Soriano by the Pitches
Hoping to understand Alfonso Soriano's hot and cold streaks this year, I turned to the incomparable Fan Graphs to break down his present and historical success against different pitches. The results suggest that Soriano is losing the skill that made him one of the more feared hitters in the game, but that he might have found a method to compensate for this loss. Below is a chart showing the percentage of fastballs Soriano has seen each year since 2005, with 2009 broken down per month. It also shows his ranking among hitters seeing the fewest fastballs, his "runs above average" number on fastballs, (wFastball) and how high he ranks among all hitters, and his overall OPS. (As in, not specific to fastballs) The most important thing to notice here is his wFB rank.
|Date||Fastball%||FB% Rank||wFastball||wFB Rank||OPS|
You probably have noticed a couple of striking trends going on here. First, Soriano has progressively moved from being one of the most effective hitters in baseball against the fastball to being quite pedestrian. Second, pitchers have not noticed and adapted to this change: They contiue to avoid throwing fastballs to Soriano as if he were the same hitter he was in 2005. He's not.
So how do we explain Soriano's April and July, when he hit like the hitter for whom the Cubs offered that premium contract?
Finding that answer requres looking at Soriano's results swinging at sliders.
|Date||Slider %||SL % Rank||wSlider||wSL Rank||OPS|
It makes sense that if pitchers fear Soriano's ability to hit the fastball, they would throw him an inordinate number of sliders, and indeed the table indicates Soriano consistently sees among the most sliders in the game. Throughout his career Soriano has proven to be one of the weaker hitters against sliders.
This potentially could be a toxic combination: A fastball hitter who no longer can hit fastballs, and still doesn't see any fastballs to boot. But then look at the two months this year that Soriano has hit: April and July. The numbers indicate that Soriano's output isn't due to hitting fastballs with the authority to which he is accustomed; instead he's hitting sliders in a way that he previously did not. Well.
Of course, other factors might be at work as well, but if so I have yet to find an obvious candidate. Such marked changes do not appear when looking at Soriano's results against other pitch types. Neither does plate discipline seem to be the issue. Soriano is both swinging at fewer pitches outside of the strikezone this year, and making more contact when he does swing - both at pitches inside and out of the zone, and it shows no meaningful fluctuation from month to month in 2009. His BABIP shows severe fluctuations from month to month, but that appears to be driven by corresponding changes in his line-drive percentage, so there's nothing unusual there.
Assuming that these stats do reveal a truth about the real world (I know, I know), there are several questions to consider going forward. Most obvious, what is the cause behind Soriano's diminish returns against fastballs? Is it that he now has a "slider speed bat"? Is it a matter of approach at the plate, where he has stopped guessing fastball in order to better hit the breaking stuff? The latter can be fixed, the former, not so much. Looking at how consistent the downward trend is, my hunch is that it's the former, a slow erosion in the speed of his bat. If it's the former, and Soriano is losing some quickness in the swing, will we see him move away from his preference for heavy bats? And will he be able to compensate by consistently hitting sliders with the results found in April and July? Then, there are questions concerning how pitchers resond. At what point will pitchers adjust to the fact that Soriano does not hit fastballs with the authority he once did, and adjust their pitch selection? There may be a lot riding on these questions.
Update: I was unaware of it as I wrote, but less than a month ago R.J. Anderson at Fan Graphs wrote about how few fastballs Soriano sees. He doesn't mention either Soriano's historical trend of diminishing results on the fastball, or the weird fluctuations this year on the sliders; instead he reaffirms the notion that Soriano is a good fastball hitter and the problem is in the dearth of fastballs he sees. I think he may be wrong there, but I should at least try to be a good scholar and cite the work.
BRADSBEARD: I haven't noticed any new rule or a change in the interpretation of an existing rule happening in Advanced Instructs, I don't know what rules will be tested in the AFL, although almost all recent rule changes and new interpretations of existing rules (the home plate collision rule, replay, time clock between innings, et al) do get their start in the AFL.
AZ Phil: I've heard that the AFL will be testing out a new force out rule that would affect break-up plays (like the Utley play). Have you heard anything about this new rule and any details about it? Are they testing it out at the advanced instructs as well?
Pretty sure I already know the answer to this, but since I will be in NYC next week I want to confirm... If the Cubs were to advance to the NLCS, the winner of LAD/NYM would have home field based on being a division winner (as opposed to Cubs by virtue of better record), correct?
CUBSTER: This "hammy" is on the other leg I heard last night. See you at the ballyard today young man!
Oh what do you know, Cubster? Go back to your day job.
--- Ducks, puts on Cardinals cap, runs.
Russell had a severe hamstring last year while with the A's system, forcing him to miss the first half of 2014. I've even wondered if his injury last year was a component of Billy Beane putting him on the trade market. He was quoted saying that last year's injury was a 10 out of 10 when it happened. Last night he said his hamstring soreness was a 1/1.5 out of 10. Hamstring injuries are tricky though, so I'd expect the medical team to be overly cautious here.
...I want to reinforce the observation that there was no sea of red in the crowd. The usual Cardinal fans roaming the stadium were few and far between.
Also, almost every 2 strike pitch brought the fans to their feet. Good for those in knee rehab.
"1st team hit hit 6HR in a game in the postseason." rises above obvious...i checked it with the official fact-finding commission of Douche, Douche, and Douchestein. they agreed with you, but they're a bunch of f'n douches so who cares?
btw, the cubs are 2-1 in the post-season series.
I should be able to watch the game on the NFL replay app, whatever that thing is called. I've got it on my iPad. This is the first year I haven't forced myself to somehow watch every game - no I take that back, last year was - in quite some time. Last year was so unbearable, no pun intended.
You make some good points about Cutler, and I was a holdout defender of Cutler for a long time. I gave up on him a bit after one too many dumb interceptions, but last year doesn't count. Trestman was the worst coach in Bears history.
Nice little reportage there!. I think you're older than me. Considerably older. Maybe several generations. Working out is so essential, especially as age kicks in, isn't it? I still lift weights, and so I'm confident that when I get to be at the hip breaking age, mine won't be a statistic. But I have a ways to go for that to be a concern.
What was impressive to me is that the Cubs won despite poor base running, several defensive miscues, Russell leaving due to injury, Arrieta having an off game and getting knocked out early, and Rondon giving up 2 runs in the 9th. If they can win a game like that...
I was there too. The crowd was absolutely electric. People were standing for every big and semi-big moment, from the first inning on. It felt incredibly strange and exhilarating to see the Cubs (the Chicago bleepin' Cubs!) score playoff insurance runs on the Cardinals. What a game. One to remember.
14 in attendance. What's the record for attendance in the fall? I guess I should ask what the record attendance listed is in one of your recaps.
I was there too, with my grown son. This is my miracle year-- I rose to the top of the season ticket list after eight years, completely unexpectedly, and my wonderful wife agreed to put the ticket fee on the emergency credit card. The whole point of course was that the Cubs were going to be good this year, and then for a while, so to get season tickets with the guaranteed shot at the postseason was incredible timing. We got to the remote lot at 4:10 after stopping at Nhu Lan for our usual banh mi sandwiches, only to find the lot full, way earlier than normal.