Alfonso Soriano is the first to admit he's not producing as well as he would like to in the first year of his eight-year, $136 million contract with the Cubs.

But Soriano was surprised to find himself on a list of the most overrated players, as compiled by ESPN.com baseball writer Jayson Stark in an article promoting his latest book, "The Stark Truth: The Most Overrated and Underrated Players in Baseball History."

Soriano was ranked seventh on Stark's list of the most overrated current players, behind Barry Zito, J.D. Drew, Andruw Jones, Juan Pierre, Bobby Abreu and Brian Giles.

Stark wrote in his ESPN.com article that his rankings on current players aren't necessarily the same as their rankings in the book, writing "this column is more about where these players stand on the illusion/reality meter right now."

It's hard to argue that Soriano was overrated the last five years. He averaged 37 home runs, 97 RBIs and 33 steals per season between 2002-06, and was the fastest player in history to join the 200 homer-200 stolen base club.

But he came into Friday night's game at Dodger Stadium hitting .288 with four home runs and nine RBIs, along with seven steals. Those are the numbers that made Stark say he was overrated and not just off to a slow start.

"I never pay attention to that," Soriano said Friday. "I just come to the field and do my job. I don't pay attention to what's in a book, or what's in the paper. That means nothing to me.

"Whatever they say in the book, it means nothing. They can say whatever they want. I have to respect the opinion of all people, because when I say something, I want people to respect my opinion. But I can't control what other people say."

Soriano knew his big contract would put a target on his back. Knowing he's lumped into the same group as Jones and Abreu makes Soriano feel a little better, and he seemed more upset Jones was on the list than himself.

"It's not good to talk about people like that," he said. "Those guys have done a lot of good things for the game, so it's not good for people to say that, especially in a book. But you can't control everybody's opinion."

Soriano is rebounding from a lackluster start in which he hit .270 in April with no home runs. He has a .303 average in May with four homers and two triples. His .359 on-base percentage in the leadoff spot ranks seventh in the NL.

Still, Soriano said he knows the numbers must improve to justify the contract in most peoples' minds.

"The most important thing is I feel good, and that's why I'm not worried," he said. "If I'm not seeing the ball good, then I'm struggling. I still have my confidence."

The Cubs need a healthy and productive Soriano to start the offense, which has been plagued by inconsistency despite decent overall numbers.

Manager Lou Piniella said Friday night that Soriano "is starting to show signs of breaking out of it," though he has a ways to go to match his numbers from 2006, when he had 46 homers, 95 RBIs and 41 steals with the Nationals.

After suffering a hamstring strain in mid-April, Soriano took a long time to get his legs back. He turned on the afterburners Thursday night in San Diego on an opposite-field triple in the sixth inning, the fastest he looked all season. One small step, but an important one.

"That made me excited," he said, "because the first month and a half haven't been good to me, especially with my legs. Getting that triple, I feel more confident with my legs."

psullivan@tribune.com