Sunday, December 11, 2005

Prepare To Eat Crow, or There's More Than One Way To Score A Run, Part 1

Now that the Alfonso Soriano trade has had a few days to sink in, we can look at the transaction with a clearer eye, free from some of the emotion.

As I've said before, Soriano is dramatically overrated by the average person. As a second baseman with power and speed, he has a ton of value in fantasy baseball, which is where the typical fan learns about the players. But as the statheads point out, there's more to a player than those home runs and stolen bases, and Soriano's on-base percentage is a huge drag on his overall value. They're certainly right about that.

But it leads them to making silly pronouncements about his value. One comment on a blog said he's a "barely average player." He's talking about a second baseman who had an park-adjusted OPS 10% above league average. Even the Dr. Frankensteins of the number-crunching world at Baseball Prospectus gave him an EQA (don't ask!) of .285, in a league with an average of .270.

As soon as a player becomes overrated by conventional analysts, the statheads pile on, ignoring numbers that don't support their case. To listen to them, Garret Anderson and Juan Gonzalez have more in common with Karim Garcia than they do with the other All-Stars who have similar value to them.

OBP is life, or so the cliche goes. But Thomas Jefferson listed a few things other than life. They're important, too.
  1. Soriano hits for a tremendous amount of power. He cranked out 81 extra-base hits last year. This is not to criticize him, but Jose Guillen had just 58.

  2. Soriano has tremendous speed. He stole 30 bases last year and was caught just twice! The stats say that a player needs to have about a 67% success rate for a steal to have any value to a team. (Some say higher, but assume incorrectly that all SB are created equal.) 94% is higher than that, right? For his career, he's stealing at an 80% clip. His speed helps the team score runs. It might not be a lot of runs, but a steal in the right situation can have a lot of leverage in a close game. And we played plenty of those!

  3. Because he's fast, he doesn't ground into many double plays, something that killed this team. He's played five full seasons and has hit into just 35. Vinny Castilla had almost half that alone last year.

  4. He's durable. He's played in 156+ games in four of his five seasons, dropping down to 145 in 2004. On a team that breaks on a weekly basis, having someone who doesn't seem to suffer from nagging injuries is invaluable.

  5. He hits for a decent average. He's not Tony Gwynn, but he's a career .280 hitter. That won't win the batting title, but he's not a low-average slugger like Wilkerson. (Yes, I know that Wilk makes up for it with his walks). But he's batted as high as .300 in a season, and has been at .280 or higher in three of his five full seasons.

He's not a perfect player, but he's far from an average player.

One of the other stathead criticisms shouted from the rooftops is "Park factor! Arlington is a hitter's paradise," they state. They then point to his home/road splits, making two mistakes in the process. First, they cite on year's worth of stats (completely ignoring their belief in needing large sample sizes). But more importantly, and this is what ticks me off about most of the hacks who run around citing numbers without knowing what they mean, they don't critically think about the context of the numbers.

Yes, Soriano hit a dreadful .224/ .265/ .374 (average/ on-base/ slugging) on the road. But, and I hit on this the other night, he has a DISTINCT park DISadvantage on the road.

With the unbalanced schedule, he plays around 30 of his 81 games a year on the road against his AL West foes. Seattle and Oakland are two of the biggest pitchers parks in the league. Anaheim's is essentially neutral. Right there, the numbers are tilted against him. Further, Oakland and Anaheim have had several seasons of excellent pitching, which would further depress his stats. Care to know what he hit in those parks? (All numbers are for his career, which will give a larger sample size.)
In Oakland: .239/ .296/ .420
In Seattle: .224/ .285/ .408
In Anaheim: .191/ .233/ .282

Isn't it possible that the reason his road batting stats stink so much is because he's facing excellent pitching staffs in tough hitter's environments? Taking his raw road stats and saying that that's the kind of performance you're going to get from him is as big a mistake as just looking only at his home stats.

Since he got to Texas, he's hit .234/ .278/ .409 in road games, against tough competition and mostly in conditions that favor pitchers. If you're going to properly evaluate his stats, don't you need to adjust that baseline upwards because of the tough environment?

Ah, but RFK will kill him, you say. Certainly his home batting performance will come down a bit (and we've already established that his raw road numbers aren't a neutral evaluation). But, despite its reputation, Ameriquest Field is not the hitters' haven it appears to be -- if you're a right-handed batter. I don't have the full breakdown of this season yet, but I have three previous seasons, and it's only averaging about a 5% increase in home runs for righties. It does allow more singles, a few more doubles, and a lot more triples. But it's most definitely not Texas' answer to Coors Field for right-handed batters.

If you look at the dimensions of the field, it actually compares favorably with RFK on the left side. It's 390 to the power alley in left-center field, the same unmarked distance it is at RFK. Yep. Different conditions (altitude, winds, etc) mean that the same dimensions don't necessarily play the same way, but it's not the cheap home run park that people assume.

Later, I'll show you why I'm not worried about Soriano falling off a cliff next year like the statheads are arguing. The difference is his swing. It's perfect for RFK. Jose Guillen he ain't. 'Scouting?' Gasp!

--Part 2--


  • Nice second look, I think we're all trying to take a step back from the ledge here. One thing worries me though. He's leaving Anaheim and Oakland behind, but replacing them with New York and Florida. Granted the pitching staffs aren't equivalent, but I'm not expecting a huge bump in his road numbers. Maybe he'll hit 20 homers in Philly to compensate.

    By Blogger Nate, at 12/11/2005 1:12 PM  

  • Another aspect of the argument against Soriano is the poor defense he has played at 2b. Granted, in the OF he may be better or worse, but to take the sabermetric route, as is the theme here, he was barely above 'replacement level' defensively at 2b last yr, according to Baseball Prospectus's most trusted defensive stats (FRAR, FRAA). FRAR and FRAA are going to get laughed at in most baseball discussions but Soriano's defensive reputation is pretty sorry, and some effort should be made to balance that out with his hitting ability in order to determine what he's worth, no? So anyway, his defense was so bad by this measure last year that his WARP (wins over replacement value) was actually lower than Wilkerson's. Crazy...

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12/11/2005 3:29 PM  

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