Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Resurgence of Soto

The summer of 2010 has not been kind to Cubs fans, some having labeled the year a lost season before the calendar read July, so nothing can make up for half a season’s worth of meaningless baseball. There are, however, more than a few reasons to continue watching Cubs baseball (see Starlin Castro, Tyler Colvin, the continued progression of Fukudome, etc.) but none is more exciting to watch than the return of Geovany Soto.

Put simply: Geovany Soto is having a better offensive season than Joe Mauer. Let that sink in. Three time batting champion and former MVP Joe Mauer has not been as productive (per plate appearance) as Geovany Soto, despite a typical .326 batting average on the year. Soto is batting a pedestrian but respectable .280 on the year, seemingly ending the discussion. Moving on to less cosmetic statistics, however, shows a different story.

A player’s weighted on-base average takes the concept of OPS (on-base + slugging) and improves on it by using linear weight values for each possible event (read the joy of wOBA at Fan Graphs). The stat is scaled to on-base percentage where .335 is about average, .300 is a poor player and .400 is a great player. Soto's wOBA clocks in at .384, leading all major league catchers. Mauer comes in second at .372, with Brian McCann following at .369. The only problem is that Soto doesn’t have enough plate appearances to qualify as a league leader.

The fact remains, though, that Geovany Soto is having the best offensive season by a catcher in Major League Baseball. His OPS (.894) and slugging percentage (.500), predictably, also lead all MLB backstops. Soto’s year as a whole in many ways is identical to his rookie of the year winning 2008 campaign.




























Soto’s slugging, isolated power (slug – average) and strikeout rate are carbon copies, with the only real difference between this year and ’08 being his vastly improved walk rate. It is clear to see that Soto's forgettable 2009 was based in bad luck, as his batting average on balls in play was over 50 points below league average, while lying even further below his career numbers.

One may counter that Soto will see his high BABIP come back down to earth, however, the high BABIP numbers of 2008 and 2010 are fueled by incredibly high line drive percentages. In 2010 Soto has a career high LD% of 24.8, which (if he had enough plate appearances to qualify) would be third among all Major League hitters (coincidentally one spot above Mauer at 24.4%).

At 27-years-old, Geo is comfortably settling into his prime, and there is nothing in the stats to say that his offensive output will slow down. The way his 2008 and 2010 seasons compare, the numbers he is putting up this year seem easily repeatable. He will always strike out more than the average hitter with the vicious way he attacks the ball, but with those violent swings, and subsequent misses, comes possibly the most powerful catcher in Major League Baseball.

If only he had enough plate appearances to qualify.