As the title says, I want this to be a celebration of Alfonso Soriano’s delightful 2012 season. So I will not be reviewing and critiquing his fielding, because it still sucks. Just because he’s a better version of the flyball booting left-fielder that’s patrolled Wrigley since 2007 doesn’t mean I’m elated to see he’s finally put in the single ounce of effort it so obviously required for him to be anything less than a horrible outfielder. He spent five years lowering the bar, I’m not cheering when he ‘vaults’ over his absurdly low expected performance. Enough of the ugliness.
Best Season As A Cub?
Statistically, it will likely be referred to as his 3rd best season as a Cub. In 2007 & 2008 he posted OPS above .875, OBP above .335 and was still an envied leadoff hitter around the league. He led the Cubs attack with a violent hack that put even the best pitchers on edge to start a game. Just ask Tim Hudson. Other than a slow start to 2008, he alternated between good and great for the better part of two years. Through the end of last season, Soriano was in a steep decline that started in earnest during May of 2009. Since then, those months where Soriano goes on a tear and hits anything and everything in sight have been few and far between. He had a good start to 2009, a very good July 2009, and a good April/May during 2010. Outside of that he was an offensive liability for the Cubs. In 2011, he was all-or-nothing during April with a line of .258/.278/.613. 10 HRs, and 20 RBIs & 23 Ks and 5 GIDPs – by far his best month of the year. He hit only 16 HRs the remainder of the season, ending with a sub-.500 SLG% for the third straight season after having only one such season since his first in the league. But from an ‘enjoyment of the expected’ standpoint this is easily Soriano’s best season as a Cub. At the end of last year, he had one foot in the baseball grave.
The so-called haters were vindicated as 2012 opened and Soriano seemed to be lacking in baseball talent. A putrid .237/.250/.513 with a scant two extra base hits (both doubles) in 80 plate appearances. The writing was on the wall, he needed to turn it around or he’d become a very highly paid cheerleader with a reserved bench seat to every Cubs game. Still scuffling, Soriano hit his first HR on May 15th. Since that day, Soriano has posted a very solid .265/.327/.557 (other than a dip in AVG, numbers that are much closer to his first two seasons as a Cub). Most importantly, the power has returned – with 26 2Bs and 31 HRs in that same period. For comparison, Triple Crown hopeful Miguel Cabrera has 35 2Bs and 35 HRs since that same date. Testosterone-rich reigning NL MVP Ryan Braun? 27 2Bs and 30 HRs. But how about the AL’s leading HR hitter, and one-time presumptive 2012 AL MVP (probably will still finish in the Top 3) – the recently over-caffeinated Josh Hamilton? Just 22 2Bs and 25 HRs. And Hamilton’s line of .252/.330/.506 is actually worse than Soriano’s during that period. The transformation from Soriano’s steep and lengthy decline to what he’s been since mid-May is the baseball equivalent of a miracle. It’s so unexpected; I hope he’s not juicing.
How Much More Of This Is Left?
Soriano has established a career high in RBIs with 105; if he hits 3 more HRs (still possible) he’d have his most in a single season with the Cubs. Down in the order, the Cubs have found more production for Soriano’s big hits. Is he the ideal 5th hitter? Nope. Will he be one of the Cubs’ best options for a middle of the lineup bat in 2013? Seems probable. Will he have more GMs calling the Cubs about a trade this offseason? Since 1 GM would likely represent “more” – almost definitely. I don’t know if this year is a fluke, I don’t know how much of his resurgence you can attribute to a lighter bat, or even the confidence gained from his immediate success after switching bats. Maybe what Alfonso needed most was to believe himself; that he still possessed the ability to perform at this level. What I do know is that, offensively, Soriano has been nearly back to his old self. At 36 years old (so they say) he has rediscovered his prime and is competing with the best hitters of today (in THEIR prime). The revival of Alfonso Soriano has certainly been a welcome sight!