It’s easy for us to look at a player and highlight a major weakness. We do this all the time. That weakness then overshadows what the player does well. If that player hits a game winning home run we’re certainly excited, but within moments we’re back to talking about his rag arm, atrocious baserunning, inability to field or get on base.
Nobody is great at everything. In baseball there are numerous skills that make up the entire value of the player. For position players you offense and defense, but each of them can be broken down further. The offense includes getting on base, hitting for power, and baserunning. With defense you have range, which be broken down even more. Players who have good range generally excel at one or two areas (coming in, going to the left for example), but not 360 degrees. Arm strength is important and so is the accuracy. There are other skills of course, but you get the idea.
Let’s use Albert Pujols as an example. Pujols has obviously been a great hitter. He gets on base and hits for power. He runs the bases well. At 1st base he’s above average on defense, but it’s 1st base. Once you include the positional adjustment necessary he’s a well below average fielder. Imagine Pujols at SS. Can’t do it? Me neither. While Pujols is good compared to other 1st baseman, he’s not good defensively compared to the average fielder in MLB. Barry Bonds on the other hand, excelled at everything. He was a great defender. He was an excellent baserunner. Even if you factor in the positional adjustment he still comes out well above average. Barry Bonds was the complete player. There aren’t many, but if you’re looking for a complete player you’re not being realistic.
Let’s now take a look at Alfonso Soriano. Much of the focus on Soriano has been on his inability to get on base the last couple years. In 2011 his OBP was an awful .289. I’ve highlighted this many times more than I should have. If we convert that OBP to OBP+ (player OBP / lg. OBP) * 100)) we get 91. Terrible for sure, but OBP is one part of offense. Yes, it’s the most important part. What would his SLG+ have to be to make Soriano a league average hitter? OBP is about 1.7 times more valuable than SLG. Since his OBP+ is 91, his SLG+ would have to be 118. Soriano’s SLG+ was actually 120 in 2011.
This is why his OPS+ on Baseball Reference is listed at 104. BRef considers park factors, which I did not. I’m not looking for exact numbers so I don’t really care about that. The point I’m making is that when you properly weight OBP and SLG, Soriano was average with the bat in 2011.
If Soriano could bat 700 times, play average defensive and run the bases at an average rate he’d be worth 2 WAR (league average). That’s not even close to realistic though. While the fielding metrics once again liked Soriano in 2011, I’m inclined to ignore them. I don’t think you’d find too many people who said Soriano was anything other than a below average fielder. He was also below average on the bases. He also came nowhere near 700 plate appearances.
He won’t come anywhere near that in the future. His defense and baserunning will only get worse. So will his offense. As players age they take the field less frequently. In Soriano’s 5 years with the Cubs he’s averaged 129 games and 540 plate appearances. Expect those numbers to decline. By the way, the 5 years prior to that he average just over 700 plate appearances per season and missed an average of 8 games per year.
While Soriano might still be an average batter, he’s a below average fielder, baserunner and plays much less than necessary to be anywhere close to a league average performer.
I’ve made too much of a point about Soriano’s OBP in the past. It’s important for sure, but the guy still hits for power. The two must be weighted properly or you’re not using the stats correctly. Besides, if the idea is to show how bad Soriano is, we can do that without undervaluing his power. Soriano is not good at baseball. Oliver forecasts a .233/.286/425 line with a .306 wOBA resulting in 0 WAR. I’d probably guess he beats that projection, but not by much.