When the Chicago Cubs inked Alfonso Soriano to an eight-year, $136 million contract in November 2006, many people were concerned that Chicago was paying a lot for a player who was already 30 years old. Not many, GM Jim Hendry presumably among them, expected Soriano's numbers to nosedive halfway through the deal. But that's what happened, with Soriano hitting .241/.303/.423 with 20 homers for the Cubs last season. To help salvage their big investment (as well as the rest of the Cubs' offense), the club hired former Texas Rangers hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo. But how much can one coach do?
To figure it out, let's first calculate what we can expect realistically expect from Soriano in 2010. According to ZiPS, the computer projection system I created, the 34-year-old will hit .268/.327/.494 with 25 homers. That's a far cry from the 46 homers he clubbed for the Nationals in 2006, but it's still a lot better than his 2009 line.
Why does ZiPS see such a bounce-back? From 2006-2008, Soriano had an OPS of .897. In 2009, his OPS was .726, a drop of 171 points. Looking at other players between 30 and 35 years old throughout baseball history, there have been 78 instances of full-time players losing 150-200 points of OPS from their 3-year averages. On average, these players gained back 76 points of OPS back the following season. Even without Jaramillo, there's reason for optimism with Soriano.
And an examination of Jaramillo's career gives us even more reason to be bullish on the Cubs' leftfielder in 2010.
In 19 seasons as a hitting coach (four with the Astros, 15 with the Rangers), Jaramillo has worked with scores of hitters. So I went back in time, projected every player for his first full-time season (400 PA+) with Jaramillo to see how much of an effect the coach had in his first year.
In total, I projected 58 players for their first seasons with Jaramillo. On average, the 58 players exceeded their OPS projections by 18 points, with more than a quarter of the players (16 of 58) beating the computer by at least 50 points. It's difficult to use statistics to evaluate a coach, but given that Jaramillo's charges have a solid history of matching or beating expectations and the Rangers have had solid offenses for most of the past 15 years, there's at least some indication that he knows what he's doing.
We are already projecting Soriano to post an .821 OPS. If we add 18 points on to that, it's .839. That might not be what the Cubs were expecting when they signed Soriano, but considering his performance last year, folks on the North Side would surely be thrilled.
Dan Szymborski is the editor in chief of Baseball Think Factory.