Monday, July 7, 2014

Is Alfonso Soriano a Hall-of-Famer?

For the 2nd time, Alfonso Soriano is no longer a Yankee. He was designated for assignment yesterday. He's 38 years old, and could be picked up by someone else. But, with a .221 batting average, and his vaunted speed gone, he probably won't be a serious contributor to a postseason run.

If Soriano never plays another big-league game -- currently a possibility -- then he would be eligible for the Baseball Hall of Fame in the election of January 2020. Has he done enough to get himself elected?

Alfonso Guilleard Soriano was born January 7, 1976 in San Pedro de Macoris, in the Dominican Republic -- the city once known as the Cradle of Shortstops. In spite of this, his positional breakdown in the major leagues currently stands as follows: 1,056 games in left field, 766 at 2nd base, 26 in right field, 12 in center field, 11 at 3rd base and 10 at shortstop.

He made his major league debut on September 14, 1999, at the SkyDome (now the Rogers Centre) in Toronto. Wearing Number 58, he pinch-ran for Darryl Strawberry in the 8th inning, and succeeded him as the Yankees' designated hitter. He came to bat in the 9th, against Blue Jays pitcher Paul Spoljaric, and flew out to left field. The Yankees trailed 6-1 going into the 8th, but exploded to win 10-6, making a winner of Ramiro Mendoza, in relief of David Cone.

Soriano played for the Yankees from 1999 to 2003, but did not make enough plate appearances to get a World Series ring in either 1999 or 2000 (he wore Number 53 that season). His first full season was 2001, wearing Number 33, and he did make the postseason roster, having succeeded Chuck Knoblauch as the starting 2nd baseman. He finished 3rd in the AL Rookie of the Year voting, behind 2 future teammates, Ichiro Suzuki of the Seattle Mariners and CC Sabathia of the Cleveland Indians. He almost became a tremendous Yankee postseason hero, hitting a go-ahead home run in the top of the 8th inning of Game 7 of the World Series, but the Yankees ended up losing the game. If the Yankees had held on, and won their 4th straight World Series, their 5th in 6 years, who knows how long Soriano might have stayed?

In 2002, switching to Number 12, which he has worn ever since, he led the American League in plate appearances, at-bats, hits, runs and stolen bases. With 41 steals and 39 home runs, he missed by 1 homer becoming the first Yankee to hit 40 homers and steal 40 bases in the same season. He made his 1st All-Star Game, and finished 3rd in the AL Most Valuable Player voting, behind Miguel Tejada of the Oakland Athletics and future teammate Alex Rodriguez of the Texas Rangers -- both later outed as steroid users. However, he vanished in the postseason, batting just .118 in the AL Division Series against the Anaheim Angels. (He did hit a home run, though.)

In 2003, he again came close to 40-40, with 38 homers and 35 steals, and the Yankees won the Pennant. He batted .368 in the ALDS against the Minnesota Twins, but in the ALCS, against the Boston Red Sox, he was pathetic, batting .133 with 11 strikeouts. (He did have 3 RBIs.) He was little better in the World Series, against the Florid Marlins, batting .227 with 9 strikeouts (though with a 2-run homer). In 38 postseason games to that point, he had 45 strikeouts against only 36 times reaching base (including walks and getting hit by pitches). Midway through the '03 Series, I began calling him "Strikeout Soriano," and I've never stopped.

In the off-season, with the Yankees needing a 3rd baseman because of an injury to Playoff hero Aaron Boone, they traded Soriano to the Rangers for A-Rod. He played 2 seasons for the Rangers, then went to the Washington Nationals in 2006. He hit a career-high 46 home runs and stole 41 bases, becoming only the 4th player ever to join the 40-40 Club -- but the only one ever to do it without steroids. (The others are Jose Canseco, Barry Bonds and A-Rod.)

After that one season in Washington, he went to the Chicago Cubs, and they won the National League Central Division title in each of the next 2 seasons. He remained with the Cubs until last season, when the Yankees brought him back for the stretch drive. He did pretty well last season, but got old in a hurry.

As things currently stand: His lifetime batting average is .270 (not Hall-worthy), his on-base percentage .319 (also not good enough), his slugging percentage an even .500 (better), his OPS+ 112 (good, but not great), his hits 2,095 (well short), with 481 doubles (very good), 31 triples, 412 home runs (not enough), 1,159 RBIs (well short), and 289 stolen bases (or 519 less than Tim Raines, who's not in).

However, of the players with more stolen bases, only 3 have more home runs: The aforementioned Bonds and A-Rod, and Andre Dawson. Dawson is in, and if you don't think PED use should be brought into it, Bonds and A-Rod would be easy choices.

Soriano has played in 7 All-Star Games. Of all the players with 7 or more All-Star berths, who are eligible for the Hall of Fame and are not tainted by PED use (I'm including Mike Piazza, although the evidence against him is still flimsy), there are 16 players not in the Hall. That's too many to list.

Only once has he batted .300, although he just missed 1 other time. He's had 7 30-homer seasons, but only 1 40-homer season. He has 4 100-RBI seasons, as many as Mickey Mantle had. He's never won an MVP, and only twice has he finished in the Top 10.

He's reached postseason play 5 times, but only twice has he played in the World Series, never winning one. His hitting and baserunning have been good, but not great; once suggested as the first player who could have had a 50-50 season, the closest he came was 46-41. His fielding doesn't help: Although he's never been a particularly bad fielder (we're not talking Eduardo Nunez here), he's never come close to winning a Gold Glove.

On Baseball-Reference.com, where the Hall of Fame Monitor has a "Likely HOFer" at 100, Soriano is at 104, suggesting he should be in. But on their Hall of Fame Standards, more weighted toward career stats, an "Average HOFer" is at 50, while he's at 31, putting him well short of consideration.

They list his 10 Most Similar Batters as Shawn Green, Aramis Ramirez, Jim Edmonds, Matt Williams, Torii Hunter, Dale Murphy, Andruw Jones, Ellis Burks, Joe Carter and Carlos Lee. All really good hitters at times. But none is currently in the Hall. Murphy has his supporters. Edmonds would be in the Hall if they considered his defense, and the same would be true (once they're eligible) for Hunter and Jones. Williams' chances were forever ruined by being linked to PEDs. The rest, forget it: They were very good, and occasionally great, but not good enough.

Character doesn't put Soriano over the top: I've never heard of him being a bad teammate or a selfish player, and he's never been involved in a professional or personal scandal (as far as I know) -- but neither have I heard much about him the other way. Nor is there any historic achievement to his name that might push him over. Carter hit a home run that won a World Series (and 396 in the regular season), and he's not in; Bill Mazeroski also did that, and it took him over 30 years to get in.

Put it all together, and I don't think Alfonso Soriano makes the Hall of Fame. It's not even close.

He probably needs at least 2 more great seasons, or 4 more good ones, to get in.

At 38, and having had an awful first half of 2014, he'll be lucky to even get signed by someone else. His career might not be over, but his chances of getting to Cooperstown almost certainly are.

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