Monday, February 16, 2009

Movin' on Down?

Word out of Mesa is that Piniella is finally considering moving Soriano out of the leadoff spot (click post title for Tribune blog post). Many Cubs fans have banged their heads against the wall for two years about this, as Soriano seems suited for the middle of the lineup rather than the top. Sori has averaged 36 home runs over the last four years, and while he had 71 combined stolen bases in '05 and '06, he's had just 19 each of the last two seasons.

On-base percentage is often cited (correctly, if you ask me) as the most important statistic for a leadoff man, and Soriano's career OBP is .329. Last season, his OBP as a leadoff man placed him 22nd among 32 players with at least 200 plate appearances.

So: Soriano can mash the hell out of the ball, doesn't run much, and is not prone to getting on base. Analysis: bad leadoff man.

The one thing people mention in defense of him batting leadoff is his ability to "spark the offense" when he starts the game with a dinger. I agree that it's sweet to be up 1-0 about 30 seconds into the game, but you could say the same about Ryan Braun, A-Rod, or any other home run hitter. If he hit lower in the order, the Cubs might be up 3-0 in the first, instead of just 1-0.

But here's the rub: Soriano doesn't seem to produce when hitting down in the order. Over the last three years, he boasts a .297 average in the leadoff spot, while hitting an atrocious .144 in all other spots, including a .243 average in the 5-hole, where he could possibly bat in a reshaped Cubs lineup (Fontenot, Theriot, Lee, Bradley, Soriano, Ramirez, Soto, Johnson). One could certainly argue that this is partly due to attitude, as he has typically cried foul when not batting leadoff. Can you imagine if he got over his leadoff obsession and had one of his patented hot streaks in the 5- or 6-hole instead of the leadoff spot? Last year, Soriano was 29th in the majors in home runs, but just 81st in RBI! He had fewer runs batted in than Hunter Pence! Two years ago, the disparity was even more dramatic, as he was 11th in the majors in homers, but just 102nd in RBI, behind legendary run producers like Ray Durham and Kevin Kouzmanoff.

The two most natural leadoff options would probably be Ryan Theriot and Mike Fontenot. Fontenot's career OBP is .369, and was a superb .395 last year. Theriot's career mark is .362, and he's averaged 21 stolen bases over the last three seasons.

Theriot played very well last season, and is a great slap hitter with an amazing ability to hit the ball to the right side. This is a great skill for a 2-hitter, as he could often produce a first-and-third situation if Fontenot gets on ahead of him. However, you'd like to have a base-stealing threat, and Fontenot is far from it (seven career stolen bases).

Theriot is a bit of a threat to run, and Fontenot, as a lefty, has a natural ability to hit the ball to the right side. I wouldn't mind seeing:


I hope Lou at least experiments this spring with some different options. Sure, the Cubs won 97 games last year with Sori leading off, but a) that doesn't mean there's no room for improvement, and b) in the playoffs, when every at-bat counts and pitchers tend to make fewer mistakes, Soriano goes from a spark plug to a dead battery.

I have no idea why Piniella has babied Soriano throughout his tenure in Chicago, and his quotes from today don't sound all that geniune either (“So, we’ll see. To me, he’s still my leadoff hitter. I love him in the leadoff spot. I like him in the leadoff spot. But, look, we can see how it looks. We’ve got plenty of time in the spring to see where things shake out.”). So this is all premature and probably pointless, but I'm glad Soriano finally seems amenable to a change, and it'd be nice to see Lou play around with the lineup a bit during spring training.


  1. Dear Mr. Christol,

    Please write a post about ponies.

    Loretta Hannily, age 3

  2. I'm sending your blog to Lou. Maybe then he'll "get it"!!

  3. Thank you for sending this to me anonymous. But I think Loretta is on to something here. Ponies are probably more up you alley to talk about. The last thing the Cubs need is another person blogging about what I should be doing or not doing with my team. I'm Lou Piniella for christ sake! Why should someone who is dumb enough to keep cheering for a team that hasn't won a title in over 100 years be trying to tell me what to do! The same fans who came up with the saying "in Dusty we Trusy". Do you know how stupid that guy is? HE IS AN IDIOT! You "trusy" him and question me? It's my lineup and I'll do what I want!