Juan Soto bounces back, but can he make the necessary adjustments?

© Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

There is probably no good way to introduce Juan Soto. The man is simply impossible: he gets out of the customs zone and takes the square calmly, marking the event with his signature interference. Finish near your comfort zone and he will put it on a double square or, worse, run home over the fence. You just have to pray and hope that Soto wastes his time. He has been blessed with an unnatural ability to combine discipline with legitimate power, and he is very good at ending this sentence.

At the same time, the jugs must do something right, because so far Sotol is going through the worst season of his career. As of this writing, 125 wRC +, which may be the best price for other beaters, looks simply mortal in 2022. So what’s going on? I’m not saying I have all or even the right answers, but I have some ideas.

Before we move on, I must emphasize that Soto’s underperformance is largely unfortunate, simple and easy. Sotol has a .207 BABIP. Nobody has .207 BABIP! Even Joey Gallol has a .256 BABIP. The average number of balls scored in the game has dropped mysteriously in 2022, but that is far from enough to explain why Soto is the lowest in this respect. Another oddity this year is that almost everyone is falling short of their expected wOBA because Statcast metrics have not been calibrated for the new offensive environment. Nevertheless, the difference between Soto’s actual and expected wOBA is the 28th largest in baseball. Soto doesn’t really behave like its own inferior version. Contact exists. Discipline exists. We only have June and we still have a long way to go to make improvements.

But it also seems that Soto’s underperformance is due to the throwers’ better understanding of his weaknesses. Yes, there is no good way to turn to him, but there are ways to minimize the damage. It is no secret here that a good part of Soto’s other production comes from lurking in hard stuff. Here is a graph showing Soto wOBA exposure by field type (fast balls, offspeed, breaking) each season:

Indeed, Soto absolutely crushes the fast balls. It more than makes up for its relatively modest numbers against slower, busier squares, but if it ever goes crazy against them, like in 2020, we have an all-time season. Nevertheless, it is easy to see what needs to be done against Soto. He sees a low share of fastball in his career this season: 50.9%, up from 55.6% last season. If we separate the four-stitch fast balls, which Soto not only dismantles but never shakes (literally), the decline is even sharper – he sees them 26.8% of the time, compared to 34.7% last season. If Soto recently pointed out that there is a shortage of strikes, I think that is part of it. More than ever, his opponents want to meet Soto on his own terms.

Since Soto has an unsatisfactory appetite for fast balls, this is quite clear where in the hit zone, he loves to attack. This time there is a heat map of Soto ISO (isolated power) per BIP (ball in play) by field location throughout his career. The data is a bit noisy, but you’ll see areas flooded in red:

Fast balls usually get close to the stars. So it’s no surprise that Soto’s happy place is at the top of the zone. We can also tell where he is not so happy. Do you see the shallow and out of the blue lake from the perspective of the dough on the left? It has traditionally been a weak spot in Soto. Obviously, this is easier to attack, as any square outside the zone that is not perfectly executed is likely to cause ceremonial interference. However, the challenge involved has not yet discouraged jugs. The number of squares against Soto has been steadily rising, reaching an all-time high of 27.4% this season.

The number doesn’t seem to have much effect on when the throwers are down and away. It could be assumed that if Soto is ahead, they will move away from the slider, but at 26.7% the rate of fall and exit in this situation is not far from the general rate. In fact, the rate of removal and removal of pitchers, if Soto is behind The calculation, if he is potentially vulnerable, is lower than last season. Maybe what the jugs are looking for is not crossing out, but rather weak contact. If you want to know why Sotol does not have the highest ISO value against down and down heights, this spray table gives a concise answer:

The above points represent all the downsides and outfields of 2022 that Soto has faced. They also show a strange dichotomy. When Soto hits the ground against such a court, he often does so on the pull side. This fact gives an idea why the teams are shifting against him so often – to be exact – 60.3% of his plate performances – despite the fact that Soto is not an archetypal attraction. A two-step strategy aimed at settling where it is less convenient and then collecting a lander seems to work – at least for a limited sample.

When Soto hits the ball in the air against a square in and out, he often does so the opposite pool. Soto doesn’t (and never will) pull most of his balloons due to the nature of his momentum. He reacts to the squares later than before, which helps him spit into the border squares, but also shifts the point of contact back, resulting in balls flying the other way. This has never been a big problem; After all, Soto has been one of the biggest batsmen since its inception.

But here’s the thing. Baseball resistance is currently the highest in Soto’s high league career. As a result, volleyball and regular trips are the lowest distances recorded in the Statcast era. However, some balloons are more negatively affected than others. You may have noticed that the strokes do not dread the effects of a dead ball, mainly because their approach gives them the opportunity to make mistakes – pulling the ball maximizes the exit speed and thus results in contact. However, hitters aiming for the opposing court need every leg possible, and so far the new ball has turned many of their home runs into harmless take-offs.

In this environment, it is essential for hackers to have traction, even if it is in the back pocket. Now Soto is not only involved in the field on the left, but it is worrying that he has recently lost his traction. The table below shows the percentage of Soto volleyballs and kicks in the opposite direction each season, as well as the corresponding exposure results:

Soto Oppo Air Ball Rate

year Opposite% wOBA
The year 2018 37.8% .766
2019 37.2% .472
2020 35.7% .868
The year 2021 39.1% .548
The year 2022 41.9% .237

SOURCE: Baseball Savant

Fly balls and lines.

This is not a huge increase, please note, but in the year when the balls hit in the opposite direction find the glove behind the glove, it has left a significant dent in Soto’s production. The reason is difficult to pinpoint – all of these discards and removals seem to be to blame, but so are proprietary data that suggest Soto vertical angle of bats has got lamedamcontributing to an increase in misfortune (and thus to a spark that kills distance).

Nevertheless, .237 wOBA is terribly low, reminding us that the root of Soto’s problems is his rotten, rotten bliss. Few things in baseball are that simple, but it’s true. This awful .207 BABIP has its own slash line much larger than any combination of speed / breakouts, drop-off and take-off balloons. Let’s be honest: with about 99% probability, the part of this article about the decline of Soto will become irrelevant in the next few months. Just think of last season, when Soto got 128 wRC + in the first half and 199 wRC + in the second half. He’s turned things around before. If he’s still close to the Mendoza line in September, we’ll talk.

The balls are about to hit. The Soto average returns to normal. After an anemic April, the league-wide attack increases. However, this does not mean that the above trends will disappear. They are still part of Soto’s muted 2022, which has the potential to gain more appropriate if his BABIP recovers. I have a creeping suspicion that Soto’s power forecast was boosted by the environments in which he played before that season. Soto is clearly a talent of the generation. He’s someone who could be Mike Trout, the best player in the universe, but he has to adapt. He has to live on a diet that consists of fewer fast balls, and he has to start pulling more fly balls. I know that associating someone’s future with Trout is a ridiculous exercise, but looking at Soto, it’s hard not to get greedy. The pitchers have given the best answer to his talents. Now it’s his turn to do it back.

The statistics in this article are for the June 22 games.

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