Juan Soto is getting the recognition he deserves

Juan Soto seemingly never got a lot of attention since his debut last season. The young up and comer is surrounded by stars such as Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Anthony Rendon, Trea Turner, and before this season, Bryce Harper. Now, thanks to some postseason heroics— including a homer, a double, and a single in World Series Game One— Soto is getting a lot more attention.

Before his major league debut in May 2018, he was not even the most touted prospect in his organization, a distinction that went to Víctor Robles. FanGraphs even put Carter Kieboom ahead of Soto! Of course, prospect evaluation is very difficult.

Robles has been an excellent defensive center fielder, but the bat still needs some work, as he is coming off a season where he hit only .255/.326/.419. Thankfully, he is only 22-years-old, so he his bat has plenty of time to come along, and even if it does not, his glove will make him a regular for years to come.

Ironically, Soto has the opposite problem. He has hit very well immediately, but his glove still needs some work. Scouts were expecting him to hit, to be fair, but I doubt they were expecting to see him hit this well. In almost two full seasons, he has hit .287/.403/.548, and his 143 wRC+ ranks ninth in the majors in that span among qualified hitters. As for his fielding, it is getting better, which should not be surprising given his athleticism.

One of the interesting things about Soto is how crazy consistent he has been. Khris Davis’s four-year streak of hitting .247 aside, it is very difficult for hitters to be consistent due to the random, chaotic nature of baseball. Despite that, Soto has been remarkably consistent.

Soto by Season

AVG OBG SLG BB% K%
AVG OBG SLG BB% K%
2018 .292 .406 .517 16.0 20.0
2019 .282 .401 .548 16.4 20.0

FanGraphs

Crazy, huh? BtBS alumnus Devan Fink breaks down his consistency even further over at FanGraphs. The guy just doesn’t slump.

Soto just put up a 4.7 WAR season and he will not be able to legally drink yet until Friday. Only 14 players have put up a better WAR in their age-20 season, and most of them are Hall of Famers or will be.

What is truly amazing about Soto is his plate discipline. It is not just that he has a career walk rate of over 16 percent, it is the fact that he can be so disciplined at such a young age. Young players such as himself tend to press at the plate to try and prove themselves. Soto, on the other hand, is more than happy to work the count and take his walks. Among qualified hitters, only 11 of them swung at pitches outside the zone less often than he did. His 187 walks are the most every for a hitter before his age-21 season.

Soto announced his presence to the greater baseball world early in the postseason. In the NL Wild Card game, he went 1-4 with two strike outs, but he really made that one hit count. In the bottom of the eighth, the Nationals were down 3-1 to the Brewers, but were threatening with bases loaded and two outs. The left-handed Soto faced arguably the most dangerous lefty reliever in baseball— Josh Hader. The Nats only had about a 24 percent chance to win the game, though given that this was Hader pitching with the platoon advantage, it was probably a lot less than that.

You know what happened next. Soto cleared the bases and the Nationals went on to win 4-3, advancing to the NLDS to face the Dodgers.

Soto came through again in the decisive Game 5 of the NLDS. He singled in the sixth inning to drive in Rendon for the Nationals’ first run of the game. Then in the eighth inning, he hit a game-tying home run against another dangerous lefty in Clayton Kershaw. Again, thanks in large part to Soto, the Nationals advanced to the next round of the playoffs.

The funny thing about Soto is despite his big moments this postseason, he actually has not hit that well before the World Series! Through the NLCS, he hit only .237/.326/.421 in 43 PA. He took only four unintentional walks and struck out 13 times. However, because he has gotten the big hits when his team has really needed them, he had a 0.85 WPA for the pre-World Series postseason, per FanGraphs.

As one of the heroes of Game One, he’s now up to .286/.362/.548 overall for the playoffs, and he had that big night against Gerrit Cole, arguably the best pitcher in baseball this year. Soto’s WPA now sits at 1.11. Unfortunately, you can’t easily do a search for players’ postseason WPAs, but that is likely the best in the current postseason. In fact, it is pretty rare for a player to crack a 1.00 WPA for a postseason.

WPA is purely a storytelling stat and not representative of any skills a player has. To put that in some context. Derek Jeters‘s highest postseason WPA is barely over 0,4.

Soto is an extremely talented, fun player, and it benefits the game and fans everywhere that he is getting showcased in the postseason. I can’t wait to see what he has yet to show us in the coming years.

. . .

Luis Torres is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. He is a medicinal chemist by day, baseball analyst by night. You can follow him on Twitter at @Chemtorres21.

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