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Geovany Soto: Between the (Stat) Lines

If I told you that Geovany Soto was a better hitter in 2009 than in 2008 would you believe me?

Of course not. You would look at his Rookie of the Year award and say “how can a .218 batting average beat that?” Then you would probably commit me to a mental institution for having such outlandish thoughts.

Now what if I told you that Soto’s 2009 season was mostly a product of bad luck and misfortune? Ahh, now we’re making a little sense!

The Cubs were an all-around mess last season with injuries to Alfonso Soriano, Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez, and Soto. Let’s not forget to mention the failed Milton Bradley experiment and the fact that only two players managed over 100 games and a .260 batting average. The team finished an unimpressive 83-78, their worst record in three years. Needless to say, it was not a good year to be on the Cubs.

Soto was no exception as he battled shoulder and oblique injuries in his second pro season and posted a .218 batting average with 11 HR and 47 RBI in just 108 games. A lot of people look at the numbers and slap on the popular “sophomore slump” tag that so many second-year pros go through. Did Soto really have a sophomore slump, or was it more a reversal of fortune?

The most popular stat in fantasy baseball these days is BABIP, or in other words, the batting average of balls you hit in play. In Soto’s impressive 2008 rookie season he managed a .337 BABIP, but that number took a huge dive in 2009 and bottomed out at .251. Using a BABIP calculator, which was created by Chris Dutton and Peter Bendix, we can calculate that Soto’s expected BABIP for 2009 was .312 (61 points higher than his actual total).

Also, history would suggest that 2009 was an exception rather than the norm because Soto’s career BABIP in the minor’s was well over .300 as well. I think it’s fair to say that Soto didn’t get many friendly bounces last season. Let’s move on.

Soto’s luck was so bad in 2009 that he actually posted worse numbers while improving at the plate.

In 2008, Soto posted a BB% of 11.0, swung at 20.1 percent of pitches outside the strike zone, and made contact on 83.4 percent of strikes. That year he won Rookie of the Year and made the All-Star team. In 2009, Soto’s BB% rose to 12.9, he chased  fewer pitches outside the strike zone (17.8%), and made contact on more strikes (87.3%). In this year he won, as Jim Mora would so nicely put it, “diddly poo.” Only a Cubs player would improve his approach at the plate and be rewarded with mediocrity.

My final point is that a lot of people tend to think that Soto’s power disappeared in 2009, which is a false statement. It wasn’t as good as his rookie year, but that’s to be expected when you’re battling shoulder and oblique injuries most of the year. In fact, Soto’s 31 extra base hits made up 43 percent of his total hits in 2009, which was right on his 2008 pace of 42.5 percent. Also, his ISO was .163, which was down from his 2008 mark of .219, but would have still ranked fifth among catchers had he qualified.

Currently Soto’s ADP is 180 on couchmanagers.com and he was drafted 176th overall in ESPN’s first mock draft. Players such as Miguel Montero, Jorge Posada, Bengie Molina, and Kurt Suzuki are being draft 20-60 spots ahead of Soto, which makes him an amazing value because he is due for a very nice bounce-back season in 2010.

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About the author: George graduated with a degree in Journalism, but instead of walking at his graduation, he walked down the aisle at his wedding. He’s been playing fantasy baseball for over a decade and his interest and knowledge in the sport is as big and growing as his eyebrows are bushy…and growing. (@BaseballProf)

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  • Nick

    “Only a Cubs player would improve his approach at the plate and be rewarded with mediocrity.”

    Fantastic line, George.