Juan Soto for NL MVP? September stretch has Nationals outfielder presenting strong case

For all of the discuss of Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s chase of the Triple Crown and Fernando Tatis Jr.’s dynamic play in San Diego, one other 22-year-old has stolen the present in September.

Juan Soto and the Nationals could be occupying the cellar of the NL East at 64-89, however that has definitely not been due to Soto. In September, he leads all MLB hitters in WAR, according to Fangraphs, and with the current success he is surged right into a tie with the Phillies’ Bryce Harper among the many fWAR leaders this season within the National League at 6.5.

Coming into September, the front-runners for NL MVP had been Harper, Tatis and Dodgers first baseman Max Muncy. Only Muncy’s workforce will make the playoffs, and his workforce is stacked. As it appears more and more possible that an MVP will come from a workforce that will not attain the playoffs, Soto appears to have put his identify not solely within the dialog, however maybe on the high of the listing.

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It hasn’t simply been a red-hot September, although that has definitely been a propellant. He’s quietly been placing collectively an unimaginable, even historic, marketing campaign.

Soto’s month of September

It has been the ultimate stretch of the season in 2021 when Soto has taken his sport to a special stage.

He has posted a .473/.608/.838 slash line. He’s hit seven residence runs. He’s walked 25.5 p.c of the time. He’s struck out 5.9 p.c of the time. That’s a 4.33 BB/Okay ratio. That is absurd.

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Part of what makes Soto such a harmful hitter is his potential to spray the ball throughout the sphere. According to Baseball Savant, this season he has pulled 29.7 p.c of batted balls, despatched 44.2 p.c up the center and posted a 26.1 p.c reverse discipline fee.

Take a have a look at the place Soto is hitting the ball in September, overlayed throughout Nationals Park (10 of the video games have been performed on the street).

juan soto 092421
(Created with Pybaseball, information from Baseball Savant)

When he is unable to hit it previous the infield, he is been a pull-heavy hitter. But the issue for opposing groups is that he has seemingly by no means been hitting it into the infield, and as soon as he reaches the outfield, he is spraying it throughout the sphere.

Soto is not simply hitting it to all fields. He’s scorching the ball. His common exit velocity in September is 94.1 mph, greater than a mile per hour quicker than his seasonal common of 92.9. By comparability, solely 4 gamers have a seasonal exit velocity greater than 94.1 — Aaron Judge (95.9), Guerrero Jr. (95.3), Giancarlo Stanton (95.1) and Tatis (94.3).

Oh, and do not even take into consideration throwing him a fastball. He has a mean exit velocity of 99.3 mph on four-seamers in September.

Soto’s historic plate self-discipline

The most frequent comparability for Soto has typically been Ted Williams.

It at occasions looks like an unfair comparability to narrate a 22-year-old to one of many best hitters of all time. At different occasions, it feels not possible not to match the 2.

This season: Soto has taken 131 walks and struck out solely 84 occasions. Few have ever posted numbers that spectacular, not to mention so younger. Here’s the complete listing of batters who’ve completed the season with not less than 130 walks and fewer than 100 strikeouts.

Babe Ruth251920150801.379
Ted Williams221941147271.287
Mickey Mantle251957146751.177
Ted Williams231942145511.147
Juan Soto222021131841.029
Eddie Yost23195014163.845

Those are some large names. The solely two not within the Hall of Fame are Soto, who remains to be energetic, and Eddie Yost. Take it a step additional, although. Who are the 2 youngest on that listing, and the one two to perform the feat at age 22? That’s proper: Williams and Soto.

There is not particular pitch-by-pitch information on Williams, however due to Baseball Savant we will have a look at how disciplined Soto has been in 2021. With a minimum of just 25 plate appearances, Soto is second behind solely a pitcher with 44 plate appearances with a chase fee of 12.6 p.c. Among qualifying hitters, Soto chases pitches exterior the zone at a fee almost 4 p.c decrease than the subsequent closest batter.

He additionally will not swing at pitches within the zone as typically as numerous sluggers. His swing fee on pitches within the strike zone remains to be only a modest 59.8 p.c, the fourth-lowest in baseball.

Turning swings to energy

Soto might need a low swing fee within the zone, nevertheless it’s for a purpose: He’s ready for his pitch.

According to Baseball Savant, Soto’s lowest swing charges on locations within the strike zone are down and in, and up and away. His swing fee will increase to 75 p.c on pitches proper down the center, 71 p.c on pitches up and within the center, 65 p.c down within the center, 69 p.c up and inside and 62 p.c center and inside.

Now have a look at the exit velocity on batted balls throughout the strike zone this 12 months for Soto.

juan soto 092421 python pq3u0f07pryz1g499j1f54yyp
(Data from Baseball Savant)

The very first thing that stands out is how a lot yellow is within the strike zone. Just about each time he places the ball in play, Soto is driving it with pressure. Baseball Savant has him listed within the 94th percentile or higher in common exit velocity, max exit velocity and arduous hit fee, and his barrel fee is on the eighty fifth percentile.

The subsequent factor to note is that it is clear pitchers maintain the ball down on Soto for concern of what he’ll do to pitches up within the zone. He nonetheless stings the ball, however he is not hitting it as far. According to Baseball Savant, he has solely hit 5 residence runs on pitches within the backside three components of the strike zone, whereas 20 have come from the center three.

Soto’s case for MVP

Even with the plate self-discipline and his potential to drive the ball, this hasn’t even been his finest season for energy. Last 12 months, he recorded a slugging share of .695, however this 12 months it’s simply at .559, although in fact final 12 months he was in simply 47 video games due to the shortened season. In 2019, he hit extra residence runs with 34, nevertheless it got here at the price of the next strikeout fee of 20 p.c and decrease on-base share (.401).

Instead, he is put every little thing collectively this 12 months. Soto is reaching base at a .470 clip and slugging at .559. The on-base share is the very best within the majors by a landslide (Harper is subsequent at .432) and his slugging share has him trailing solely Harper, Tatis, Guerrero, Shohei Ohtani and Joey Votto.

Even his protection has been stellar. He has tallied six outs above common in left discipline, according to Baseball Savant, which has him at 18th amongst qualifying MLB outfielders.

Soto cannot management that his workforce has not carried out properly this season. He has carried out every little thing in his energy to be sure that the Nationals are a aggressive workforce. Just Thursday night time, he hit two solo residence runs as Washington beat the Reds, a workforce hoping to chase down St. Louis for the ultimate wild-card spot, 3-2. When it comes time for ballots to be solid for the NL MVP, Soto deserves as a lot consideration as another participant within the National League.

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