Alfonso Soriano, more than anyone else in Major League Baseball, hates walking. Who knows why, but one thing’s for certain, no one walks less than Soriano, the latest member of the Washington Nationals. In 3490 plate appearances, Soriano has just 157 walks.
With a career on-base percentage of .320, Soriano, who led off with the Yankees, has long defied normal expectation. While Soriano is often an all-or-nothing, home run-or-strike out hitter, he has a career .500 slugging percentage, and his .512 mark last season was good for third among all second basemen.
With such drastic numbers, Soriano is an enigma when it comes to attempting to assess his worth to a team. He had a VORP of 47.8, placing him fifth among second basemen. But his WARP-3 (a measure of how many wins above replacement level a player contributes) of 4.9 placed him squarely in the middle of the pack among those at his position.
Now, it seems, the Washington Nationals have acquired this enigma. In a trade for Brad Wilkerson, Terrmel Sledge, and a player to be named later, Soriano moves from Texas to Washington. It also seems that Soriano will be moving from second base to left field. This move slightly decrease Soriano’s value. He falls to the bottom of the pack among left fielders in on-base percentage and his slugging would be seventh among left-fielders.
Furthermore, Soriano, who turns 30 in January, won’t be enjoying the cozy confines of Texas anymore. This, more than a position move, could have a negative effect on Soriano’s production. This year, Soriano’s home-road splits illustrate a compelling story. In Ameriquest Field, he hit .315/.355/.656 with 25 home runs in 311 at-bats. On the road, Soriano hit just .224/.265/.374 with 11 home runs in 326 at-bats.
So now what happens when Soriano is playing all of his home games in RFK Stadium without Mark Teixeira and the rest of the high-powered Texas offense in front of him? A quick glimpse at some raw park factors could clue us in to Soriano’s future. Ameriquest was number two big leagues behind Coors Field in inflating scoring all around. The Rangers hit 153 home runs at home, compared to 107 on the road. That’s an astounding 50 percent more home runs at home than on the road.
Meanwhile, RFK in the Nation’s Capital wasn’t nearly as friendly. The Nats hit just 46 home runs at home and 71 on the road. So RFK dulled home runs by nearly a third for the Nationals.
Soriano, a big fly ball hitter, now moves to RFK where his Ameriquest home runs will become RFK outs. He, along with his low career OBP, join a team that was in the bottom third of the league in terms of getting on base last year. He’ll slide into a line up with very little protection in a team that isn’t expected to finish higher than fourth next year.
Long gone are the days when Soriano could hit with Derek Jeter, Jason Giambi, and Hideki Matsui behind him. Gone are the days when Soriano could hit behind Michael Young and Mark Teixeira. Now, at the age of 30 and with one season left before free agency, Soriano will face his toughest challenge yet. He’ll want a large contract after this year, but he has to play in an extreme pitcher’s park in left field instead of at his normal position. He won’t be thrilled about switching positions, and a player of his make won’t be successful in Washington.
While the Nationals with GM Jim Bowden love making moves, I sometimes wonder why the brain trust of the Nationals decided that Soriano would be a good fit. He isn’t, and I expect him to struggle mightily in 2006.
Meanwhile, in the same week, the second baseman with the lowest on-base percentage – Alfonso Soriano – and the second baseman with the highest on-base percentage in 2005 – Luis Castillo – were both traded. I can only wonder if that’s ever happened before.