Tagged: Alfonso Soriano

The Perfect Lineup For the 2011 Chicago Cubs

Today, because you are finished with my look at the individual positions and who should be starting for the Chicago Cubs, I will give you my thoughts on what I feel would be the perfect line up to run out everyday. Thankfully this is made much easier because Cubs Manager Mike Quade and I are in full agreement on who should be playing everyday. The one thing we do not agree on, is how they should be lined up. So far in Spring Training, based on the line up that has been run out most often, Quade is looking  at running out this line up.

Kosuke Fukudome
Starlin Castro
Marlon Byrd
Aramis Ramirez
Carlos Pena
Alfonso Soriano
Geovany Soto
Blake Dewitt
Pitcher of  the day,

While I agree with three of the nine spots in the line up, I feel that the others should be shuffled around for reasons that I am about to explain. In my mind, the line up should look like this.

Kosuke Fukudome: This one Quade has right. With his precise at the plate, there is no one better to  hit lead off. What he lacks in batting average, which tends to be his main down fall with the fans, he makes up for in drawing walks. That is the main objective for any lead off hitter. Get on base for the big boppers behind you.

Geovany Soto: Cuttently, Quade has him batting seventh in the lineup. In my honest opinion, this is a big mistake. He is the teams best on base percentage guy and should be at the top of the line up batting second. Much like with Fukudome should be batting lead off, getting on base is the most important thing  for your first and second hitters. The reason Soto should be hitting second, is because he does just that. Because he has a keen eye at the plate, and has a fair amount of power, pitchers will need to pitch to him very carefully if he is hitting second. They do not want to walk him, and give you best run producers a chance to drive him in, so they will have to throw him pitches to hit. Doing so could cost them dearly.

Aramis Ramirez: The Cubs need a power hitter in the three hole, and  that just is not Marlon Byrd.  These two men should be flipped in the order. History has shown that if there are men on base for Ramirez, that chances are he is going to drive them in. He is the Cubs best run producer, and has been for the past few years, and needs to bat in the first inning. With Fukudome and Soto hitting in front of him, he will typically always have someone on base for him to drive in.

Marlon Byrd: I know what you are thinking, if Byrd isn’t powerful enough  to hit in the three spot, why hit him clean up? I think he should hit clean up for those exact reasons. He is a good line drive hitter and can move guys over and drive them in without the use of a home run. In some instances that is a better weapon than a home run hitter. He gives you a different aspect to think about. If Ramirez is unable to drive the previous guys in, Byrd almost certainly will. Besides, I feel that having power back to back is a waste and kind of is easier on the pitcher who does not need to chance his thought process when the batters change. You typically pitch all power hitters the same way.

Carlos Pena: He should be hitting fifth, exactly where Quade has him. Left handed power in this spot is very nice. A line drive hitter right in front of him could mean that there is typically someone on base for him to try and drive in. While his average has not been very good the past few years, he still has the power numbers to make him a big threat with men on base.

Alfonso Soriano: Once again, Quade gets the decision right to bat him here. While he is no longer the big 40 home run threat that he once was, he is still very capable of hitting at least 20 home runs. He will never have another good year of stealing bases either, which is why he is not batting higher in the line up. Because he still has some decent power, he still has to be considered a threat at the plate.

Blake Dewitt: He is not a strong hitter, and can occasionally draw a walk. I will not tiptoe around this guy at all, he is our weakest hitter. The reason I have him hitting seventh instead of eighth is because you do not want two easy outs back to back. Perhaps with another year of professional baseball under his belt he will be able to surprise us with something. Either way, I am not expecting much out of him. Only good thing I can say about him, is that he is better than Ryan Theriot because he can occasionally draw a walk.

