin has so far in 2010.
3. The two have starkly divergent batted-ball tendencies. This, too, is probably a reflection of their age disparity: Soriano, no longer able to take advantage of good speed by smacking ground balls toward the hole at shortstop, has instead hit a higher percentage of his batted balls into the air than all but two other qualifying big league hitters. Colvin, by contrast, has hit 15 percent more ground balls than flies.
4. Colvin bats left-handed; Soriano bats right-handed.
There are two more differences between Colvin and Soriano, neither of which bear on offensive performance in any direct sense and both of which I will discuss later. In the meantime, though, let's determine the significance of the two men's similarities and differences as it pertains to next year's Cubs lineup.
Both Colvin and Soriano are excellent power hitters (slugging averages over .500 for each this season, though Colvin has gotten a bit lucky on the way to that figure by hitting home runs on almost one in every five outfield flies) who lack plate discipline, striking out too much and walking too little.
They accomplish their success at the plate in different ways (note the diametrically opposed batted-ball tendencies) but ultimately contribute to the offense in very similar ways, fitting the mold of either a third or fifth hitter.
It seems, therefore, that Soriano and Colvin are the ideal platoon. They each bat from a different side of the plate, allowing whoever manages the Cubs next season to use each only against opposite-handed starting pitchers if he so chooses.
Better still, Soriano is a fly-ball fiend whom the mystery skipper could plug in even against right-handed hurlers when the wind blows out at Wrigley Field; Colvin's game is more weather-proof and (since Colvin is a better defender of left field) may suit the lower run environment of Wrigley when the wind blows in.
Colvin's defensive superiority is the first of the remaining differences between the two, of which I made mention earlier. The other, however, utterly disregards on-field issues: Soriano is owed $19 million for each of the next four seasons, while Colvin remains under team control at less than half a million dollars per year through 2012. If the Cubs hire too conservative a manager, the temptation to play Soriano every day in deference to his veteran status and salary may be too much.
The team will thrive if the new skipper is smart enough to ignore office politics and play Colvin every day against right-handed pitching. With a split of full-time duty and a presumably healthy number of pinch-hitting opportunities for each, the Cubs could expect an .850 OPS with some 40 home runs out of their left fielders next season, at the reasonable cost of $19.45 million.