Alfonso Soriano: a tale of fail

November 6.

According to wikipedia, the first European set foot in Texas on November 6, 1528. Actor Ethan Hawke was born on November 6, 1970. And November 6 is also Constitution Day in three countries—Dominican Republic, Tartarstan, and Tajikistan. I have no clue where Tartarstan is.

And, on November 6, 2006, the Chicago Cubs gave Alfonso Soriano $138 million.

Cubs fans don’t care that Texas was discovered on that day. They don’t care that “If you do not smoke this, we have a problem” Ethan Hawke was born on that day. And they certainly don’t care about Constitution Day in other countries.

No, for Cubs fans, November 6 was the day that the Cubs made the team’s worst free agent signing. And it was for a lot of coin.

An artist’s rendering of the signing.

To be fair, it’s not like Soriano was a slouch in 2006. With Washington, Soriano hit a career-high 46 home runs with a .377 wOBA. He also played solid defense to the tune of an 8.1 UZR in left field, which helped him reach a WAR of 5.5.

Soriano’s demise didn’t begin in 2007, either. While he hit fewer home runs, he wasn’t in a position to do so. UZR loved his defense*, too, and he posted a 5.6 WAR. So, at least for a year, Soriano’s tenure in Chicago was going well.

But the Cubs gave thee 30-year-old Soriano an eight-year contract. His January 7 birthday meant he was 31 when he played his first game with the Cubs.

And the Cubs have him until 2014. In 2014, Soriano will be 38.

So when Soriano declined to a 3.1 WAR in 2008, it was certainly cause for concern. After all, players usually don’t improve as they get into their 30’s—instead, they decline.

And that’s exactly what Soriano did in 2009. He declined to the point where he was the fourth-worst qualified position player in baseball last year.

Offensively, Soriano was a liability. He struck out in nearly three percent more at-bats than his career average and his wOBA fell to a career-low .314.

Behind that drop was an obvious inability to hit breaking balls. Of pitches thrown to Soriano, 24.7 percent of them were sliders, the second-highest percentage in baseball. He also faced the fourth-highest percentage of curveballs of anybody in baseball.

Obviously, pitchers threw Soriano more breaking stuff because he couldn’t hit those pitches. He was about one run below average against sliders and two runs below average against curveballs.

On top of those offensive struggles, Soriano played terrible defense. Stuff like this happened a lot.

The worst part about Soriano’s 2009 struggles may not be that they happened, though. It’s that, at age 34, there’s no reason to think Soriano can come close to living up to his contract through 2014.

Maybe Soriano will rebound out of negative WAR territory in 2010. But he won’t rebound to earn his $18 million salary.

And he still has five years left in Wrigelyville. With a fanbase that’s been frustrated since 2003 and doubly frustrated since 2005, it’s not going to be a fun time for Soriano in left field at Wrigely for the next five years.

But hey, at least he’s making a lot of money.

“How do you sleep at night?”

“On top of a pile of money with many beautiful ladies.”


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