Starlin Castro: The very reason Quade likes him hitting second is why he should be hitting eighth in the order. Someone who can hit at a high average at the bottom of the order is a good way to help turn the line up over and get back to the top of the order. If you have three low average guys at the bottom of the order (no Soto is not a low average hitter, but his power says he should be hitting higher) you will have three easy outs all in a row. That is something pitchers dream of, you are basically handing them an easy inning. Throwing a .300 hitter here helps keep the offense rolling. Add to the mix that he can draw a walk, which is a very important aspect for anyone who is going to hit in the eight hole. Pitchers will tend to pitch around this hitter in order to get to the easiest out in the line up, the pitcher. Yes, the pitcher is the easiest out even if we are talking about Carlos Zambrano. This guy needs to get on base for the pitcher to move over with a sacrifice bunt and to reset the line up.

A line up like this would give the Cubs the best chance to win on a daily basis. Granted, that is assuming everything works the way they should. While we may not have the most talented line up in baseball, I believe that you can still make noise if you put things in the proper order. Perhaps Quade’s line up is better than my purposed one.

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Left Field: Alfonso Soriano

Earlier in the off season, I mentioned that Aramis Ramirez was one of the two keys to the Chicago Cubs season; meaning if the Cubs are going to go anywhere, they will need these two men to do the bulk of the heavy lifting. Today, the other key to the Cubs season, Alfonso Soriano is my main focus.

I know how things go around here, and the argument never changes. On one side you have fans clamoring for the Cubs to cut Soriano, or to trade him. They want the Cubs to eat the contract and to replace him with someone they feel can do a better job. They rue the day that Cubs General Manager Jim Hendry signed him, and say this signing is more than enough ammunition to give Hendry his walking papers. Then you have the other half of the fans who always remind people that there were very few people who were actually crying foul when he was signed. They will remind you that most people celebrated the arrival of a player who could help lead us to the promise land.

While that has not happened yet, you can not dispute the facts that he was the main reason the  Cubs did anything in his first two years on the ball club. He was the main reason the Cubs won the division in 2007 and in 2008. His bat carried the Cubs to the playoffs, and made them a team that you could not take too lightly. Of course, with this you will always hear the retort of “yea, but where was he when the playoffs started?” This is true, his bat disappeared in the playoffs, just like the offensive attributes of Derek Lee, Ramirez and several other key players for the Cubs. If you want to call him out for his offensive struggles in the playoffs, don’t forget about everyone else who joined in him the massive failures that were the two playoff runs.

However, as good as his first two years were, his last two years were just as bad. In his first two years, Soriano hit .299 and .280, a combined 62 home runs and 145 RBI with a WAR (wins against replacement) total of 11.2. Pretty damn impressive if you as me. However, because baseball is a what have you done for me lately sport, his last two years were pretty pathetic. His batting average dropped to .241 in 2009, and .258 in 2010. He only totaled 44 home runs and 131 RBI (which while not great is only 18 homers and 14 RBI off from when he carried the Cubs) in the same two year span. His WAR numbers also took a nose dive as he total only a 2.9 over his past two years, sadly he earned that number entirely last season as 2009 he was no better than a replacement player at all.

Keeping his poor season in mind last year, he was second on the team in both home runs, RBI and runs scored, so if he was a bum last season, so was everyone else. Granted, these past two years he has not lived up to the hype and he certainly has not earned the money he is being paid, but that does not change the fact that if the Cubs are going to go anywhere this season, they need Soriano to  get back into form. No, not the 40-40 guy we thought we were getting when we signed him four years ago, but the guy we saw back in 2007 and 2008.

For several fans, “sorry-ano” or “sore-arm-ano” as some of them like to think he is called, is washed up and should be taken out of the lineup. I will not argue that he is much closer to the end of his career than the beginning, but I do think that he has at least one or two more good years left in him. He will never earn the $18 million a year that he is now making for the next couple of seasons, but he will be able to give you enough to make you a competitive team.

If the Cubs are able to get him to hit somewhere between his first two years and his last two years, the team will be in fantastic shape. If he can deliver a season where he is able to hit for an average of at least .270 and produce his typical 20+ home runs a season with close to 70 RBI, then we will have something going this year. Is he capable of putting forth statistics like these? Absolutely he is more than capable of doing so. In fact, as I have said, if he can not deliver statistics that are at least close to these, the Cubs chances for the 2011 season will be dwindling down into nothingness.

