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You can go home again

One evening after A.J. Burnett performed his own form of Operation: Shutdown on the Nats, Toronto and Washington renew . . . pleasantries? A former sort-of rivalry, once-removed? I don't know. Anyway, God love interleague play.

Shawn Hill, local boy, takes the hill for the Nats. Ted Lilly is his opposite number. At 7-7, Lilly is on pace for nearly 30 decisions this year; for some reason, I find that cool.

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Bluebird Banter covers a number of Toronto-related stuff today (Alexis Rios, Burnett, Josh Towers' sucky suckiness), but also takes a look at Alfonso Soriano:

Upon arriving in Washington, almost everyone (myself included) pointed to his .639 OPS on the road as evidence that he would falter away from the friendly confines of Arlington. Well, this season he's posted a .985 OPS at home, which has helped silence the critics. With that said, I'm skeptical about whether he can keep it up. In June, he's batted .224/.321/.429 in 98 AB, which seems to be more in line with most people's preseason projections.

Well that's silly. We all saw Soriano blowing up, way before the season started. Except for Needham, of course.

Mark, the Bluebird Banterer, continues:

It's likely that his solid play was spawned by the fact that he's in a contract year and looking for a big pay day in the offseason. However, as a corner outfielder his stats aren't nearly as impressive as they'd be for a second baseman. At the moment, he ranks 18th among all outfielders in OPS, only .002 ahead of Raul Ibanez. However, it's highly likely (and somewhat unfortunate) that Soriano will be paid much more handsomely than Ibanez in the coming years.

That's for sure. Anyway, check out Bluebird Banter---good blog, especially if you're interested in the Blue Jays.

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Frank Bundy III from the At Home Plate website recently took a look at Soriano's 2006 campaign and noted:

While there are many reasons to believe Soriano will go through a decline as the season wears on (just look at the discrepancy between his career stats above and his 2006 stats), I don't think it will be that harsh a fall. Why? Because this season Soriano is doing something he has never done before; showing patience at the plate.

{chart and rationale snipped}

The improvement is there, and is impossible to deny. Soriano is a better hitter in 2006 than he has ever been. Swinging at "your pitch," and spitting on ones outside of the strike zone is the very principle that hitting is based on, and when a player can do this he is altogether more productive.

While a players patience is not a facet of the game that he can decisively improve by leaps and bounds, it isn't impossible to be more selective; and Soriano is doing just that. While a small decline is most likely upcoming, a large one probably is not.

I don't know; could be. (On an unrelated note, a poster in the Baseball Primer discussion of Bundy's post alluded to something I noted a few weeks ago: Soriano's percentage of fly balls that have gone for homers has shot up this year, and his ratio of homers-to-doubles seemed aberrant, though it's evening out. I guess you could say that's a sign of a career year, but . . . I guess that would sort of be the point, right?)

I'm going to do something both quick and dirty here: I'm wondering how much Soriano's walk rate has been affected by the relatively recent and relatively uniform move of Royce Clayton to the No. 2 hole in the Nats' batting order. My thinking is simple enough---Soriano will almost by adversarial necessity draw more walks (and, one would think, see more pitches) with a weaker---though admittedly somewhat hot---hitter like Clayton batting directly behind him, as opposed to Jose Vidro.

Well, I don't have time to match up all of the games in which Soriano has batted leadoff and Clayton has hit second, but I do know that Clayton assumed the No. 2 spot on May 21. Since then, Clayton has mainly, though not always, hit second. And a look at Soriano's game log indicates that, whether by coincidence or not, his walks have risen during that timeframe:

Pre-May 21      May21-present
11BB/176 PA 18 BB/159 PA

[Note: "PA" in this instance is just the sum of at-bats and walks. Sorry, lazy!]

Also, as noted in the Primer discussion, Soriano is on pace for more intentional walks than ever this season: about 12, as opposed to a career high of seven. When you walk about 30 times a season normally, an extra five intentional walks can affect your walk rate.

Which isn't to say that Soriano hasn't walked more than ever before this season, and this isn't to dismiss Bundy's analysis. I'm just not sure he considered Clayton's batting order position.

(By the way, a look at the reverse---Soriano's affect on Clayton---was undertaken recently by Capitol Punishment, though I can't find the post right now.)