On Tuesday, I took a painful look at Alfonso Soriano and his middling production this season. He's been a major drain on the middle of the order and even more un-productive than Brian McCann, and it looked like it was attributable to nothing more than him being old and losing bat speed. On that same day, Matt Bove of IIATMS/TYA also pointed out Soriano's drastic decline in power and spike in strikeouts, which inspired me to dig a little deeper. Turns out Soriano has a major platoon split this season. He's got an .805 OPS against right-handed pitching and a .563 against lefties, with more walks and strikeouts against southpaws.
Knowing that Soriano has been getting beaten badly by the fastball this season, is it possible that Soriano is getting a little of the Derek Jeter treatment and being pitched to in a way by righties that exploits his apparent loss of bat speed?
Yes and no. Right-handers are definitely challenging Soriano more with the fastball than lefties. 33.6% of the pitches he's seen from righties this season have been 4-seam fastballs compared to 23.8% from lefties. The spray chart results on that 33.6% strongly suggest that Soriano has lost enough bat speed to not be able to keep up:
What do you see there? I see a lot of flyballs dying before they even reach the warning track and a lot of GB outs rolled over to the left side of the infield. That distribution pattern holds if you expand the results to include all pitches. If ever there was a visual representation of a free-swinging righty power bat who'd lost a tick, there it is.
But holeonaminuteplaya! It's not that simple. Soriano's swing plot doesn't suggest there's any attempt by righties to pitch to any particular location with their fastballs:
That's not somebody being busted hard inside and not being able to get around, that's a guy just straight up not being able to handle a fastball anywhere in the strike zone. Almost as even a distribution as you can have, with plenty of good pitches to hit up in the zone and over the plate, and Soriano is doing nothing with them whether he makes contact or not.
That and the fact that Soriano is whiffing on 4-seamers at almost a 15.0% rate against right and left-handers adds further credence to the idea that he might just be shot. He's not really being pitched to much differently than he was last season and pitchers don't appear to be going out of their way to attack him with their fastballs a certain way. Obviously this does little to inspire confidence that Soriano can turn things around, but it does make it easier to justify Joe keeping him out of the lineup more moving forward, especially with Beltran coming back.
(Stats and plots courtesy of Texas Leaguers)