So whether you love him or hate him, want him to play or be benched, you need to cheer for the guy and support him.

Talking Dollars and Cents, Has Soriano Earned His Money?

The word over paid gets thrown a lot in baseball, especially with the Chicago Cubs highly paid left fielder Alfonso Soriano, who signed an eight year, $136 Million contract that will keep him on the Cubs through the year 2014. That was a large amount of money to spend on anyone, giving them plenty to prove. With Soriano making an average of $17 Million a year, he would have to put up all star numbers every year to earn this deal, at least in the minds of most baseball fans.

So far, Soriano has made $47 Million worth of his contract, or roughly about $12.5 Million per season on average. During this time span, Soriano has put up an average of .275 with 97 home runs and 243 RBI. Are these stats worth $47 Million dollars? Some may say no, while others say for the most part they are, but they would love to see a higher batting average. Keep in mind, that last year killed his Cubs career batting average, when he hit a lowly .241. Over all, has he earned his contract? Perhaps he has so far, perhaps not. But how about year by year?

In Soriano’s first year with the ball club, he only made $9 million, and put up tremendous statistics. He hit .299 while belting out 33 home runs and knocking in 70 RBI, all from the leadoff spot. I challenge anyone to say that he did not earn every cent of his 2007 money. If anyone cares to disagree, please tell me what you expect from a player making $9 million dollars a year. Chances are though, most people would have to tip their cap at Soriano and admit that he earned his money.

With there being little question about his first year on the club, how about his second year? Did he earn every cent of his contract in 2008? In this year, Soriano made $13 Million, quite a pay raise from one year to the next, but that wouldn’t be the first he would see throughout the life of his deal. In this year, Soriano hit .280 with 29 home runs and 75 RBI, again he did this all from the lead off spot where RBI chances are very limited. For $13 million dollars, I would say if he did not earn his entire contract for the year, then he came pretty damn close to doing so. If you think he didn’t earn the money this year, what more would you expect from a player making $13 million a year? Personally, I would say he earned this years contract as well.

Where the **** actually hit’s the fan, is last year. Once again, Soriano got a pay raise in his yearly salary, jumping up to $16 million. Unfortunately for Soriano and the Cubs, this was his worst year of his career; at least since he started getting regular playing time. He hit a woeful .241 and was singled out by most Cub fans as the single reason the team failed to do anything that year. While this could be a valid point, as he struggled for most of the season, outside of a first good month and a half, he didn’t do all that much to contribute to a ball club which was seriously hurting when their star player, Aramis Ramirez, went down to an injury which would cost him half the season. However, while Soriano was a complete and total disaster in 2009, he still put up impressive stats everywhere else. In only 117 games, he still hit 20 home runs and knocked in 55 RBI, which was good for second and third respectively. So while he was a disappointment that year, so was everyone else except for Derrik Lee, who led the team in both stats, and Ramirez who missed half the year, still finishing third in homeruns and second in RBI. This is the first year of his contract that Soriano failed to earn his contract. If he had been healthy all year and played all year, things may very well be different.

That brings us to this season, and his final pay raise. From 2010-2014, Soriano will make $18 Million a year, which means he has even more to prove year in and year out. So far, he has been paid about $9 Million for the 2010 season, which is exactly what he made in 2007. So far, he has played in 80 games and hit 15 HR and 43 RBI, both of which lead the team. If he continues this pace, Soriano will hit close to 30 homers and drive in about 86 RBI. Not quite worth the $18 million, as you would want someone to drive in over 100 RBI if he is making that much money. So while he may not ultimately earn his entire contract for this year, he is doing more than even to merit consideration that the contract so far has been justified year by year.

