Set Your Phasers to Terrified: Dale Sveum Says Alfonso Soriano Leading Off is Possible

Oh my. It’s early. Very, very early. But. Oh my.

When asked about his decision to bat Alfonso Soriano leadoff in yesterday’s intrasquad game (a decision that was properly met with “whatever, it’s a scrimmage, who cares?”), Chicago Cubs manager Dale Sveum responded unnervingly.

“You can possibly see just about anything,” Sveum said when asked about Soriano at the top of the order. “But like I said, the middle of March, March 20, you’ll find out that I have made up my mind.”

Ok, so that’s not so bad. Everything’s on the table. No big deal, right? Just the media having some early March fun, right? Not so.

You know how you know there’s a little bit of legitimacy here? Sveum actually approached Soriano about the possibility of leading off in the future. That’s where the terror enters.

“He asked me a couple days ago what I thought about batting leadoff and I said, ‘I’m open,’” Soriano said. “My last time batting leadoff here was two, three years ago. I said to the manager, I’m open to any decision he makes. It’s more important for me that I’m feeling good and we’ll see what happens.”

The very fact that such a conversation took place absolutely terrifies me.

Sveum went on to offer a possible justification for batting Soriano leadoff. Again, it was terrifying.

“The one thing about Soriano is that his numbers as a leadoff hitter are pretty good in his career whether he’s leading off a game or leading off an inning, his numbers are pretty incredible over his career,” Sveum said. “ If you want to get into the details of why you might come up with something like that it could be as simple as that.”

Yes, it just so happens that Soriano is magically able to hit better when he’s leading off. His numbers trending downward in the last three years have nothing to do with his aging body – the Cubs were just stupid and stopped batting him leadoff! What were they thinking!?

Setting aside the fact that Soriano’s OBP as a leadoff hitter in his career is still just .338 (and just .331 leading off an inning), using this logic, the Cubs should move Soriano back to second base. After all, he hits .280/.321/.499 and steals bases at a heroic clip when he plays second base. Make the move!

Maybe Dale just means Soriano might lead off against lefties, you say? Sure. I mean, Soriano’s OBP last year crept all the way up to a lofty .312 against left-handed pitchers last year. Clearly, he’s meant to be a leadoff man again!

Seriously. Dale. You can’t possibly believe these things that you’re saying. Alfonso Soriano hit .244/.289/.469 last year, and I promise you that it had nothing to do with him not hitting leadoff.

Indeed, even considering the clandestine meeting between Sveum and Soriano about leading off, I simply don’t believe Sveum is actually considering it. I don’t know what his end-game here is (trying to get Soriano to work on his overall approach? See more pitches?), but it isn’t to turn Soriano into a leadoff hitter. It just isn’t.

(Finally, before you say that the leadoff decision is overrated because the guy only leads off once per game, (1) that’s flatly untrue – thanks to BN’er Jeff W. and research from Sean Forman at Baseball Reference, I can tell you that, for all half innings in 2008 (as an example), the leadoff hitter led off an inning 9144 times (the next closest is number two, who led off just 5080 times); and (2) the leadoff batter gets the most at bats on the team over the course of the season – is Soriano the guy on the Cubs you want getting the most at bats?)

Brett Taylor is the editor and lead writer at Bleacher Nation, and can also be found as Bleacher Nation on Twitter and on Facebook.

70 responses to “Set Your Phasers to Terrified: Dale Sveum Says Alfonso Soriano Leading Off is Possible”

  1. Ron Sposato

    Brett,

    I just think he is leaving any door open. I do not believe he is actually considering it.

  2. MightyBear

    I like the idea. Then he won’t whiff with runners in scoring position and less than two outs. There can’t be anybody on base when he leads off the game, so he can’t leave them stranded.

  3. Stan

    I’ve gotten my daily dosage of sarcasm now.

  4. ferrets_bueller
  5. Deez

    I like the idea as well. That’s where he was most comfortable & his most productive throughout his career. Soriano is not a middle of the order run producer.

  6. Andrew

    I think Soriano needs to be in a position where there is some help behind him so that he can get some fastballs. Hitting him leadoff would do this and probably make him have better stats. That being said, thats not where he should hit. I think Quade made a big mistake hitting him 7th so often because with no protection, pitchers will never give him anything to hit. I’d say put him fifth between Lahair and Soto. Soto has a good eye so he can handle batting lower in the order than soriano and has the pop to ensure pitchers have to throw some fastballs to soriano.

    1. JR Cubs

      I never thought hitting Soriano 6th or 7th was smart. 6th-8th is the positions that batters see the least fastballs, because the pitcher is behind them. Yes having a guy that had a .289 obp as a lead off hitter is scary. But imo I think it is smart (for a variety of reasons) to put him in the best position as possible to put up stats, and that is probably leading off. Bottom line is he sucks big time, and the Cubs need him to put up numbers to trade his ass.

