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?)