As expected, the idea that Dale Sveum is kind of thinking about maybe, possibly considering the idea of potentially occasionally batting Alfonso Soriano in the lead-off spot has sparked the kind of panic that one usually associates with one of the Airplane! movies.
Of course, the level-headed media that is famous for never over-reacting to things like they're the ones spending thousands of dollars per year to sit 400 feet away from homeplate while eating homemade bologna sandwiches is happy to fan the flames of irrational hatred of Soriano. Yesterday, shortly after the article ran that indicated Sveum had
CLEARLY LOST HIS MIND mentioned the possibility, Dave Kaplan tweeted out:
I do not believe for one second that Soriano will lead off EVER again in a regular season game. No chance. Sveum is aware of his history
— David Kaplan (@thekapman) March 2, 2012
This seemed to be tweeted out with a feeling like Kap is trying desperately to get people to look away from a horrible plane crash while simultaneously breathlessly calling attention to it.
And what history? By all accounts (including Kaplan's), Soriano is a hard worker and he is a good teammate. What a terrible history!
So this obviously isn't a situation where the guy's character should be getting called into question. So it must be performance, right? We all know that Soriano's bat isn't what it used to be. But Sveum isn't suggesting bumping Rickey Henderson or Tim Raines out of the lead-off spot to hand it to Soriano. He's talking about maybe thinking about conceptualizing situations where he may ponder using Soriano instead of David DeJesus.
But here's the thing about Soriano's history that Kaplan insists Sveum is keenly aware of: Soriano has always batted better in the lead-off spot than elsewhere in the lineup. Here are his career numbers:
No other spot in the batting order is even close to the production in the lead-off spot. He has always said he is most comfortable leading off and low and behold, he actually performs better when he is leading off.
But couldn't that be a function of him batting in non-leadoff spots the last 2 years and being crappy at it because he got moved down when Lou realized that Soriano was now a crappy hitter? Maybe. I'm not arguing that a move to the lead-off spot will suddenly cure Soriano's ills at the plate. He might very well still suck. He probably will still suck. But there are the numbers showing that he might be least likely to suck in the lead-off spot than any other spot in the lineup.
But let's look at how he does leading off an inning over his career. So even if he wasn't slotted into the leadoff spot in the lineup, the "feel" of leading off would occur every time he batted lead-off in an inning.
These aren't nearly as conclusive, but they show he has had more success than not while leading off an inning. It also shows that people who claimed that Soriano sucked in 2009 and 2010 regardless of batting position were on to something. But look at last year. There he is rebounding to a .982 OPS when leading off an inning. That is pretty damn good. Now, of course it is a small sample size. Again, I am not claiming that Soriano leading off is the answer to the Cubs' offensive woes. I am simply looking for reasons why we can't unilaterally declare it to be the most insane idea since trying to invade Russia during the winter.
All I'm saying is that it's worth a shot to see if it works.
Let's say you had to travel 500 miles and you look around and you see one rollerskate, a unicycle, and a neighbor's car that you know has been sitting in the driveway for three years without moving. Wouldn't you at least try the car first? Why would you automatically dismiss the car and start trying to pedal 500 miles on a unicycle simply because you just KNEW the car wouldn't work?
Theo just got here. Sveum just got here. They probably know as much about why Soriano isn't hitting as you would know about why your neighbors' car hasn't moved. Maybe your neighbor doesn't know shit about getting a perfectly good car to work right because he doesn't know all that was missing was a sparkplug. Maybe the mechanic just told your neighbor that it was a lazy overpaid Latino car that never starts until it the miles don't matter anymore. It's unlikely, but you'd still try the car, right? The car is the only option that has any prayer at all of getting you to your destination, so you give it a shot. It's not like you get any further away if the car doesn't work like you suspected.
The Cubs don't have any Leer jets at their disposal, so that lazy car is pretty much their only hope of coming anywhere close to reaching their destination. Not giving it a shot would be the batshit crazy option.