  7. Tarheel Cub

    Pull a LaRussa and bat him in the pitcher’s spot…

    Oh, did he manage to get on base yesterday?

  8. Dan

    The reason for Soriano to bet lead off would be…, to increase his trade value! The more at bats, the more home runs! DUH!!!

    Think about it, instead of 25 home runs from Soriano, he may get 35 home runs. That could save the Cubs 10-15 million in a trade for Soriano. The Cubs are going cheap.

    By the way, I’m kinda being sarcastic? i think…

  9. Cheryl

    It does make some sense. It may be the only place where Soriano can bat without the pressure of people in scoring position. But this may only be something Sveum is consdidering.

  10. spencer

    How many career lead off homers does he have? I know everyone bitches about his obp and rightfully so, but there are far worse options.

    1. DBT

      Some old numbers on Sori leading off:

      http://wrigleyville23.com/2009-articles/april/soriano_a_solid_leadoff_hitter.html

      (This is not to suggest he should lead off. Just some old numbers that are/were interesting.)

  11. Guancous

    Eh, it’s not like this decision will prevent the Cubs from getting home field advantage. Their main goal is arguably creating trade value for Soriano. It’s worth a loss over the course of a season if Soriano performs better and saves the Cubs a couple million dollars.

    1. BFiddy

      If your goal is to create trade value, put him after Castro and before LaHair/Soto to try and get him some fastballs with guys on base.

      Batting him leadoff won’t create trade value…it will make him look worse.

      1. Bric

        The dude’s been in the league for almost 15 years. He’s probably played under 15 or more coaches and batting coaches. It’s not like anybody in the league doesn’t already know who he is and what he does. Even if he hit .350 with 8 homers in April and May in the 3 spot the issue wouldn’t be his numbers. It would be his attitude, ability to stay healthy, and how much the Cubs are willing to eat of his contract and whether it’s worth it to pick him up. Playing him where he wants would go a long way in being able to move him.

      2. DocWimsey

        Almost none of the contending teams really use RBI as a “value” statistic anymore: they all know that those are a product of slugging and team OBP.  If Sori is posting a decent slash-line and a contending team suddenly needs a DH (which probably will not happen), then there is the possibility of a trade if the Cubs will eat a big chunk of the contract.

        Frankly, given the number of AAAA guys out there, it does astound me that teams ever have problems filling the DH slot…

    2. Bric

      That’s what I was thinking. The Cubs are in rebuilding mode and Soriano’s last three years of contract are only in that plan because they can’t move him. May as well put him where he’s most comfortable in order to be happiest, and therefore, most productive for what he is- a power hitter with a huge bat and big time strike out ability. He’s going to be who he is regardless of where you put him.

      For years Lou, the media, the fans, everybody wanted him to bat anywhere but wherever he happened to be at the time. The clear solution was and still is that the only place he should be batting is on an AL team.

  12. John

    Sounds like your brief love affair with Sveum is over Brett. You guys crack me up. Spring games haven’t really started yet and you’re going thru a childhood tantrum about Soriano batting leadoff. Give Sveum a break. Let him maneuver and experiment. Geez. I have more faith in him than you. Awww, don’t pout. Maybe law is the Best thing for you.

  13. optimist

    This is the kind of article that makes me reconsider whether or not to visit this site. I’ve always loved Bleacher Nation because of its objective and generally positive, optimistic fan-based articles. The site has been a great summary of the day’s Cubs news, bringing together all the sources and articles into one cohesive location. Bleacher Nation has been a breath of fresh air in the world of bitchy, whiney, sarcastic sports blogs and talk radio stations.

    Unfortunately, this article reminds me of the opinionated, pedantic, negative sports opinion I came to Bleacher Nation to avoid.

    1. Can't think of a cool name

      I don’t find the article negative. Brett is stating his opinion (and probably the opinion of many Cub fans) with facts to back it up.

  14. Cerambam

    Ya well I love it here

  15. ferrets_bueller

    The only worse options, IMO, are Barney and Campana.

    1. JasonB

      While I have been very vocal about my thoughts on Barney in the past, I am at least encouraged about the muscle that he added in the offseason.  He’s never going to have HR power, but if he can at least develop gap power, then pitchers won’t be able to throw him grapefruits at will anymore, which should lead to more walks to go along with the higher Slg % associated with more doubles and triples.  He runs the bases well and he plays defense so even slightly better offensive production will turn him into a very good baseball player.

  16. Mark

    Let Sveum manage by creativity for awhile. He is going to have to be creative this season.
    It will take trying a lot of different attempts to win half of our games.