On the flipside, the defensive side of the ball, face facts. He was not signed for his glove work, and he will never win a gold glove. He was signed for his bat, and of .275 with 97 home runs and 243 RBI over three and a half years is pretty damn good. Is that worth the $47 million he has already put in the bank? I guess, that is all up to opinion, which will change from person to person.

Fire Sale Series: Alfonso Soriano

When fans of the Chicago Cubs start calling for a fire sale, one of the first names brought up, is the left fielder, Alfonso Soriano. The fans who want him off the team call for him to be traded or cut, to make room for a young player such as Tyler Colvin. While the idea of getting Soriano’s contract off the books, sooner rather than later, is something that dreams are made of, actually doing so may just be a dream. In reality, moving Soriano will be very difficult and very costly.

Signed through the year 2014, Soriano still has an eye popping $72 Million left on his eight year deal, which isn’t even counting the $9 Million he is still owed for the remainder of this year. Asking any team to take on $81 Million in salary is foolhardy, and will likely get you hung up on almost as soon as you bring up the amount still owed. If the Cubs want to move Soriano, they are going to have to dig deep into their pockets and pay off a good percentage of what is owed. They will most likely have to eat at least half of his remaining deal.

I know what you are saying, paying $9 Million for Soriano is much better than paying him the whole thing. Where you would be wrong though, is you would be paying him that money to play for someone else, and possibly at times, to play against your own team.

Another draw back to paying off part of his contract is while you are indeed saving $9 Million a year, you are also losing $9 Million a year off the yearly payroll budget. The money you are paying him to go away gets cut off the top of your payroll. That is money you could use to fill a void elsewhere that you don’t have available. Keep in mind, the Cubs only paying 50% of his contract is just an estimate on my part, the Cubs may very well have to chip in more than that to get a team to take a serious look at making a trade for him.

The other problem that comes into play, even if money were no issue, is Soriano’s no trade clause. He can block any trade the Cubs try to make that involves him. The Cubs could have a blockbuster three team trade that would net them the top players in the game; if Soriano’s name is involved, and he wants to stay in Chicago (or not go to whatever city he will wind up in) he can simply say “thanks, but no thanks” and the deal is dead.

If the above scenario, or any rejected trade on Soriano’s part, indeed does take place, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear fans calling for him to just be designated for assignment. For the fans who just want him to be cut, congrats, you just cost yourself $18 Million a year that can not be used to bring in another player. Currently, the Cubs have a payroll of just about $144 million, if you cut Soriano; you still have a payroll of $144 Million. You are not saving any money; in fact you are just spending far more. You have to pay Soriano his $18 million to go away, as well as spending money on a new player to take his roster spot.

Fans can scream from the mountain top until they are Cubbie blue in the face, a trade that involves Soriano is not likely to happen. The only prayer the Cubs have of moving Soriano is to strike a deal that would bring them back another highly paid athlete that another team is dying to get rid of. While the Cubs pulled off a similar deal last off season when they stuck gold by getting Carlos Silva for Milton Bradley, get used to the fact that the Cubs may not be so lucky next time around. They could very well be getting back a player who does a lot less than what you get from Soriano.

The question fans have to ask themselves, is how desperate are you to get rid of Soriano? Are you willing to get back a talentless hack that is just collecting a paycheck? Do you want the Cubs to just bit the bullet over then next four years and cut him lose? The Cubs may very well be stuck with Soriano until the bitter end of his deal. He is all ours Cub fans, might as well start enjoying him, because I highly doubt the Ricketts family is going to eat as much money as they will need to in order to get him off the team.

Time For a Quarter Final review: The Offense

With the quarter mark in the baseball season upon us, what better time could there be to check in on the state of the Chicago Cubs, who have not lived up to the fans expectations. With only 123 games left, you can no longer say things are early in the season. However, at the same time, you can not say that there are not enough games left to make a move. The way the Cubs have played in the first 39 games of the year, you would be hard pressed to find a large percentage of fans who would be able to continue holding onto the hope that things can still be turned around.

