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How Bad Is Soriano?

By Garrett Monaghan

After another long evening of watching Alfonso Soriano swing and miss at breaking balls that he couldn't hit with the proverbial canoe paddle, I finally got around to asking myself a question that's been bothering me for quite a while: exactly how bad is this guy? Surely, I thought to myself, there has to be somebody worse than Soriano playing left field on a regular basis. Right?

Wrong.

By almost every statistical measure I can get myhands on, Alfonso Soriano is the worst left fielder in the National League. By a lot. Among qualified NL left fielders, Soriano is last in batting average, last in on-base percentage, second to last in slugging percentage, and second to last in OPS. If that wasn't enough, he's also third from the bottom in RBIs, second in strikeouts, and third from the bottom in extra base hits. That's bad, folks. Really bad. Oh, and that .222 batting average with runners in scoring position? That's not so hot, either. Especially since it drops to .190 with two outs and runners in scoring position. Though I will say that .222 looks pretty darn good when you put it next to his .170 average against left-handed pitching this season. Regardless of how you look at the numbers, Soriano has been a disaster of epic proportions with the bat this year. According to Baseball Reference's Adjusted Batting Runs formula, Soriano has cost the Cubs approximately 12 runs this year with his bat. Any way you cut it, he's terrible, and we haven't even started talking about his fielding yet.

I don't think anybody was under the illusion at this point that Soriano is even an average left fielder, but he's managed to reach new depths of fielding incompetence this year. Soriano's .957 fielding percentage is good for last among NL left fielders, and he has three times as many errors (nine) as the next worse guy. Teams have stopped running on Soriano, as evidenced by his five assists this year. His range is completely average, which would be fine if he could actually catch the ball once in a while. In the past, Soriano's arm as actually allowed him to save the Cubs a few runs defensively; but since teams have wised up and stopped running, his only defensive tool gone.

What actually bothers me more about Soriano's defense isn't the difficulty he has in catching the ball, it's the lackadaisical approach he takes in getting to the ball in the first place. As one Chicago sportswriter noted the other day, Soriano runs routes in the outfield that would make Devin Hester cringe, and I don't even remember the last time I saw him lay out for anything. In fact, Soriano seems to specialize in pulling up short on soft liners, thereby allowing him to bobble the inevitable short hop and fumble around a bit looking clueless. Soriano plays left field like a blind man walking through a minefield. He weaves around as much as possible, goes as slowly as possible, and prays that he doesn't get hurt.

There doesn't appear to be any possible combination of players the Cubs could put in left field who could perform worse than Soriano has this year. Young guys like Jake Fox and Sam Fuld have to be quietly going nuts watching Pinella continually write he favorite stooge's name on the lineup card day in, and day out. Heck, given Soriano's .160 batting average in August, a platoon of Sean Marshall and Randy Wells playing left looks pretty good. Pinella justifiably took a lot of heat for not moving Soriano out of the leadoff spot earlier, and now he deserves taking even more heat for not moving him out of the lineup completely. With the Cubs' chances at a post-season run fading daily, they need to do everything they can to get some offense going. Benching Soriano indefinitely might be a good place to start.

Soriano's numbers have declined every year he's been with the Cubs. Unfortunately, his salary has been going in the opposite direction. He got paid $16 million for this season's abysmal performance, and as a reward, he'll get a $2 million raise next year. Delightful. That's what I call giving a guy an incentive to improve. Unfortunately, getting rid of Soriano via trade promises to be nearly impossible. In addition to his bloated contract and dismal performance, Soriano also has a full no-trade clause. So unless Omar Minaya comes calling, I seriously doubt if the Cubs will ever be able to deal their biggest free agent mistake.

On the other hand, a new owner might be well advised just to bite the bullet, have him designated for assignment, and just pay Soriano to play for someone else for the next five years. If the Cubs are footing the whole bill, somebody might decide he's worth the risk, but I doubt it. As of now, Soriano is the kind of player I wouldn't wish on my worst divisional rival.

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