What’s the Answer?

To leadoff or not to leadoff is the question Lou Piniella has to find an answer to once Alfonso Soriano returns from the DL. A report last week on Cubs.com indicated Soriano is pain free and several reports later in the week stated that when Soriano returns on Thursday against the Brewers he will hit first in the Cubs lineup. But the Cubs are 9-4 since he injured himself on the hop back on April 15th. With Reed Johnson in the starting lineup, the Cubs are 12-4, so where should Soriano hit in the new OBP oriented lineup? First things first, by no means is this article suggesting Alfonso Soriano should not be in the starting lineup once he returns….much less be traded. Lou Piniella has a very good problem right now, too many players performing and not enough spots on the field. The Cubs offense did struggle last week toward the end of the 13-game stretch without a day off and Soriano’s return should help spark the offense. With that out of the way, Alfonso Soriano should have seen the last lineup card with his name listed first on a daily basis.

Injuries to his legs have taken away Soriano’s best asset. Teams are no longer afraid of him getting on base to start the game. The days of Soriano seeing fastballs are long gone and teams are taking advantage of his lack of plate discipline. The book on Soriano appears to be a steady diet of breaking balls and outside pitches. Until he quits trying to pull everything he will continue to swing and miss….or ground out to short.

Soriano must be on the field. As inconsistent as his defense can be in left, he gives Piniella an invaluable weapon in the outfield….the ability to throw out runner after runner at home plate. All of those assists are game changing plays and must not be overlooked. Piniella now has the challenge of where to hit him in the lineup to maximize his abilities for the good of the team.

Reed Johnson is providing results right now and it is no secret Lou Piniella plays the hot hand. Johnson is hitting .258 out of the leadoff spot, which is not very impressive, but his OBP is .395 from the top spot. Johnson might not be the prototypical leadoff hitter, but he is getting on base and sparking the offense….he has scored 8 runs in 8 games hitting first in Piniella’s order.

The middle of the lineup should not be touched. Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez and Kosuke Fukudome are a very formidable trio that has been very successful over the first month of the season. Soriano cannot hit second, that has been proven. So what would a Cubs’ lineup look like with Soriano hitting sixth behind Fukudome?

Greg Couch stated his thoughts on Sunday morning on where Soriano should hit….and he thinks Soriano should follow Fukudome on most days as well.

Inserting Soriano behind Kosuke Fukudome would not only give Soriano more RBI opportunities, it will likely create an additional advantage for Fukudome. Teams would not want to face Soriano with a runner or runners on base and would try to avoid doing so. Soriano and the constant threat of the long ball would give Fukudome, an extremely disciplined hitter, more pitches he can handle. Not only would Soriano give a lot of power to the bottom third of the order but on days when all four players are in the lineup, the Cubs could arguably have the best three through six hitters in the National League, if not all of baseball. Think about it, how would an opposing manager pitch around this foursome…. Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez, Kosuke Fukudome and Alfonso Soriano.

Inserting Soriano behind Fukudome would also take away the pressure of him trying to run at the top of the order and would allow him to fully recover from the leg injuries that have slowed him down since becoming a Cub. Soriano is a game-changing player that has the ability to carry a team when he is hot. Hitting lower in the order would also hide him when he is in a slump….all of those games where he does a lot of “swinging and missing.”

Soriano has performed decently in the sixth spot during his career. In a very small sample size, .292/.292/.542/.833 with 7 doubles and 2 home runs in 9 games (7-for-24).

Sorianocareernumbers.jpg
(Click to Enlarge Image)

Ryan Theriot has hit quite well behind Reed Johnson and Soriano this season (.389/.441/.593/1.033) and Piniella could use Mark DeRosa in the 2-hole as well. DeRosa has done a very good job behind Fukudome but his ability to put the ball in play and willingness to do what is best for the team might be a good fit hitting second ahead of Derrek Lee.

Soriano hitting sixth would give Piniella plenty of options for spots 2, 7 and 8….Geovany Soto, Ronny Cedeno, Ryan Theriot, Mark DeRosa. Both Theriot and Cedeno have an improved their approach at the plate and shown an ability to work the count. The eighth spot in a National League lineup is very important to the success of a team….unless you are the Brewers or the Cardinals.

On days when Felix Pie plays, Theriot could hit leadoff or Piniella could insert Soriano in the spot he says he’s the most comfortable. While sporadic time at the top of the lineup might not be a bad thing, for the long term good of the team, Soriano must be moved down in the lineup.

The Cubs have the pieces….starting Thursday it will be up to Piniella to put the puzzle together.