Currently, the Cubs are sitting with a record of 17-22 in third place, only 5.5 games behind the surprising Cincinnati Reds. The second place team, the St. Louis Cardinals, are a half game behind the reds, and five games ahead of the Cubs. Using simple math, and the statistical argument of real games back as opposed to traditional games out, the Cubs are an ugly 10.5 games out of first place. With three quarters of the season left to go, there are still plenty of games left to make up ground, as long as the Cubs start getting their act together immediately. With 10 games left to play with the first place Reds and all 15 games left with the Cardinals, there are plenty of games left with the teams ahead of the Cubs to make a move. In order for that to happen though, there needs to be some major improvement in many areas.

In the next few days, I will look at the four phases of the Chicago Cubs, as they currently stand. The offense, starting pitching, bullpen and team defense. All four phases of the team are areas the team needs to improve in,

The first phase that needs to step things up is the offense. At the moment, the team is hitting .270, which is tied for the 8th best batting average in the majors, and have six hitters in the everyday lineup hitting over .300.

Of the players who have been with the Cubs the whole season, Marlon Byrd has been the team’s best hitter, putting up a .340 batting average with seven home runs and 25 RBI; all three of which lead the team. He has been one of the few players to come through in the clutch more often than not. If you think back to when he was first signed, many Cub fans were upset that they had “wasted” $15 million on him over three years, now however they appear to be singing a different tune as he has impressed the legions with his stellar play.

One of the biggest surprises in the Cubs offense, is Alfonso Soriano, who is hitting .323 on the year, but an eye popping .365 in the month of May. Last season, Soriano didn’t make too many friends among the Cubs fan base with not only his poor hitting, but his poor defense as well. This season, he had something to prove, and while his defense is still akin to a horror movie, his offensive outbursts are something that fans have been waiting to see from him. He will never live up to the massive contract he was signed to before the 2007 season, but he is still showing that he can carry a team offensively.

Ryan Theriot has continued to do what he has normally done since he got here, and that’s hit. Until recently, Theriot has been the Cubs primary leadoff hitter, but is now hitting in the second spot in the lineup, at least against the right handed pitchers. With his .316 batting average, he is collecting more than his fair share of hits, but his on base percentage of .348 is weak, because of the miniscule difference between the two stats. One aspect of his game that needs to be worked on, is drawing more walks, and striking out less.

Kosuke Fukudome has started off the season with his traditional April explosion, followed by a decline in play in May. He started off the year hitting .344 in his first month, but has cooled off to only .273 so far in May, but still has a respectable .315 on the year. While he has slowed down a little bit, he is still playing tremendously well, especially in the field. His patience at the plate, and timely hitting, has earned him the leadoff spot when there is a right handed pitcher on the mound.

Geovany Soto has rebounded quite nicely over his Sophomore season and is playing almost better than he did in his rookie year. Batting primarily in the 8th sport in the order, Soto has begun to show a tremendous eye at the plate. While his batting average sits at .301, his on base percentage is over .450. His four homers and 10 RBI may not look too impressive on their own merit, but when combined with his OBP and batting average in the eight hole, you have an impressive stat line. With how well he has been hitting, he probably should be elevated to a more important run producing slot in the lineup.

Even though he has only been with the Cubs for just over a week, Starlin Castro is hitting .361 in 10 games. His energetic play has gotten fans energized and given them reason to have hope for the future. With the way he handles himself at the plate, and runs right out of the box, fans have quickly fallen in love with him. Since being called up from triple A, he has taken over the eight hole from Soto in the lineup, with the occasional elevation to the two hole when Theriot has been given a day off. Where ever Cubs Manager Lou Piniella has put him in the order, he has shown that he can produce, which has some fans asking for him to be given a more important role, than batting in front of the pitcher.

While the statistics from these guys are impressive, if that is all you are looking at, you will be missing half the story. Sure, the Cubs can hit in no pressure situations with the bases empty, when runners reach base and are in scoring position, the bats seem to completely cool off. The Cubs just can not seem to be able to drive runs in on a consistent basis. If a player collects three hits in a game in four plate appearances, his batting average will look great. However, if his only out comes at a time when there are runners in scoring position, you are not doing your team much good. That appears to be the problem the Cubs are having, and one that needs to be solved if they have any serious plans of contending this year.

