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Defensible position

Numbers show Soriano should stay at second base

Posted: Thursday March 23, 2006 4:17PM; Updated: Thursday March 23, 2006 5:51PM
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Alfonso Soriano played left field for the first time in his career on Wednesday.
Alfonso Soriano played left field for the first time in his career on Wednesday.
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Pillory Alfonso Soriano if you like, but at least give the skinny, shy second baseman -- err, left fielder -- from the Dominican Republic credit for standing up for himself by sitting out an exhibition game earlier this week. This is what passes for civil disobedience in this country nowadays, even if it is coming from a pro athlete making an eight-figure salary.

Soriano was upset about being moved from second base to the outfield, where he has played nary a single game during his major league career. By Wednesday, he was back on the field trying to learn a new position that he hopes will only be a one-year temporary assignment before he leaves town via free agency.

This wouldn't be an issue had the Nationals not traded a better, cheaper outfielder (Brad Wilkerson, among others) to the Rangers for Soriano despite already having an All-Star at the position. The duty of helping the franchise save face for a trade that didn't make sense on any level was bestowed upon Soriano, who naturally took umbrage at the treatment.

Granted, Soriano is no Bill Mazeroski with the leather. To even label him as "adequate" would be generous. But Soriano isn't necessarily wrong in his stated desire to remain at second base, either, if not for the Nationals then for the next team he plays for. Let me explain by taking a closer look at exactly how costly his defense is to a ball club compared with what he adds with his bat.

According to John Dewan's recently released The Fielding Bible, which uses video of every play from last season to come up with its numbers, Soriano ranked 34th among second baseman in 2005. He was expected to make 496 plays. Instead he made only 474, for a plus/minus rating of minus-22.

A play not made that results in a single costs a team about three fourths of a run, which means Soriano cost the Rangers about 16 runs on defense -- the rough equivalent of 1.5 wins. A ball club can live with that. Heck, Derek Jeter was even worse on defense -- a minus-34 according to Dewan's system -- and the Yankees still won 95 games. The bottom line is that Soriano, like Jeter, produces enough offensively that you can overlook the shoddy glove work.

Soriano's bat was worth 89 runs created, the third best total among AL second baseman. Take 16 away from 89 and you get a player who was worth plus-73 runs to the Rangers last season. That's not bad. I don't know if a ball club should pay $10 million for that, which is what Soriano will make this year, but he's a more useful player than he's being given credit for by his critics, who seem to have grown in number rather quickly lately.

Part of the anti-Soriano sentiment has come from the new wave of "pitching and defense" disciples spawned by the White Sox' championship. Whether your team succeeds through superior run prevention or run production, the bottom line remains the same: winning comes down to scoring more runs than you allow, regardless of what combination you use to get there. If your club can rake at the plate and pitch at a halfway-decent level, you can still win with a subpar defense (i.e., the 2005 Yankees). If you give away too many outs with sacrifice bunts and caught-stealings to have an effective offense (the 2005 White Sox), you'd better make up for it by having stud pitchers like Mark Buerhle and speedy outfielders like Scott Podsednik and Aaron Rowand turning extra-base hits into outs on defense.