Geez, what happened to Juan Soto?

All of sunny San Diego rejoiced on Aug. 2 when the Washington Nationals despatched their 23-year-old famous person Juan Soto to the Padres. A month and a half later, Padres followers are displaying their receipts to the Nats, asking for take-backsies.

Since becoming a member of the Padres, Soto is slashing .202/.375/.319. Of all certified hitters in that span, that .319 slugging share ranks the 15th-lowest across all of MLB. Crazily sufficient, one of many 14 gamers beneath Soto is teammate Josh Bell (.307), who got here to San Diego as a part of the identical deal as effectively. However, Padres followers could be clamoring for a .319 slugging share from Soto proper now, as a result of in his final 15 video games (previous to Friday night time), Soto is slugging .063, with simply three hits (all singles) throughout 63 plate appearances. Yes, I do know Soto had two hits (together with his first extra-base hit in over half a month) and three RBI final night time. I hope that marks the top of this stretch, however one recreation isn’t sufficient for me to think about his stoop over.

That .063 is the third-lowest all season in a 15-game span amongst gamers with a minimum of 50 plate appearances. Only Tampa Bay’s Taylor Walls (.041 slugging share in 52 plate appearances) and Arizona’s Seth Beer (.041 in 54 plate appearances) have worse 15-game stretches this season.

What occurred?

How did Soto go from probably the most feared sluggers in MLB, a Home Run Derby champ, and an NL MVP favourite, to one of many worst components of the Padres’ lineup? Is this only a fluke, a foul streak that we must always count on Soto to interrupt out of, or is there one thing extra at play?

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According to FanGraphs, Soto isn’t having a superb season by his requirements. I feel that’s apparent. What’s much less apparent is how unfortunate he’s been. Despite hitting .234 on the season, Soto is definitely very near his profession common this yr in each barrel share (12.1 p.c in 2022) and hard-hit share (47 p.c in 2022). Sure, they’re each steps down from what he was capable of do in 2020 (17.5 barrel share; 51.6 hard-hit share) and 2021 (13.3 barrel share; 52.4 hard-hit share), however based mostly on how he’s performing this season, you’d suppose they’d be a lot decrease. Yes, they’re a dip from what we’re used to seeing, however based mostly on these numbers you’d count on Soto’s batting common to be someplace within the .260s or .270s, as FanGraphs tasks — not mid-.230s. His anticipated slugging share based mostly on these numbers is .408, only one level decrease than his determine from 2019 the place he completed ninth in MVP voting, in comparison with his precise mark of .373.

Well, that’s all high quality and dandy, however what about throughout that 15-game stretch? What’s precipitated Soto to play so horribly? And actually, there’s just one issue that appears to be an enormous distinction in 2022. Is he swinging extra at dangerous pitches? No. In reality, he’s swinging at fewer pitches exterior the strike zone throughout these final 15 video games previous to final night time (16.3 exterior zone swing share) than he had been the remainder of the season (20.1 p.c). That mark of 16.3 can be decrease than his season percentages in 2020 (21 p.c), 2019 (23.4 p.c), and 2018 (21.9 p.c).

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The largest change in efficiency for Soto has been soft-hit share. In 2022, Soto has the seventh-highest soft-hit percentage amongst certified hitters at 21.2 p.c. So, whereas Soto remains to be hitting the ball effectively at a barely decrease clip than in earlier seasons, he’s hitting it a lot worse in much more circumstances. It’s 5.3 p.c greater than 2021, 6.1 p.c greater than 2020, and eight.7 p.c greater than 2019.

The factor I can’t perceive is why although. Soto hasn’t modified a lot about his method. There’s no recorded change in mechanics or tendencies. Soto has statistically been worse towards sliders than on every other pitch in his profession. Are pitchers throwing him extra sliders? Yes, 22.4 p.c of pitches thrown Soto’s approach have been sliders since Aug. 29. In 2021, it was simply 18.1 p.c. Still, that 4.3 p.c discrepancy isn’t sufficient to elucidate why he’s making so little good contact. Maybe that small leap in share is sufficient to make Soto second guess himself on the plate. When he’s on the lookout for a fastball however as an alternative will get a hammer that drops to his again foot, that’ll result in extra weak floor balls, certain — however at as horrendously a charge as his .063 slugging share would point out? That appears far-fetched, but when I needed to level out a motive for Soto’s struggles, the elevated slider share could be it.

All in all, Soto’s struggles can’t be decided by only one quantity. Every statistic that appears significantly decrease than his profession common begs the query, “Why?” But it will possibly by no means be answered. It’s simply an limitless rabbit gap that guarantees an ending, however simply retains going till you’ve wasted each mind cell attempting to make excuses for somebody who needs to be one of many best hitters in baseball. That mentioned, I can’t assist however suppose Soto will return to normalcy finally. Maybe he simply wants an offseason to regulate to the West Coast. Maybe he must return to the high-leverage conditions of the postseason to convey out that fireside in him. Whatever it’s, the Padres higher determine it out quick, in any other case, what was alleged to be the perfect deal of the season, might wind up being the worst deal in franchise historical past.

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