In 2019, Jorge Soler seemed to finally reach the offensive potential that many believed he could—hitting 48 home runs with a .265/.354/.569 slashline and a 136 wRC+. It was his best season, and by a large margin, in just about every way. However, in 174 PA in last year’s shortened season, Soler took a step back and produced just a 108 wRC+. Through 391 PA this season, the newly acquired Atlanta outfielder has taken another step back, producing a below-league average 89 wRC+. Pair this offensive output with his poor baserunning and abysmal defense and you have a player who has been worth -0.6 fWAR. He has been hurting his teams more than helping. That sounds frustrating—but who, or what—is to blame? Is Soler really that much worse than his season two years ago? Or is he yet another victim of poor luck in a game where outcomes can’t always be controlled? I think it’s a bit of both.
It’s Not Poor Luck
The other side of the argument is that Soler is not just getting hurt by poor luck, but that he’s actually hitting worse. For starters, Soler has never had great contact skills and this season is no different. He’s in the 21st percentile of strikeout rate and 14th percentile of whiff rate. He swings and misses a lot—not a huge deal. Additionally, his plate discipline isn’t bad and he’s only chasing in the 69th percentile rate. The main problem is the type of contact Soler has been making.
Soler is seeing a gigantic drop off in line drives, while seeing a bit more groundballs and a lot more flyballs. With his power, the flyballs aren’t necessarily a bad thing, but Soler’s line drive rate this season isn’t just bad relative to his career, it’s the worst line drive rate of any qualified hitter. Because of this, he’s seeing a barrel rate lower than his last two sesaons. Additionally, Soler is struggling against offspeed and breaking pitches. In his incredible 2019 season, he destroyed fastballs with a .480 xwOBA, but also fared decently against offspeed pitches with a .360 xwOBA. While he is still mashing fastballs this season with a .419 xwOBA against them, he carries just a .288 xwOBA against offspeeds and a .281 xwOBA versus breaking balls.
Soler is definitely hitting worse than he has his last two seasons. For a hitter who whiffs as much as he does and whose production lives off of power numbers, Soler just isn’t making the most out of his contact. His HR per flyball/line drive rate this year is the fourth lowest of his career and falls well below his 2019 mark. He has certainly taken a step back by contact metrics, but his performance still shouldn’t be this poor, right?
It Is Poor Luck
If we’re taking the “unlucky” approach, it’s easy to say that Soler has been performing worse than he probably should be. Here’s a list of the biggest underperformers by wOBA – xwOBA:
Of all MLB hitters this season who have stepped to the plate at least 200 times, Soler has the fifth largest difference between his actual wOBA and his expected wOBA. This means that based on his batted ball profile, strikeouts, and walks, the results he should have expected are much better than the results he actually received. And this makes sense, because throughout Soler’s struggles over the last two seasons he has done one thing very well—he’s hit the ball hard. Soler is in the 91st percentile by hard hit rate and the 87th percentile by barrel rate. And while Soler wavered around the MLB average in xwOBA for most of the season, he’s recently seen a huge spike in the expected metric.
So while he may be hitting balls less optimally (less line drives and barrels), he is still hitting the ball well enough to be garnering better results than he has seen. His BABIP is the seventh worst rate among all qualified hitters, so there’s some reason to believe he’s just been bitten by a good amount of bad luck. Additionally, Soler is still getting on base by walks at a solid rate. His 11% walk rate is the 32nd best in the league and gives him a .299 OBP, which alone doesn’t sound great but when compared to his .202 batting average, it’s solid work. In fact, the margin between his on-base percentage and his batting average, .097, is the league’s 23rd highest.
I think it’s safe to say that Soler is seeing poor results because of a combination of his declined batted ball skills as well as some pretty rough luck. I’d probably lean more on the latter than the former, but both variables are definitely contributing to his below-league average wRC+. However, if Soler can start flatting out his contact just a bit, he might be able to pick up his offensive production and give Atlanta that extra boost they need in the second half. He has power and he has decent plate discipline—maybe he doesn’t have to do anything differently to get improved results. But if he squares up the ball a bit better, his results will probably come quick and plentiful.
Photo by David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Doug Carlin (@Bdougals on Twitter)
This article isn’t really pertinent right now, now that he’s raking. What have you been writing this for weeks?