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.
Oh, I'm sure you're right. He's not 27-27 in saves for nothing. But, man, I hope they learned last night that he didn't throw a single pitch in the zone to KB, Contreras or Baez, and they all just kept swinging.
Sounds like a much better game than last night's fiasco in Flushing.
I'm pretty sure it looks like a sweet pitch on the way in. How many sinkers like that are there at 98 mph? I agree that they should just do a Lackey and stand their with their bat on their shoulders until he throws a strike next time, but I can see how that's hard to do.
The bullpen, on the other hand, is a mess, and Heyward is starting to piss me off.
I noticed that too. He's getting to everything, but when he gets right under it on a high flyball he looks uncomfortable
Did you expect anything different?
Wow, did they blow this game. Stupid plays by the kids in the 7th -- Almora throwing to 3rd instead of 2nd to keep the DP in order (when a DP probably wins the game) and Baez throwing to 3rd (to a backpedalling KB) instead of getting the easy 2nd out at first - cost them the game. Also, Contreras almost throws the ball into RF on a nonexistent pick-off play. And Maddon, for using Peralta in the first place. Did they do a bunch of shots in the dugout before the 7th? Unbelievably bad baseball. I thought Almora had a high baseball IQ?
men on 2nd/3rd, 0 out...and nothing.
cubs lose :(
UH OH! RALLY TIME!
Getting tired of this Heywood weak sauce
Yep, can't say I disagree with that. His first batter and resulting walk was just brutal. Reminded me of a bit of Jacque Jones spiking his throws into the ground from RF.
The use of Peralta in any
semblance of a high leveragesituation is questionable at best.
fixed that for ya.
The use of Peralta in any semblance of a high leverage situation is questionable at best. Hind sight is easy but Peralta had nothing.
make that just peralta...
a.soriano new OF fielding coach?
Why is Almora jumping up on catches?
"Tommy La Stella (hamstring) will remain on his minor league rehab assignment through at least Friday."
should be an interesting roster shuffle once these guys trickle back in. i imagine patton or peralta are on the hot seat for la stella's return.