However, the problem comes to a head when you take notice of the two most important hitters in the Cubs lineup are continuing to be viewed as the two weakest hitters in the order. The two biggest problems in the Cubs offense remain to be Derek Lee and Aramis Ramirez, though signs point to both being on the right path. With the way the rest of the team is hitting, if Lee and Ramirez are able to come back to form, the offense will be in good shape, and able to carry the team to a lot more wins. If you are looking for some reason to have some optimism that these two are going to be able to contribute in the months to come, consider this.

Over the past 16 games, Lee is hitting a much improved .277, which is .047 points higher than he is currently hitting, and only .006 below his career average. While he has only hit four home runs on the year, the power will come as his hits start piling up. As the Cubs three hole hitter, which he should have been moved out of during his ugly month and a half long slump, the Cubs need him to start hitting on a more consistent basis. So far for the month of May he has looked to be doing just that, and has quieted some of his critics, but there are still plenty more who letting their voices be heard.

Ramirez on the other hand, who is still stuck in baseball hell, is hitting well below the Mendoza line. As a player who has been looked upon as the biggest RBI threat in the Cubs lineup the past several years, his poor play is reflective on the Cubs struggles to score runs. Last night, Ramirez hit the game winning home run against the Colorado Rockies, in walk off fashion. In doing so, he recorded only his third multi-hit game of the year. He has improved in the month of May, hitting .216, which is up .064 points from his April average, but he is still not doing enough to warrant hitting in the heart of the lineup. Until he shows that he can put together an elongated stretch of games where he is able to hit consistently, he should be lowered to the seven hole behind Soriano, with Soto moving up to batting fifth. This is a move that likely wont happen, and could very well be one of the key reasons the Cubs continue to struggle throughout the year to score runs.

The offense is not running at full speed, and that is what is keeping them from putting up the consistent offensive numbers that they should be putting up. If they are to have success, they need to start hitting with runners on base and in scoring position. Hitting with no one on base is all well and good, but if you consistently drop the ball in the situations that matter the most, you will never live up to your full potential.

Playing the Blame Game with the Cubs offense

The “New Nightmare on Elm Street” is coming to a theater near you, however the nightmare the Chicago Cubs are facing this year is the same one they experienced last season. All last year, the Cubs suffered through the ineptitude of being unable to score runs, and leaving far too many men on base. The offensive offense the Cubs are throwing on the field this year has got to be the most disappointing aspect of the 2010 Cubs season. You can throw the bullpen into the discussion if you want to, because lets face the bullpen gives you a gut punch every time you see Lou Piniella taking out a starting pitcher. However, to be honest, the implosive bullpen was always known to be bad, even way back when Spring Training began. On the Brightside, the bullpen has shown a sign of improvement since Carlos Zambrano was assigned to assist them in the eighth inning. The offense on the other hand, has turned into a complete frustrating situation, where you never know what you are going to get as an end result.

 

If you are looking to cast blame on the offense, you don’t have to look too far to find who is to blame. As a whole, the Cubs are leaving far too many men on the base paths, and everyone is to blame for that, though some are more responsible than others. While, as the old saying goes, “you win as a team, you lose as a team” the players you depend on the most, should get the front of the blame. For the most part, everyone else is doing their jobs as expected.

 

Ryan Theriot and Kosuke Fukudome are usually going to be slotted in the one and two spots in the batting order. Typically, your first two hitters in the order are there to get on base for the big boppers that will follow them. While they do not hold the top two spots on the team in on base percentage, they are still doing a great job at getting on base. Theriot is putting up a .333 batting average and getting on base at a .370 clip. His on base percentage could be higher, especially when you look at the batting average, but you can’t complain about someone getting on base nearly 40% of the time. Following Theriot in the order is Fukudome, who is also hitting .333 but has a very impressive OBP of .429. They are also knocking in their fair share of runs, with 11 RBI each. The blame for the lack of offense does not fall on these two men. However, the next two men are in the spot light.

