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How Good Is Alfonso Soriano?
2002-07-18 15:43
by Mike Carminati

How Good Is Alfonso Soriano?

After the 1982 season, the Philadelphia Phillies started amassing aging stars in one last effort to win a World Series like Benedictine monks collecting scripture as the Holy Roman Empire crumpled at their feet. They still had the core of 1980 championship team including Pete Rose (42 years old), Mike Schmidt (33), and Steve Carlton (38), but after falling 3 games short of the Cardinals for NL East title, they felt that needed more veteran help. They had acquired John Denny (30), who would soon win a Cy Young Award, for the playoff run of '82, but he had been a disappointing 0-2 with a 4.03 ERA. They signed a 41-year-old Tony Perez to spell Rose Rose occasionally at 1B. Then on December 14, they traded pitchers Mike Krukow and future Cy Young winner Mark Davis (and a minor-leaguer) for closer Al Holland (30) and 39-year-old Joe Morgan. They also traded five men, all of whom played for the Indians in1983, for the man they misguidedly projected as their future franchise player, Von Hayes (only 24). The 1983 club was dubbed the "Wheeze Kids." Initially, the team failed to gel, and on July 18 GM Paul Owens removed manager Pat Corrales-even though they were in first, they were only one game over .500- and instead appointed himself as manager, telling owner Bill Giles, "I'll win it for you." The team then went on to win their division by a healthy six games, polish off the Dodgers in the playoffs, and then promptly lose the World Series in five games to the Orioles. After the season the Phils jettisoned Morgan, Perez, and Rose almost en masse, fell to mediocrity and began a rebuilding process that, other than a star-alignment-induced hiccup in 1993, has gone on ever since.

What do the '83 Phillies have to do with evaluating Alfonso Soriano? While the Phillies were struggling through a difficult May, at the end of which they would fall to .500, they would lose Joe Morgan to the disabled list for two weeks. But instead of turning to a utility player-the were in a serious pennant chase remember-they plucked a jewel from their farm system going all the way down to Double-A Reading to get him. The previous season en route to the league MVP, he had led the Carolina League in total bases and runs and led second basemen in put outs, assists, double plays, and total chances but also led second basemen in errors (35-he had 50 in '81). This bipolar excellence/deficiency would plague him his entire career. He played inconsistently if adequately for two weeks (14 runs and a .446 slugging average but 16 strikeouts in 65 ABs) while Morgan healed-Joe was supposedly helping him with his throws to first- and then was "promoted" to Triple-A Portland. But there was no mistaking that this man was the heir apparent at second and to Morgan's supremacy at second base-he could run, hit for power, hit for average, and he had great range at second. He was a young version of Morgan himself. At 23, he would be handed the starting job in '84 and would set a national-league record with 701 at bats, steal 72 bases, slug .442, and tie for the league lead in triples (19). He would also lead the league in strikeouts (168) and NL second basemen in errors (33) while walking only 28 times. Eventually, his deficiencies at second outweighed his plusses and he was moved to centerfield, then as his batting and base-running skills atrophied, he would become a journeyman bench player and finish his career after 16 seasons and 8 teams in 1998. Of course, this man was Juan Samuel.

Morgan and fellow Wheeze Kids Schmidt, Carlton, and Perez have all been enshrined in Cooperstown. Rose would have joined them if not for some well-publicized, off-field activities. Morgan has become the ideal for the modern second baseman and seems to split the vote with Rogers Hornsby for the greatest of all time.

Joe Morgan and Juan Samuel have become the two touchstones for Alfonso Soriano's career. Whenever he excels, he is the heir apparent to Joe Morgan's crown as the greatest living second baseman. Whenever he strikes out or fails to draw enough walks, he is called an inconsistent player and comparisons to Samuel crop up. The question is which is the more appropriate comparison Samuel or Morgan? Whose career will Soriano's follow or will he fall between the two?

I first compared their stats through 24 years of age, Soriano's current age. I took ESPN's projections for Soriano this year. I present them here:

                 AB    R    HR    RBI     SB    SB%    BA     OBP   SLG   OPS   RC/G 
Soriano 1325 212 62 180 88 76.5 .289 .319 .509 .828 5.8
Morgan 1602 248 25 127 64 73.6 .273 .384 .401 .785 5.5
Samuel 1429 220 36 148 128 78.1 .269 .306 .439 .745 4.7

Looking at these data, one is left thinking that Soriano is not only more in the Morgan mold, he is superior to Morgan. Soriano has a tremendous lead in home runs and RBI, a 100-point edge in slugging, a 15-point lead in batting average, and a 40-point lead in OPS (On-Base Percentage Plus Slugging Average). Morgan is far superior in on-base percentage, but we already knew that Soriano doesn't walk much. Morgan also came up earlier and therefore, has more at bats, but playing with the expansion Colt .45s as opposed to the World-Champion Yankees may have something to do with that. Poor Samuel isn't even in their league: he has a large lead in stolen bases, but that's it. He is 40 points behind Morgan and 80 points behind Soriano in OPS. Also, His Runs Created Per Game is about a run behind the other two

Well, maybe this isn't exactly fair to all of the participants. Morgan's youth was spent in an historically poor era for hitters, while Soriano cuts his teeth in an historically favorable era for hitters. Morgan played in a bad hitter's park in Houston. Soriano and Samuel played in pretty good hitters' parks. Let's compensate for era and ballpark and compare OPS and runs created as a percentage of the league average:

                OPS*     RC/G*
Soriano 112 117
Morgan 131 149
Samuel 105 114

You see that they are all above their league averages, but Morgan is 31% in OPS and almost 50% better in runs created whereas the other two are no better than 17% above league average in any category. Soriano is better than but comparable to Samuel. Soriano is only 24, and he is having a much better year this year than last but has to do a lot more to earn the comparisons to Morgan.

. . .

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