Geovany Soto’s Sophomore Jinx

Geovany Soto is struggling and he doesn’t know why. The reigning NL Rookie of the Year has scraped together a measly .212/.318/.371 line and is now losing playing time to his illustrious backup, Koyie Hill. Lining up this season’s stats to his ROY campaign, I can see why he’s baffled.

First let’s take a look at his batted ball types.


(Blue is fly balls)

Uh-huh. No major changes, really. He’s hitting just a few more fly balls, but less are leaving the yard – down to 10.2% compared to 14.7% last year. That says something about why his power production is down, but it doesn’t explain why his batting average is hanging around the Mendoza line. Consider also his plate discipline numbers. Soto’s walks are up and his strikeouts are slightly down. He’s swinging at fewer pitches out of the zone – 20.1% last year, down to 18.1% this season – and he is making more contact when he does swing –74.7% last year, 77.4% this year. So he’s being more selective and making more contact when he does pull the trigger. It’s just as if he is almost always hitting the ball right at someone.

Soto has had some issues with his shoulder and oblique this year, which could be the culprit at least in part, but listening to Soto talk, he doesn’t seem to think that’s the case. Soto seems to attribute his woes to good old fashioned bad luck, and I’m not quite sure I can blame him.


Playing around with THT’s xBABIP calculator, Soto’s expected BABIP is .314. His actual BABIP: .245. Last year Soto was playing a bit over his head. This year he appears to be suffering some sort of horrid luck that Billy Sianis wouldn’t wish upon his worst enemy.

There may be more to it than luck, of course. Feel free to fill me in, someone.

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Erik Manning is the founder of Future Redbirds and covers the Cardinals for Heater Magazine. You can get more of his analysis and rantings in bite-sized bits by following him on twitter.

13 Responses to “Geovany Soto’s Sophomore Jinx”

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  1. Michael says:

    Solid stuff Erik, but it may be helpful to label the batted ball type chart with the batted ball types for each color. I can tell fairly easily that the red is line drives, but without looking Soto up there’s no way I can figure the other ones out.

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  2. slash12 says:

    Having watched Soto quite a lot this year, it just looks to me like he’s lost some of the power in his swing, when he seems to make good contact this year, it’s a warning track blast, last year those balls were deep in the bleachers, or on Waveland Ave.

    I’m not sure if this has anything to do with anything, but this year, quite often, when he swings and misses, he will lose the grip of the bat with his left hand, and he starts shaking his left hand after it happens. I don’t remember this happening last year at all.

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  3. Matt Nolan says:

    His IFFB% is down also, so this really is inexplicable. Hes not an extreme enough fly ball hitter where a decrease in power due to an injury is going to cause doubles and home runs to turn into outs so I guess he just needs a lesson from Wee Willie Keeler and hit em where they ain’t.

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  4. Brian says:

    This is more likely a cause of his injuries rather than his offensive struggles, but Soto sure seems to have gained some weight this year. If you want to sight his WBC positive drug test, you could make the case that the ROY award went to his head and he didn’t work too hard in the off-season. While the batting average likely is just bad luck, I think you can create a cause-and-effect chart such as lack of conditioning yields injuries which sap power and lead to a smaller percentage of fly balls leaving the yard.

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  5. Nate says:

    This may sound (or be) dumb, but in addition to the awful bad luck maybe his shoulder and oblique injuries have slowed his bat speed down just enough to turn his home runs into outs.

    I think most of his woes are just terrible bad luck but it probably doesn’t help any that he’s not hitting the ball as hard as usual. Are there any quantified bat speed stats out there? I can’t find any.

    PS: Don’t rag on me without being able to back it up. I realize my argument is a little ridiculous but nothing else has explained it yet, right?

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  6. I think it’s a combination of two seasons at either end of the luck spectrum. Last year, he out-performed his xBABIP (especially considering his extremely slow, almost-Molina-esque speed to first base), had a seemingly relatively fortunate number of flyballs turn into dingers, and was pretty much healthy all year long.

    This year, he’s been the opposite in all three areas.

    So you have to expect that he’ll bounce back, but I still feel that 2008 was slightly flukey and the absolute maximum production we can expect from him. In reality, his real skill level probably lies somewhere between the two.

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  7. Micah says:

    Some have cited the WBC as part of the reason for his horrendous start, as he didn’t get as much of a Spring Training and mainly sat the bench for Puerto Rico. Soto heated up after the first 6 weeks of the season prior to his injury, and his numbers since then aren’t too far from what would be expected of him, especially considering he’s battling some injuries.

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  8. Ed Nelson says:

    I think it’s a little of all these things. I had seen Soto when he was at Iowa and there wasn’t anything interesting about him at all. He has posted backup numbers all the way through the minors and although he had progressed quickly though the system no one thought he had enough talent to be anything more than an emergency call up. Then in 2007 he explodes, but what I noticed more than anything was how different he looked (he was obviously in better shape).

    Now he’s performing back at that pre2007 level, and all I can speculate is that like a lot of people who go on diets, work out, and get into better shape, that he gradually let himself slip out of those good habits. A failed drug test at the WBC only reinforces that point of view.

    As a Cubs fan it’s encouraging that like most people who slip off the wagon Soto can choose to get back into those good habits that got him to where he was. What is discouraging as a Cubs fan is that Soto, Soriano, Zambrano, and a few other players all seem to have the same problem (work ethic), and that the problem may be systemic within the organization.