 

With your first two batters getting on base at a very high level, you must depend on your three and four hitters, who unfortunately for the Cubs have been dropping the ball. Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez are supposed to be your main run producers, but they are not driving the runs in. As a matter of fact, the top two hitters in the lineup have more RBI than your power hitting run producers. Not only are they not driving in the runs, they are simply not hitting. Lee is in the midst of his normal April slump with a miserable batting average of .203, while Ramirez is stuck at .155. Neither of which are acceptable statistics from your best two hitters. While Lee has done this almost every year, and always rebounds to have a good season, the Cubs can not afford to have him not hitting right now. The Cubs need his bat to come to life sooner rather than later. Ramirez slumping as bad as he is, on the other hand, makes you worry because you have never seen him in as bad of a funk as he is now. While he looks to be coming out of the slump, he still isn’t hitting the ball the way we are used to seeing him. Add in his towering strike out numbers, and the amount of concern goes through the roof.

 

Your five and six hitters, Marlon Byrd and Alfonso Soriano are hitting the ball with force. Both are doing their jobs with the bat. Byrd is hitting .333 and Soriano is hitting .292, great batting averages for your fifth and sixth batters. They are driving in runs at a rate you would expect. Could they be doing better than they are? Of course they could, especially with how poorly Ramirez and Lee are doing at the job. The problem is, more often than not, Lee and Ramirez usually end the inning. Both Byrd and Soriano though, are surprising fans with their offensive output. Most fans thought Soriano was done, after posting a batting average around .250 in 2009. However this year, he is hitting the ball like the Soriano of old, though maybe without the power, and is actually showing patience at the plate. That is something Cub fans have been begging him to do since they signed him. With Byrd, fans were unsure what to expect from him, because he was coming from a hitters paradise in Arlington, Texas. So far this season, he is showing that he has learned how to hit, and he doesn’t look to be slowing down anytime soon. You would be hard pressed to put a lot of blame on either of these two.

 

Even the bottom of the Cubs order is coming through with hits. Both Mike Fontenot and Geovany Soto swing the bat much better than they did in 2009, though that wouldn’t be hard to do. In fact, Soto is leading the team in batting with a .362 batting average and an eye popping .516 OBP. Both are very impressive, especially when you take into account that he is hitting in front of the pitcher. Fontenot has also come to life, posting a .308 batting average and a .339 OBP. They are both playing up to and far beyond par, especially Fontenot who many wrote off before the season began. Batting in the seventh and eighth slot in the batting order, you don’t usually expect much, but they are doing their job and then some. Pinning the blame on them would be hard.

 

While everyone in the normal starting lineup, outside of Lee and Ramirez, is doing a tremendous job statistically speaking, they are all failing with runners in scoring position in key situations. They are all leaving far too many men on the base paths, which is a major cause of their failure to win more games. Blame the bullpen for a half dozen of the games that they have lost, because in the box score those pitchers do get the losses, but when you are only able to push across two or three runs in a game, you wont get the win that often. When you take a one run game into the late innings, you are depending on your bullpen to be perfect, which is not fair to expect from anyone. Yes, the bullpen has been horrid in the early stages of the season, but with signs of improvement of late, but the offense should get most of the blame.

 

If the offense is going to come to life, no matter how well everyone around them is hitting, Lee and Ramirez need to step up and start doing their jobs. A team can not survive if their top two run producers are not even hitting their weight.

Spring Training Series: Around the Horn- Alfonso Soriano

Today’s discussion in the “Around the Horn” series brings us to a player who many Chicago Cub fans are writing off for the 2010 season. They will do what many fans do when trying to figure out just what they can expect from a player in the upcoming year, and that is to look at how they played in the previous year. However, with Alfonso Soriano, many Cub fans are not looking at all of the stats before making their decision on him. To them, Soriano is done, and an overpaid waste of a roster spot. Many fans are already under the impression that if the Cubs are to win, they will win in spite of Soriano and not because of him. I could not disagree more with that mindset.

