Going Deep—the Chosen Juan is Getting Better

Juan Soto busted onto the scene last year moving from A ball to the major leagues. It is pretty unprecedented how fast the then 19-year-old outfielder moved up the minor league levels. He has an unorthodox two-strike stance. Take a look at 0-0 counts vs two-strike counts.

 

 

If we are being honest, the only reason he made it to Washington so quickly was partly due to the number of injuries to the Nationals outfield. Victor Robles probably would have gotten the call but he was also hurt when he attempted a diving catch in the outfield just a few weeks before Soto made his debut. Soto’s season was one of the best rookie seasons ever, let alone someone who was only 19 years old. The three players under the age of 20 with higher walk rates:

John McGraw – 1893 – 16.9%

Mel Ott – 1929 – 16.8%

Ted Williams – 1939 – 15.8%

That is it, a pretty impressive list to be a part of.

Based on wRC+, he moves down to tenth, with only Mike Trout and Alex Rodriguez having higher wRC+ since 1996. Added to that, he also hits the ball extremely hard. His average exit velocity of 89.4 MPH was in the 64th percentile and hard-hit percentage of 42.2% was in the 75th percentile.  

Looking at the numbers for Soto this year, it is easy to see that he has gotten better in his sophomore season. He’s incredible walk rate decreased from the lofty 16% to 15.1% but everything else has improved. His strikeout rate has decreased from 20% to 19.5%. What is most exciting to see is how much harder Soto is hitting the ball. His Hard Hit% has increased from 42.2% to 47.3% so it makes sense that his Barrel% has increased from 9.8% to 12.8% and average exit velocity increased from 89.4 MPH to 91.0 MPH. While he is pulling the ball slightly more this year, he generally sprays the ball all over the field. I especially love to see the power to all fields.

 

 

Add in the fact he has also swiped twelve bases, while only getting caught once. He is amazing but what if I told you he is getting better?

 

Improving against non-Fastballs

 

Even with one of the best rookie campaigns in major league history, there were a couple of areas where Soto was not so great. The first was his performance against non-fastballs. Last year, Soto absolutely demolished the fastball.

 

wOBA vs Fastballs 2018 (Min 100 PA)

 

Once we take a look at the top five wOBA against non-fastballs, we see he is not there.

 

wOBA vs Non-Fastballs 2018 (Min 100 PA)

 

No biggie, right. I’m sure he is still among the top. Well, you are mistaken, my friend. Soto was 183 at 0.265 wOBA against non-fastballs. So let’s take a look at this year’s performance. Here are the top five players against fastballs. 

 

wOBA vs Fastballs 2019 (Min 100 PA)

 

While he did drop out of the top five, he is still killing the fastball. Soto’s wOBA against fastball is 0.445 which has dropped him to 12th. Now let’s look at the top five players against non-fastballs.

 

wOBA vs Non-Fastballs 2019 (Min 100 PA)

 

While Soto is not in the top five he has moved up to 14th with a wOBA of 0.376. That is over a one hundred point jump! The only players that have a higher increase are Leury Garcia, Carlos Santana, DJ LeMahieu, and Jonathan Schoop. So what has he done differently? The first thing I found is called strikes have decreased from 22.1% in 2018.

 

 

All the way to 14.2% this year.

 

 

He is being more aggressive at the plate against all non-fastballs. Last year, in 1-1 and 2-1 counts, he kept the bat on his shoulder and received a called strike 13.9% and 13.8% respectively. This year, he only received a called strike 4.8% and 5.3% in those counts.

He is not just swinging more in those counts. He is also swinging more overall. This is his swings by zone last year.

 

 

And this is swings per zone this year.

 

 

Not only is Soto being more aggressive in the box, but he is also making louder contact. Last year, his average exit velocity was 85.7 MPH with an average launch angle of -4 degrees. This year, the exit velocity jumped up to 88.5 MPH with an average launch angle of 6 degrees.

 

Not a Defensive Liability

 

Soto’s rookie campaign at the plate was amazing but not so much in the field. He had a -6 outs above average (OOA). Other outfielders with a -6 OAA include Matt Kemp, Adam Eaton, and Justin Upton. Definitely not a ringing endorsement. Digging more into the numbers, had -5 OAA going back on the ball and -1 coming into the ball. What is also interesting is he had a 0.7 reaction but a -0.6 on his route to the ball. 

 

 

Remember when I brought up how poor Soto was going back on balls? Well, the Nationals noticed it as well and moved Soto back. Last year, he was playing at a depth of 298 feet and now he is playing at a depth of 302 feet. The move back helped his OOA move forward.

 

 

His OOA this year is 4, which is a move of 10 outs. I’m sure all the Nationals pitchers have appreciated this step forward in his career.

Featured Image by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)

Shelly Verougstraete

Shelly currently writes for Pitcher List, RotoGraphs, Friends with Fantasy Benefits, and Prospects1500. She can also be heard on the Dynasty's Child podcast on The Dynasty Guru. She is a proud member of Red Sox Nation.

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