Baseball Toaster Cub Town
When Statistics Attack
2008-03-13 08:11
by Derek Smart

I'm feeling ornery today. Let's pick a fight. From the article regarding the coming Sorianotwoholeacalypse:

Soriano showed last season that he was most comfortable batting first. In 125 games as the leadoff man, he hit .308 (167-for-542), while he hit .179 (5-for-28) in seven games in the three-hole.

From the Daily Herald:

As he always has done, Soriano voiced a willingness to go along with Piniella, even though he prefers to bat first. Last year in the third spot, Soriano was 5-for-28 (.179). He was 0-for-8 batting fifth, but he was a .308 hitter batting leadoff.

From the Tribune:

Last season Soriano batted third in Derrek Lee's absence and hit only .179 in seven games (compared to .308 as leadoff).

28 at bats, eh? Well, here's to the first 54 at bats of Bo Hart's career, or the first 83 at bats of Clint Barmes' 2005. I know I'm likely preaching to the choir here, but there's nothing like cherry picking stats to make a point, or in this case, being too damn lazy to look up something more substantial. Not to mention the fact that they're trying to imply that Soriano will fail in the second spot because of how he performed in the third spot.

Of course, what really weirds me out is the fact that the Sun-Times made no mention of Soriano's batting order splits in 2007, qualifying Gordon Wittenmeyer as a beacon of enlightenment, which makes me question, not just the meaning of 'enlightenment', but of all words ever uttered by man.

But I digress. After going to BB-REF and performing a search on 'Soriano', I was two laborious clicks away from the information outlined below.

Position in Order
Batting Line

That's Soriano's whole career, folks, not just 28 at bats in the middle of a season, and, oh, the journey of suffering and tears it took to get me there. As for the data itself, there are only three spots where he's got enough at bats for me to want to draw any sort of conclusion, and even with those I don't see much there, there. Is there a difference between the first, third, and fifth spots? Sure. Enough to make me assign causality, especially when considering that the last two years of his career, which you could argue are his two best, were spent almost entirely in that first spot in the order? No. So how you decide to do that using 28 at bats is beyond me, even if by this point, I should be used to such failures.

End of rant.


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2008-03-13 08:48:16
1.   Josh Wilker
The debate over the best place for Soriano in the order is similar to one that occurred some years ago with a player with similar gifts. Check out this (still riled after all these years) reader comment about Bobby Bonds from a post on the same from my site:

". . . you had to bat Bonds leadoff to get him out of the middle of the lineup, where he killed you. But now you're wasting your 32 homeruns in the leadoff spot, where they are often hit with noone on base, and you're paying top dollar for a power hitter who's batting leadoff. And thus Bonds kept getting traded. . ."

2008-03-13 09:33:53
2.   Brent is a Dodger Fan
If I had a moment, I'd run some statistical tests to show how confidently one could conclude that differences between performance in those spots are anything but noise.

But it is relatively easy to do. Problem is, sports reporters never seem to have a friend with access to MiniTab or some other stats package...

2008-03-13 09:55:45
3.   Brent is a Dodger Fan
Okay. So I decided I could use both the practice and some warm up to my day.

There is only one significant difference, and that is that Soriano has slugged significantly worse in the #2 spot than in any other spot.

However, there is no significant differences in how he has averaged or on-based with respect to spot in the order.

(I have to admit that it was a surprise, that in 31 ABs, he'd have a significant difference in the #2 spot on anything, but a .258 slugging in 31 AB is significantly different from his .517 overall slugging average.)

Now, that doesn't mean it is causal. And the writers you quoted did not say anything about the #2 spot or slugging (just average).

2008-03-13 10:37:24
4.   Derek Smart
1 You know, it's sad that a guy like Bobby Bonds got pegged that way. Unlike Soriano, he would actually take a walk every once in a while. I mean, he had an OBP over .340 in 9 of his first 12 seasons, and .355 or higher in 6 of those same. I'd say that in half of those seasons, while not ideal for leadoff, he'd have been palatable. It must have been all those strikeouts that got him the label, because I don't get it otherwise.

On the other hand, Soriano has not, nor ever shall, have an entire season of an OBP of .355 or higher. Really, there shouldn't even be a debate of where he belongs - 5 or 6 hole - despite the fact that there clearly is.

3 Thanks for running the numbers, Brent. I'm glad my feeling that this is a moot point is backed up when some analysis gets done.

I totally love, by the way, the mental picture of Conlin or Plaschke asking one of their friends to determine the statistical significance of differences between split results. Sadly, I fear it's more like "There's 35 points difference between his batting average in the leadoff spot versus the three hole! How can you tell me that's not significant!"

Science. It's not just for breakfast anymore.

2008-03-13 11:48:14
5.   Brent is a Dodger Fan
4 Plaschke? Ask someone for help, implying he doesn't know everything?

I can't finish this comment because I just fell on the floor in hysterics from --

2008-03-13 12:04:30
6.   Josh Wilker
4 : Yeah, I noticed that Bonds had a pretty decent OBP, too. The person who made the comment I quoted (which was in line with something Sparky Lyle once said about Bobby Bonds) was a Yankee fan, and I think Bonds had (or was perceived to have) a disappointing season with the Yankees.

Who would you like to see hitting leadoff for the Cubs? I agree that Soriano is better elsewhere, but increasing Ryan Theriot's PAs doesn't seem like a good solution to the lineup dilemma.

2008-03-13 12:23:04
7.   Derek Smart
6 Honestly, there aren't truly good solutions on the roster, which is why I think the club's been so hot after Brian Roberts - he gives them the perfect guy to supplant Soriano in that spot.

That said, if things don't work out on that front, I'd be inclined to give Fukudome a shot. He's got that patient approach you're looking for, has decent speed, good bat control, and while he has some pop, he doesn't have so much that you feel like you're wasting it. In fact, here's what my lineup probably looks like, with some assumptions made about who gets roster spots:


Add Roberts and the only change I'd make is to put him at 1 and Fukudome at 2. Of course, this lineup completely ignores the whole handedness issue, what with 5 straight righties (4 with Roberts in the mix), but it's not like there's a middle of the order guy on the roster who's left-handed anyway.

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