 

If you look solely at his pathetic batting average of .241 and his ugly on base percentage of .303, then yes, Soriano was a complete and utter disappointment in 2009. However, look at the other statistics that he was able to put up. His 20 RBI and 55 RBI in 117 games are very impressive, especially when you break them down even further than the end of year stats. He knocked hit a home run on an average of just under one every six games. His RBIs break down to one RBI every two games. Extend those numbers to a whole season, and you have around 27 home runs and about 81 RBI. Those are not bad numbers to get from anyone now a day. Do those statistics make him worth the money he is being paid? Not a chance, but how many people are worth what they are making. The list of players who are worth their contracts is very short.

 

While fans are down on Soriano for his lackluster performance last year, they are forgetting a few things. Soriano’s 20 home runs were good enough for second on the team, with far fewer games played than most of the other players on the team. His lowly 55 RBI, they are good for third on the team last year. So while he was not the dominating player that we were hoping to get when he signed the contract, he has been far from the bust he is being written off to be. Don’t forget, that last year he was playing with a banged up knee for half the year.

 

The injury issue is always one that gets to me. If a player is injured and doesn’t play, fans will call them weak. That’s not where this ends though, if the player they demand to play when they injured sucks and fails to put up the demanded numbers, fans will jump all over them in that case as well. The usual argument would be “if you are too injured to play and contribute, then let someone else fill in for you.” Players can not win when they are injured. The fans will always have something to say about them, no matter what they decide to do. Personally, even though he failed to be a big impact player on the team (which you would not know if you jusr looked at the offensive numbers in comparison with the rest of the team), I admire him for going out there every day and giving us what he could.

 

That being said, Soriano does have his flaws. He is a poor defensive player who struggles to make the correct route to a fly ball from time to time. He will never win a Gold Glove award, but his arm can usually make up for any flaws he has when missing a catch. He can throw runners out at a very high rate when they try to take an extra base on him, or try to capitalize on one of his bad plays. After all, he did commit 11 errors in his limited season, second on the team only to Ryan Theriot’s 15. While he struggles in the field, and that is important, don’t forget that he was signed to be an offensive catalyst for the Cubs. Outside of last year, (again you wouldn’t know this when you look at the stats of every other player from the 2009 team) he has been just that.

 

In his first two years with the club, Soriano put up some great statistics. In 2007 he hit .299 with 33 home runs and 70 RBI in the leadoff slot. In 2008, he hit .280 with 29 home runs and 75 RBI, again, in the leadoff slot. Those are pretty impressive numbers no matter where you are hitting when you have a number of other players who are considered to be offensive stars in Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez. If you want to get down on Soriano, look at the whole story before passing judgment. He will likely never earn all the money he is being paid, but he is doing what the Cubs expected, outside of the stolen bases they had hoped to get out of him.

 

Now, Soriano will be moving down to the six spot in the lineup. He had his knee surgically repaired, and has been reunited with his former batting coach in Rudy Jaramillo. Perhaps Jaramillo can help Soriano hit something more than a first pitch fastball, but if he can not, what do you expect? The Cubs knew who Soriano was and what he was capable of doing when they signed him. I see good things for Soriano in the upcoming season.

 

The time has come for my predication for Soriano and the 2010 season. With him now batting sixth behind Lee, Ramirez and Marlon Byrd, his RBI chances may very well be limited. However, he should still see some ample opportunities to drive runs in and hit a few more long bombs, especially if Soto is able to rebound. I believe that Soriano will hit somewhere in the .270s, while adding in around the high 20s to low 30s in the home run category. I can also see him driving in around 80 some RBI as well. This is probably my most optimistic look out for a player, but I have a feeling that Soriano will prove his critics wrong, and that last year was a fluke due to injury.