Last year on Thanksgiving, I published a post titled, "Paul Konerko Deserves Some of Your Turkey Today." At the time, the White Sox first baseman was entering his 18th season (15th with Chicago), but I had a feeling the good times were about to end. Konerko went on to hit .244/.313/.355 with 12 home runs, 41 runs and 54 RBIs in 520 plate appearances, performing worse than even I anticipated.
Konerko might not even play in 2014, which would put an end to any sort of Hall of Fame candidacy consideration. Even so, Konerko, 37, has had a hell of a career. The White Sox vet has gone deep 434 times, and, according to Baseball Reference, his 162-game average is a .281 batting average with 31 home runs, 82 runs and 99 RBIs. Not bad at all. Konerko won't have his day in Cooperstown, but he's a shoo-in as one of Chicago's all-time greats. Continuing the trend of raining on a good guy's parade on a day that's typically reserved for family, thanks and pies, I fear another former Chicagoan is about to regress considerably in 2014.
Alfonso Soriano has hit and admired 406 home runs and swiped 288 bags with the Yankees, Rangers, Nationals and Cubs in 15 major league seasons. Most recently, the 37-year-old hit .255/.302/.489 with 34 home runs, 84 runs, 101 RBIs and 18 steals in 626 PAs split between the Cubs and Yankees.
After signing an eight-year, $136 million deal with the Cubs prior to the 2007, the hype surrounding Soriano was immeasurable. The multi-dimensional outfielder had just recorded a 46/41 season with Washington, and Chicago's new leadoff man was supposed to help end the city's 100-years-and-counting World Series' drought. It didn't end that way, of course, but Soriano did hit .264/.317/.495 with 181 home runs, 526 RBIs and 70 steals in seven seasons on the North Side. Certainly nothing to sneeze at (insert Sammy Sosa joke here).
Soriano mixed in some good seasons with some bad seasons during his time in Chicago, but it's the last two years that really make your eyes pop. Since 2012, Soriano has smacked 66 home runs (sixth most in baseball) and 209 RBIs (fifth most), and he's one of only three players with 30 home runs and 100 RBIs in back-to-back seasons. The other two: Miguel Cabrera and Edwin Encarnacion. With a full season in New York on the horizon, one would assume that Soriano should once again approach 30 home runs and 100 RBIs. He did, after all, hit 17 of his 34 home runs after being traded from Chicago to New York, and in 143 fewer at-bats. But I don't think it's that simple.
Soriano's ground ball rate jumped from 35.8 percent in 2012 to 38 percent in 2013, and a vast majority of those balls went to the left side of the infield. Teams could start using a modified shift against a pull-happy, right-handed hitter like Soriano, which could kill a lot of his RBI opportunities. Would it surprise you if Joe Maddon's Rays applied this strategy? Soriano also displayed ugly splits last season, hitting .236/.278/.456 against right-handers. With such a low on-base percentage, it's possible his playing time becomes somewhat of a platoon variety as the season goes on. And with a slow start, that time could come sooner rather than later.
According to ESPN's Home Run Tracker, 10 of Soriano's 34 home runs last year ranked in the "just enough," category, which was the 15th most in baseball. More specifically, eight out of 10 came post-trade, and six of those occurred at Yankee Stadium. Soriano's batted ball distance did go up in 2013, but I'm not going to bank on as many "just enough" home runs in 2014.
Like Konerko last season, I fear age will catch up to Soriano, who turns 38 in January. Expecting 18 steals again from a 38-year-old is foolish, as Soriano totaled 13 steals in the previous three seasons combined. While 20-25 home runs are still in play, I certainly won't be relying on a 34-home run repeat. He finished as the No. 10 outfielder in 2013, according to the ESPN Player Rater, but Soriano won't make my top-35 outfielders in 2014.
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