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The C.O. (Cautious Optimism)
by Derek Smart
It's all Alfonso, all the time right now, so I thought I'd give something a whirl. One of the notions being cast about when wringing hands over the Soriano deal is the concept that he has cashed in on a 'career year,' rather than getting a deal based on a new established level of performance. Setting aside the question of whether even a baseline from his 2006 performance - .277/.351/.560 - would make his contract appropriate, I thought I'd take a look at a couple of factors to see if there's actually a chance that some of the good in his work last season seems likely to translate into a long-term change.
What I want to do is see if there's a reason for optimism regarding his performance, regardless of the price involved, to see if the positive strides he appeared to have made in his walk rate and power numbers were something he's likely to continue or even build on, or if it was just a blip on his career radar. This isn't going to be in depth, just the basis for a discussion, so here are the quick and dirty stats I've assembled.
Told you it wasn't in depth.
Still, I think there's a lot of interesting information here. What we have is his career previous to last year compared to his 2006 season through a couple of key indicators. The thing we've all heard about is his increased ability to take a base on balls, and while it's still not great in 2006, walking unintentionally at a rate 41.9% higher than you have in your career to that point is an undeniable positive. Then in the power department, we see he was launching dingers at a rate about 26.5% higher in 2006 than he had in the past - and doing it while playing in the extremely unfriendly power environment of RFK stadium after having spent two far less productive seasons at Arlington's Coors Light. Again, totally a positive.
In fact, all the development in 2006 - beyond the strikeouts, which I think of more of a by-product in this case - can be seen as a positive. The real question when trying to figure if this alteration is a lasting one is to address some root causes, and I think we have a very specific one worthy of some hope in his pitches seen per plate appearance. It is a sizeable increase, and to my mind, everything else that we see in the numbers above stems from that - or more precisely, from the change in approach that difference implies.
I think it is not unreasonable to surmise the following:
For whatever reason - conversations with a mentor, working with coaches, the ingestion of large quantities of hallucinogens - Soriano took an approach that allowed him to see more pitches
As a result, he got into deeper counts, resulting in more walks
The deeper counts also resulted in more strikeouts
By seeing more pitches, he also saw more mistakes, resulting in more balls being hit hard and - because he as an uppercut swing - in the air
Those balls in the air, because they were more often the result of solid contact on hittable pitches, went out of the yard at a higher rate
The short of it is, based on what I see in the stats (I've simply not seen him enough to compare in a more 'scout-like' way) I think this increased output could very well be a new baseline, as it appears to be built, not on luck, but on an actual change in the way he plays the game. A boost in his raw stats unaccompanied by any changes in ancillary indicators would be suspicious, but that's not what happened here. He appears to have made a positive change at a fundamental level.
That said, this merely scratches the surface and shouldn't be labeled as anything close to real 'analysis'. Besides, while as a result of this little exercise I now think this new level is sustainable, sustainability is not in itself a guarantee of performance. That can only come through Soriano's continued hard work and dedication to whatever idea fostered this change in the first place, and I have absolutely no way to measure that.