Monday, December 12, 2005

Prepare To Eat Crow, or It Does Mean A Thing Because He Does Have That Swing, Part 2

Yesterday I wrote about how narrowly focusing on Alf Soriano's poor on-base percentage is a mistake because he does many other things well. I concluded by pointing out the problem with relying on his road stats, as well as that his home park isn't all that advantageous to right-handed hitters.

We know that RFK is even less advantageous to hitters. I'll have the final numbers this week, but it probably reduces homers by at least 20%. That would be a substantial drop for Soriano. I'm not going to be stupid enough to say he's going to hit 35 home runs. But you can probably pencil him in for 25-30. Even 25 would have led the team last year.

The reason I'm comfortable doing that is his swing. He has the perfect power-hitting style for RFK. Soriano uses a huge bat. He has amazingly strong wrists that allow him to whip that over-sized bat through the zone, creating his tremendous power.

He is a pretty extreme flyball hitter, hitting more than twice as many flyballs as ground balls. When he likes a pitch, he'll turn, whip the bat through the zone and uppercut it, pulling it to left field. Despite the spacious gaps, it's a strategy that could work at RFK.

If you haven't really seen Soriano hit, here are three examples of his swing from this year. Look at the huge bat, notice how quickly he gets the bat head out in front of the zone, and see how far the ball carries. Each of these homers would likely be out at RFK.
  • Homer to left versus the Angels.
  • Homer to left versus the Devil Rays with the incomparable DeWayne Staats at the mic.
  • Homer Just to the left of center against the Yankees.


  • Thanks to the hitting charts at MLB.com, we can see even more easily that his hitting style is a good fit for the park. To do so, it's easiest to compare him to another right-handed batter who's swing isn't made for the park. Conveniently, the Nationals had one such player.

    Take a look at Jose Guillen's hitting chart. Then click on the box next to flyballs. It shows you every place one of his flies was caught. He hits very few balls for power to left field. (If you turn doubles on, you see that he was able to drive some balls.) From left-center (which is mis-marked as 380 here -- it's actually 390) to the line, he has only three balls that are driven. Take a look at centerfield and right-center though. There's a much higher number of balls being driven deep to those areas. Jose Guillen's power is to center and to the opposite field -- two places that are fairly unforgiving at RFK. As the opposing batters showed us, especially as the season slid into the crapper, you need to hammer balls down the line, and make the bullpen pitchers run for cover.

    Compare that to Alf's hitting chart. He has quite a few balls hit towards left field. He also has a large number of balls hit to shallow right field, which most likely represent popups when he mistimes a pitch he's trying to crush. If you click the tabs for doubles and homers, you'll see the effect even more dramatically. He has a few homers to right, but the majority are straight to left. He's a pull hitter, and pull hitters can have success at RFK.

    Because of his hitting style, there will be a lot of cans of corn to the outfield, but that's simply because he hits so many flyballs. Is a grounder to the shortstop preferable to a fly to center? It can be a frustrating style to watch sometimes, but an out is an out, more or less.

    So while RFK is likely to cut down on his homers, he won't have as large a problem as Guillen or Vinny Castilla (another right-handed batter who drove balls to center).

    Later, I'll have a look at defense, and a look at the trade itself.

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