  17. die hard

    Sveum may be using this as a distraction to keep focus off of the other more meaningful moves in the works which may be undetected as of now. Dont know what they can be but they must be out there somewhere. Will keep lookng.

  18. Theo Epstein Speaks: Spring Training, Bunt Tournament, Lineup Construction, Pitching Depth, Dominican Facility | Bleacher Nation | Chicago Cubs News, Rumors, and Commentary

    [...] Theo hasn’t been paying attention to peoples’ reaction to Soriano leading off yesterday, saying that it’s important to note the date. “I wouldn’t put a lot into it, and lineups are overblown as it is.” Theo says it’s hard to screw up a lineup, and also hard to get an advantage. There are a few basic principles of lineup construction, and Dale understands them. I took that to mean that, as I guessed, we won’t actually be seeing Soriano in the leadoff spot, despite how terrifyingly real Sveum and Soriano made the idea sound. [...]

  19. Deez

    FACE IT!
    We are stuck w/ Soriano until 2014.
    Nobody wants him.
    This says nothing about his work ethic or him as a person.
    We couldn’t get rid of Soriano offering to eat upwards of $45M of the rest of his salary.
    The Cubs on paper look horrible this year.
    We have no true middle of the order guys anymore.
    Try him at the leadoff spot & see what he can generate for us.

  20. Nick

    I’m with Mark give Sveum some time and just be excited that he is willing to try somethings right or wrong. If magically Soriano works in the lead off spot great if not lets hope he switches it up we’re going to need some magic anyway this season. If he keeps running him out there while struggling then we have a problem.

    Brett I’m actually a little excited to see it after your previous write up about how hard working Soriano is, prior to that I was as down on him as any one for being lazy and overpaid. That was a great writing and I appreciated it.

    This could also be more about finding run producers long term as well.

  21. terencem

    Maybe this is just a carrot to dangle in front of Soriano to see if he can try to improve his pitch selection and patience at the plate?

    1. DocWimsey

      That’s something upon which players only rarely improve even at the minor league level.  It’s not going to happen to mid-30′s big-leaguer.

  22. Ian Afterbirth

    I’m not as concerned with where Soriano hits as where some of the kids hit.
    I would decide where everyone else is most comfortable and productive and then put Soriano in the slot that’s left over. I’m a little more concerned about batting Castro third for instance. I want him to keep developing without undue pressure. This team is going to have a hard time scoring runs and I don’t want Castro feeling responsible for it.
    Soriano, whatever he does or does not contribute, is what he is and his development is moot.

  23. OCCubFan

    I think everyone is overreacting. Brett wrote:
    “You know how you know there’s a little bit of legitimacy here? Sveum actually approached Soriano about the possibility of leading off in the future. That’s where the terror enters.
    “He asked me a couple days ago what I thought about batting leadoff and I said, ‘I’m open,’” Soriano said.”
    Undoubtedly, Sveum talked to Soriano and probably discussed the lineup, but we have only Soriano’s version of the details. It is not a disparagement of Soriano or his integrity to suggested that he might have reported things differently than what Sveum intended to say. Even if you know what both people in a conversation think was said and why, you still don’t know the truth. People remember things differently and infer motivations on the other that might not have been intended.

  24. Nick

    I guess Barney in the leadoff spot is the same concept. Maybe this has more to do with getting a look at DeJesus in a run producing spot oppose to who’s leading off? I see DeJesus had a couple of seasons with 70 RBIs in KC. What’s a bigger weakness lack of run producers or a lack of a leadoff hitter? Probably not a good sign when you have both. And I’m not seeing a whole lot of OB% in this group either, yikes.

    Could it be the old righty lefty thing?

    Soriano- R
    Stewart- L
    Castro- R
    LaHair- L
    Byrd- R
    DeJesus- L
    Soto- R
    Barney- R

  25. bt

    It’s not like he is blocking Rickey Henderson.

  26. TeddyBallGame

    He’s not batting leadoff, let’s be serious…noone besides Soriano and Sveum know the context of that convo and for all we know, Sveum was laughing as he asked him. I feel like Sveum might be messing with us, he CAN’T be seriously thinking about him being our leadoff hitter Opening Day..

  27. jim

    I am impressed! Soriano shud be leadoff! This is just intelligent, logical thinking instead of being held hostage to preconceptions.

  28. NEcubsfan

    This would be really stupid if we had any other legitimate option at lead off this year. However, if we are going nowhere and Soriano produces best leading off, is this necessarily a bad idea? Would this not at least improve his trade value in the hopes of dumping him before next year?

  29. Tony S

    It is possible the leadoff conversation between dale and alphonso was specific to that one game.