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Just The Sports: Alfonso Soriano, Meet Adrian Beltre

Just The Sports

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Alfonso Soriano, Meet Adrian Beltre

Alfonso Soriano received a lot of publicity in major league baseball's off-season after he was traded from the Texas Rangers to the Washington Nationals and told the team was going to move him to the outfield, a less defensively intensive position. He balked at the position change and claimed he was a second baseman only even when defensive metrics showed that while he was a second baseman in theory, he was not a particularly good defensive one and was costing his teams runs by lining up in that spot. After Soriano's refusal, the Nationals told him they would pay his salary and keep him off the field entirely for the whole season. No doubt, Soriano at first thought paying paid to do nothing was not such a bad proposition, but then he remembered or he was told by his agent that this season was more special than his others. The 2006 season was going to be his walk year, the year that at least one foolish team would look at it only to decide how much money to offer him after he became a free agent. So Soriano picked up the phone and dialed Adrian Beltre's number to ask him how he should approach this most holiest of years and here is what Beltre told him...

Okay, maybe that last part did not happen, but it might as well have because Soriano is taking a page out of Beltre's book as well as a page out of every player who has had a monster year while playing for a contract and most players have had such a year. Soriano is not quite done with this year so he has the chance to improve or regress, but let's compare his walk year to Beltre's to see how similar the two seasons are to each other.

The big difference between the two are their ages. Beltre decided he would play his one good year of baseball at age 25, right around when a baseball player enters his prime. Soriano is putting in his best season at age 30 and any team that gives him a big contract after the season is over will get to reap his decline years.

Before this season, Soriano was a .280 BA/.320 OBP/.500 SLG, not bad except his on-base percentage is tied to his batting average making him an inconsistent hitter. In 2006, he has hit .290 BA/.364 OBP/.595 SLG, which marks an increase of 16% over his career gross product average (.313 GPA to .269 GPA).

Beltre saw an even more dramatic increase over his career average GPA and his walk year one. Entering the season where he was playing for a new contract, Beltre's line read like this: .262 BA/.320 OBP/.428 SLG. He finished 2004 with .334 BA/.388 OBP/.629 SLG on the strength of his 48 homers, a 32% increase over his career GPA (.251 GPA to .332 GPA). Since then, Beltre has played in 1.68 seasons and fallen back to his middling ways, .258 BA/.314 OBP/.419 SLG and a .246 GPA, very much in line with his career average if a little below it. All told, Beltre has hit .270 BA/.328 OBP/.453 SLG. To get some perspective as to how much of an outlier Beltre's season was, let's look at the standard deviations of some of his numbers. Like I mentioned before, Beltre hit 48 home runs in his walk year, which are an amazing three standard deviations away from his career average of 19.1 home runs a season. Correcting for his first season where he only appeared in 77 games, his 2004 year saw him hit a home run every 12.5 at-bats. Compare that to his career average of a home run 25.2 at-bats. His slugging percentage and gross product average in 2004 was also three standard deviations away from what he has slugged in his career.

Soriano has not quite repeated Beltre's prowess in having an outlier season and most of his 2006 year is within a standard deviation of his career average. Only his slugging percentage is two standard deviations away. But his standard deviation is much higher than Beltre's, making it easier for his numbers to fall within one standard deviation. Soriano's batting average variance (standard deviation squared) is four times higher than Beltre's and his on-base percentage variance is seven times higher. This makes sense since the two are so closely tied for Soriano. Even though Soriano is a good hitter, he is so inconsistent a team can never know what to expect from one year to the other. Soriano has taken another page away from Beltre's walk year and is hitting a home run this year in six fewer at-bats than it has taken him for his career (12.8 to 18.8).

Part of his success could be attributed to him seeing more pitches per plate appearances, but there is more to his explosion than just that. His BB/K ratio is .46, almost twice as high as his career BB/K ratio (red flag!). His isolated power is also the highest it has been ever (second red flag!). Beltre experienced a dramatic increase in isolated power as well during his walk year.

Any team that throws a lot of money (anything over $10 million) at Soriano to sign him like the Mariners did to Beltre ($64 million over 5 years) deserves the impending decrease in Soriano's skills because the writing is on the wall that Soriano is not consistently one of the best players in baseball.


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