Jim & Bob's Palatial Baseball Blog

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

What to Do with Alfonso?

Surprisingly, Sully asks a rather good question in his article today. Subtitled “Alfonso Soriano wants to bat atop order, but is that the best place for his power?,” the gist of the piece is summed up in these two grafs:

Still, the question of whether Soriano would be wasted in the leadoff spot is one Piniella is sure to be asked again in spring training, which begins Wednesday when pitchers and catchers report to Fitch Park.

An argument can be made that he’s best-suited for the middle of the order, where his home-run power can be exploited to the fullest.

Unsurprisingly, Sully goes on to answer the question in the most blundering, ham-fisted way possible. Oh, he lays out the pertinent facts acceptably: Soriano is fast. But he doesn’t walk a lot, and his OBP isn’t optimal for a lead-off hitter. He’s shown enough power (46 HR last year in Washington, not a hitter’s haven) to be considered a viable middle-of-the order guy. But on the other hand, he’s had some measure of success in the leadoff spot...

All this talk about the player is well and good, but Soriano won’t be playing in a vacuum. But Sully doesn’t mention the rest of the lineup at all. If you were going to write a bit about the best spot for Soriano in the Cubs’ lineup, wouldn’t you think to actually look at the rest of the lineup?

Not if you’re Sully, I guess.

Should Soriano bat in the middle of the lineup? Well, here’s my projection for the three through seven spots:

1B Derrek Lee
3B Aramis Ramirez
RF Jacques Jones
C Michael Barrett
LF Matt Murton / Cliff Floyd

So what do you do with the guy displaced by Soriano? Do you shift him down one spot?

No, because the eight spot should be wasted by Cesar Izturis. I’m comfortable with him hitting at the top of the order – in Los Angeles, or Houston, or Seattle, or even Des Moines. Not so much in Chicago.

Do you move that guy up to the top of the lineup? Well, maybe.

That leads us to the second question Sully should have answered: if not Soriano, then who? Who out of this lot should his leadoff?

If it were up to me, I’d hit Murton lead off. He’s not “proven,” which would result in much wailing and gnashing of teeth among the punditocracy. But after a terrible slump in June, he came on strong and, at times, looked like the only Cub on the field that understood that ball four was an acceptable outcome to a plate appearance.

The Cubs’ major lineup issue this year (as it has been every year since 2003, when Kenny Lofton came in mid-season) is the leadoff spot. We don’t need more power in the middle of the lineup; the guys we have should prove adequate, if somewhat lacking in star power.

What we need is to have runners on base in front of those guys. It’s a simple concept – no runners, no runs. Soriano can hit 50 homers batting fourth this year, and he’ll still wind up with 80 RBIs if our leadoff hitter only thinks of first base as that white thing he passes on his way back to the dugout.

So should Soriano bat leadoff for the Cubs? He’s one of the better options we have.

Which is more an indictment against the Cubs’ roster than an endorsement of Soriano’s abilities...


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