September 29, 2021

Juan Soto Is Quickly Becoming the Best Hitter in the MLB

Remember when a 20-year-old Juan Soto took over the 2019 World Series for the Washington Nationals? That was awesome.

It has been two years since the Nationals and Soto went on that magical run to the World Series and things have been bleak in the nation's capital. 

With Max Scherzer and Trea Turner both traded to the Dodgers this season, it is clear that the Nationals are in a full-on rebuild. With Soto still on the team, they have one of, if not the best, young building block in all of baseball. 

The 22-year-old superstar became a forgotten man this season thanks to the emergence of Fernando Tatis Jr. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Shohei Ohtani, and Ronald Acuna Jr. However, the only World Series champion of that group has quietly become the best pure hitter in baseball. 

Keep Your Eye On The Ball

According to Fangraphs, Soto has a swing percentage of 35%. He swings at 15% of pitches outside of the strike zone and 63% of pitches in the strike zone. His incredible discipline at the plate makes him more complete than other players. He has a 22% walk rate, which leads the league and he is striking out in just 13.6% of his at-bats. 

His eye at the plate is something that cannot be taught. That is old-school, Tony Gwynn level of patience. Considering how great he is when he makes contact, Soto really is a special talent. 

 What more needs to be said? The kid has incredible discipline with the bat in his hand. 

The 2021 Season

Soto is going to finish in the top three in NL MVP voting. According to the FanDuel Sportsbook, he currently has the second-best odds to win the NL MVP (+340) just behind Bryce Harper (-240).

On the season, Soto is slashing .321/.471/.549 with an OPS of 1.020. He leads the MLB  in OBP (.471), walks (139), and intentional walks (22). He also has 29 home runs, 93 RBI, an OPS+ of 181, and has only struck out 86 times on the season. Coming off a season where he led all of baseball in batting average (.351), OBP (.490), SLG (.695), OPS (1.185), OPS+ (217), and intentional walks (12), it is fair to say that Soto has become one of the best hitters on the planet.

As of today, Soto is the only player in baseball to have more walks (139) than strikeouts (86). In the age of exit velocity and launch angles, Soto has refined what it means to be a great hitter. Patience, discipline, speed, power, and athleticism. He's got it all. 

The OBP King

Soto has reached base safely 72 times in September and is the fourth-youngest player to reach base safely 70 times in a month. He also had a stretch where he reached base in 12 consecutive plate appearances in September. He has been locked in for a long time now, and the only thing that can cool him off is the end of the campaign.

His OBP in September sits at .590. The only player to have a higher OBP in the month of September is Barry Bonds, and he did it three times. If you are in the same conversation as Bonds when it comes to your batting numbers, you are doing something extremely right.

For the 2021 season, Soto leads all of baseball with 25 games reaching base safely four times. For his career, he has done that 51 times. After winning the batting title last season, he became the fifth-youngest player to ever do so, and he might do it again this season. He currently sits at a .321 BA, which is just shy of Turner's .322 BA.

Not only is Soto incredibly disciplined, but he also gets on base better than anyone in the league. What he is doing at his age makes him a generational talent.

The Perfect Player?

Soto's not perfect... yet. His defense leaves a bit to be desired, but he has improved significantly since his rookie season. His FRAA (fielding runs above average) was at -4.2 in 2018. So far this season, he is at -0.1, which is still not great, but it is a big improvement.

Outside of defense, Soto is on pace to shatter all sorts of records. His September run has inserted him right in the MVP race, even though the Nationals have been eliminated from the postseason for a long time.

Does he deserve the MVP in 2021? Probably not, but the fact that his post-All-Star-break numbers have put him right in consideration has been very impressive.

With how much money megastars in the game are getting today, and with Soto's age and skill level at his age, he may be baseball's first half-billion-dollar man. Either way, Soto has been really special for a long time and is only getting better.

Photo: Getty Images