There’s a Bat Coming Soon

July 30, 2012 at 6:56 am | Posted in Alfonso Soriano, Shane Victorino | Leave a comment

After so many years of writing this blog, I’ve been lucky enough to know some people who know some people – and if you’re reading this, no I’m not talking about you, or you, but oh, you? yes, it’s you – and the more I hear, the more I believe that the Dodgers are going to end up with either Shane Victorino or Alfonso Soriano (along with Ryan Dempster) in the 30 hours or so before the deadline hits.

This is not to say that I know for sure that either of those things are going to happen, because any deal can fall apart until the last second, or even that the Dodgers won’t surprise us with something completely out of left field (…or first base) that will knock our socks off. I kind of hope they do, but for the moment, let’s investigate these two seemingly most-likely possibilities.

Keeping in mind that it’s impossible to pre-judge a deal when we don’t know exactly what other players or dollar figures would be involved, Victorino & Soriano represent two very different paths to add another bat to the lineup. Actually, let’s back up for a second; for all of the ink spilled about how the Dodgers desperately need to upgrade at first, third, and shortstop (part of which was resolved by adding Hanley Ramirez, of course), the eight different Dodgers who have started a game in left field have been pretty awful as well. That group, led mostly by Bobby Abreu & Juan Rivera, have combined for a .273 wOBA which bests only Pittsburgh across MLB; if you switch to fWAR, which includes defense, they are dead last. That shouldn’t come as a total surprise, since Rivera’s signing was a mistake from the start and after a nice initial impression, Abreu has been brutal for two months, hitting only .207/.313/.288 with poor defense since June 1. This, much like the “anyone but Uribe” crowd, represents a situation where even someone flawed can represent an upgrade.

So yes, despite the vitriol still out there for James Loney & Juan Uribe, left field is a pretty big need as well, and Victorino & Soriano represent diametric opposites at this point. After some on-and-off years with Chicago, the 36-year-old Soriano is having something of a bounceback season for the Cubs, hitting .274/.324/.507 with 19 homers and defense that surprisingly ranks as average to slightly-above, depending on which (if any) of the advanced metrics you trust. I’ll be the first to admit that defensive metrics have a long way to go, and I’m not sure I buy the idea that he is somehow a “plus” outfielder, though it does seem we may need to admit that his reputation as an absolute trainwreck out there may seem to be slightly undeserved. To be honest, I was a little surprised in looking at Soriano’s last few seasons that he was never quite as bad as I had expected; yes, last year’s .289 OBP is ugly, but I was expecting Andruw Jones levels of futility based on what you hear about him, yet he’s hit between 20-33 dingers in each of his five previous five seasons as a Cub, so at least the power is still there, and without much of a platoon split.

The main problem with Soriano, of course, is that his contract is still brutal. Even if the Cubs pick up a significant portion of the $42m owed to him, you’re still left with a player signed for his age-37 and -38 seasons, at a time where outfield might be one of the few places where free agency offers upgrades. Soriano seems a clear upgrade for 2012, but how much can he be counted on for the next two years? It’s a difficult question to answer, especially in the non-DH league.

Victorino is only 31 – and seemingly one of the most hated players by Dodger fans, though I’m trying to just look at performance here – but he’s potentially cost himself tens of millions of dollars this year. (Lest you forget, he was saying last winter how he would be looking for a five-year contract this offseason, which seems laughable now; he seems like the next Aaron Rowand to me.) While he’s still providing quality defense in center and would presumably be even better in left, he’s suffering through the worst offensive season of his career, hitting only .261/.324/.401, or basically what Soriano is doing minus 100 points of slugging percentage. (Though he did have three hits and a homer off of Tim Hudson yesterday.)

A few days ago, Jack Moore looked at Victorino’s struggles at FanGraphs:

Victorino lost the ability to use left field as a left-handed batter in 2010, when he posted a .191 wOBA (8 wRC+) to the opposite field. Since then, Victorino has just eight extra base hits to left — seven doubles and a triple — with five of them coming in the 2011 season. This year, the power to the pull field has disappeared as well. For the first time in his career (outside of 2003′s cup of coffee) Victorino has a wRC+ below 100 as a lefty going to right field, at 73.

Instead of lofting the ball for doubles and home runs, Victorino is pounding the ball into the ground on the right side for outs. His 68.2% ground ball rate is a career high and his 11.4% line drive rate in the split is a career low. And the fly balls aren’t leaving the yard — his 16.7% HR/FB ties a career low (2006, 2008, and 2009 as well).

Victorino still has real value to offer a team, but he hasn’t looked like an everyday major league player this season. His deficiencies as a left-handed batter are getting too widespread to ignore, and it’s unlikely teams will be willing to give up major-league ready talent for a platoon outfielder.

That still makes him better than the current collection of Los Angeles left field dreck, particularly if he was platooned effectively to face lefties only, though I’m not sure I could see that happening in practice. The additional appeal is obvious, however: as a free agent following the season, he’s owed only about $4m and carries no further obligation.

Again, it’s difficult to compare these two players in a vacuum, because of the hugely differing contract situations and the fact that Soriano would almost certainly be part of a Dempster deal, making the overall package more complicated, but if I had to choose here… I think I’d have to go Soriano. He seems more helpful right now – I love that he doesn’t have such a platoon split, like Victorino does – and assuming that the Cubs are going to pay down as much of his contract as they can in order to get a better prospect, what’s left might not be so much that the Dodgers can’t just cut him over the next year or two if he suddenly goes all Garret Anderson on us.

Of course, so much can happen between now and the deadline, even though it’s only tomorrow afternoon. Maybe it’s not either of these two, but instead Hunter Pence or Josh Willingham or Shin-Soo Choo or B.J. Upton, or an infielder, or someone we haven’t even dreamed about. If it does come down to Soriano or Victorino, however, I think I’d have to lean Soriano (depending on cost, of course). He seems like the better bet to help the team in their playoff push this year, and besides – who really wants to root for Shane Victorino?


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