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.
Hate to give the Mets credit, but they did everything right tonight in what had to be a very tough game for them to play. As Hollandsworth said on the Cubs post-game -- if you watched the game, you saw Mets players consoling Marlins players who were in tears during the game. Between that and the way Molina handled the Ross farewell -- maybe the Mets and Cardinal players aren't pure evil. Just the fans.
New York Mets @Mets
Dee Gordon lead-off home run. #AintEvenMad #BiggerThanBaseball 1-0 Miami.
7:25 PM - 26 Sep 2016
Amazing effort by Gordon -- truly remarkable.
Cubs get 100, KB gets 100, Hendricks gets below 2.00, Cards get absolutely destroyed by the Reds -- all good, other than some Rondon concern. Hopefully, he can get a few outings in this week and find his groove. Also, I guess Soler is still struggling with his right side. Hmmmm. Too bad Joe didn't let Addy bat with the bases loaded in the 7th -- great RBI opportunity.
I assume all the relievers are on a set schedule this week, but it seems strange Chapman pitched back-to-back.
Barry Rozner article interviewing Greg Maddux (with comments on Kyle Hendricks).
"I like watching him pitch," Maddux said of Hendricks. "I like guys that rely on movement and location. I can relate to him. That's what I had to do. "I'd rather watch him pitch than some lefty throwing 95 mph."
cubs win #100. neat.
Chapman in to stop the bleeding.
they're falling apart late in WAS...damn.
Wilson Ramos may be hurt badly. Carried off the field. Looks like the knee.
Hendricks 6 shutout innings, ends night with an ERA of 1.99
in case it hasn't been mentioned yet, Twins are hiring Indians 32-year old Derick Falvey from the Cleveland Native Americans organization.
Suppose McLeod could still be asked by another organization but likely staying put.
Well put, both your remark, and Crunch's.
I saw the Gordon HR. It was like a funeral where the mourners were made to play baseball. So sad...
i wanted to watch more of it, but it started to feel like i was going beyond witnessing a human experience that isn't often seen into an uncomfortable voyeurism. these guys are in pain.
wow I am glad I missed the start of the MIA game. I would have been sobbing.