    Bad luck hasn’t helped either.

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  9. big baby says:

    soto’s PrOPS is .815

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  10. Ed Nelson says:

    I’ve seen him line laser beams right at people over and over again, so he’s had some bad luck. However, there’s no doubt that he wasn’t what he was. Last year he was hitting the ball so hard there was no luck to go bad. When the ball goes 450 feet your going to be ok.

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  11. From both a real-life and fantasy perspective, Geovany Soto’s 2009 season has been a massive disappointment. From a .285/.365/.504 triple slash line in 2008 to a .218/.323/.380 line in 2009, many people (from sports radio hosts to blog writers) have called Geo Soto this season’s biggest disappointment, citing such baseless claims as “the sophomore jinx” and “it’s mentally difficult to play in Chicago.” I would agree that Geovany Soto’s 2009 season has been disappointing, but for entirely separate reasons, many of which leave hope for 2010.

    At the first and foremost level behind “the slump,” Geovany Soto’s 2009 season has been marred by a series of shoulder and oblique injuries. Injuries that, especially early on, the Cubs never let properly heal. After straining his shoulder in the beginning of the season, a look at Soto’s game log reveals that the Cubs only sat their backstop out for five games (pinch hitting him once in that span). Shoulder injuries, as anyone named B.J. Upton or this Orthopedic study will attest, can unequivocally disable a player’s performance level. I’m no Doctor, but from what I can gather, the shoulder muscles (specifically the supraspinatus muscle) are essential to arm elevation and stabilization of dynamic arm motion. Additionally, injuries and pain in the shoulder “may manifest throughout the body.” This is not to even mention the fact that hitting for power comes from the torque generated by the hips and from the oblique muscles.

    So what does this all mean? It means you absolutely don’t rush someone with a shoulder strain (or an oblique injury) back to the lineup; you give them time to heal and recuperate, rather force them to play hurt and potentially aggravate minor injuries (for more information on aggravating minor injuries, check out what the Mets did to Johan Santana this season, despite an All-Star break evaluation that indicated Johan was pitching through persistent soreness). A look at Soto’s monthly splits from 2009 highlights the effect of injury on a player’s game — the .398 OPS in April and .731 OPS in May clearly indicate that Soto’s power stroke was greatly affected by the early season injury that was never allowed to properly heal. He looked healthy come June (.916) and early July (.841), until a oblique injury in the beginning of the second half sidelined him over a month and again affected his power stroke (.492 OPS). Soto’s been strong in the EXTREMELY tiny sample size of September PA’s he’s been given (1.214 OPS in 9 PA’s), but with the Cubs disasterously disappointing 2009 season almost over (11.5 games back of the Cardinals), the Cubs (and Geovany Soto) should focus more on resting their all-star backstop for next season rather than “breaking him out of his slump” — especially because Soto’s core skillset has improved each season in the majors, including this year.

    Outside the power aspect, which I strongly account to mismanaged injury, Geovany Soto’s peripheral statistics have simultaneously improved and been the subject of poor luck this season. In 2007 and 2008, Soto has respective K rates of 25.9% and 24.5%. This season, Soto has continued to shave down the strikeouts, posting a 23.2 K%. Over this same time frame, Soto has increased his BB rate from 8.5% to 11.2% to a current rate of 13.4%. Soto has gone from a batter with a giant hole in his swing (0.36 BB/K in 2007) to a hitter with quality command of the strike zone (0.67 BB/K, 0.50 MLB avg). Soto has largely accomplished this step forward in his game by gradually cutting down on his hacks at pitches outside of the zone (22.3% O-Swing in 2007, 20.5% in 2008, 18.1% in 2009; MLB avg is around 25.1%). Soto has also increased his contact rate this season (77.6% in 2009, 74.7% in 2009).

    The usually elite line drive rate is down a significant chunk (from 21% to 19.8%) compared to last season, but that may have a lot to do with his shoulder injury early in the season (it is difficult to drive the ball when you have lingering soreness and pain lifting the shoulder). This may account for some, but not all of the 86-point plummet in BABIP — the rest has been pure bad luck. Even at his depressed seasonal LD%, Soto’s quick XBABIP (LD%+.120) is somewhere around .315 or .320 — well below the .251 mark he’s posted on the season. The massively low BABIP (and consistent 1.9ish speed score over 2007-2009) screams for better days ahead. It’s not like smoking marijuana slows down your reflexes or anything, right?

    Put this all together and you get the portrait of a productive player who has been hampered by injury and bad luck. Geovany Soto’s minor and major league numbers indicate that he has the legitimate power — even if his true maintainable ISO is only around .180 (Matt Kemp territory), well below the .200 career average mark, he’s still a 20+ HR hitter — and quality eye (13.4 BB% this season, 11.4% career average) to provide the Cubs lineup with the necessary offensive production required for success. 2009 may be a lost cause, but if the Cubs can keep Soto healthy going into 2010 and get some positive luck regression from Geovany Soto (in addition to Alfonso Soriano and Milton Bradley), the Cubs prospects for success in 2010 look pretty good. Not as good as they appeared going into this season, but Cubs fans should have some hope going into next season — especially if pre-wrist injury Derrek Lee is back for good. Let’s just hope the re-sign Rich Harden in the offseason.

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  12. Oops, clearly none of the HTML Hyperlinks translated from the blogpost to the comment section…to check out the links from the article (ie, effects of injury on performance levels), you’ll have to click my name (which will link you to the post)

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