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

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For all of the speak 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 is likely to be occupying the cellar of the NL East at 64-89, however that has actually not been due to Soto. In September, he leads all MLB hitters in WAR, in line with 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 Nationwide League at 6.5.

Coming into September, the front-runners for NL MVP had been Harper, Tatis and Dodgers first baseman Max Muncy. Solely Muncy’s staff will make the playoffs, and his staff is stacked. Because it appears more and more seemingly that an MVP will come from a staff that will not attain the playoffs, Soto appears to have put his title 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 actually been a propellant. He is quietly been placing collectively an unbelievable, 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 recreation to a special stage.

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

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A part of what makes Soto such a harmful hitter is his potential to spray the ball throughout the sphere. Based on 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 charge.

Check out the place Soto is hitting the ball in September, overlayed throughout Nationals Park (10 of the video games have been performed on the highway).

(Created with Pybaseball, information from Baseball Savant)
https://photos.daznservices.com/di/library/sporting_news/b0/e0/juan-soto-092421-pybaseball_4zaxri1c0vs91836v7cz883bx.jpg?t=413764308&w=500&high quality=80

When he is unable to hit it previous the infield, he is been a pull-heavy hitter. However 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 is 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 increased than 94.1 — Aaron Choose (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

Essentially the most frequent comparability for Soto has usually been Ted Williams.

It at occasions looks like an unfair comparability to narrate a 22-year-old to one of many biggest hitters of all time. At different occasions, it feels not possible not to check 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 is the total listing of batters who’ve completed the season with not less than 130 walks and fewer than 100 strikeouts.

Batter Age Season Walks Strikeouts OPS
Babe Ruth 25 1920 150 80 1.379
Ted Williams 22 1941 147 27 1.287
Mickey Mantle 25 1957 146 75 1.177
Ted Williams 23 1942 145 51 1.147
Juan Soto 22 2021 131 84 1.029
Eddie Yost 23 1950 141 63 .845

These are some massive names. The one two not within the Corridor of Fame are Soto, who continues to be energetic, and Eddie Yost. Take it a step additional, although. Who’re the 2 youngest on that listing, and the one two to perform the feat at age 22? That is proper: Williams and Soto.

There is not particular pitch-by-pitch information on Williams, however because of Baseball Savant we are able to have a look at how disciplined Soto has been in 2021. With a minimal of simply 25 plate appearances, Soto is second behind solely a pitcher with 44 plate appearances with a chase charge of 12.6 p.c. Amongst qualifying hitters, Soto chases pitches outdoors the zone at a charge almost 4 p.c decrease than the following closest batter.

He additionally will not swing at pitches within the zone as usually as plenty of sluggers. His swing charge on pitches within the strike zone continues to be only a modest 59.8 p.c, the fourth-lowest in baseball.

Turning swings to energy

Soto might need a low swing charge within the zone, however it’s for a motive: He is ready for his pitch.

Based on Baseball Savant, Soto’s lowest swing charges on locations within the strike zone are down and in, and up and away. His swing charge 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.

(Knowledge from Baseball Savant)
https://photos.daznservices.com/di/library/sporting_news/d5/b6/juan-soto-092421-python_pq3u0f07pryz1g499j1f54yyp.jpg?t=424269740&w=500&high quality=80

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

The subsequent factor to note is that it is clear pitchers maintain the ball down on Soto for worry of what he’ll do to pitches up within the zone. He nonetheless stings the ball, however he isn’t hitting it as far. Based on 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 greatest season for energy. Final 12 months, he recorded a slugging proportion 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, however it got here at the price of the next strikeout charge of 20 p.c and decrease on-base proportion (.401).

As a substitute, he is put every part collectively this 12 months. Soto is reaching base at a .470 clip and slugging at .559. The on-base proportion is the very best within the majors by a landslide (Harper is subsequent at .432) and his slugging proportion 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, in line with Baseball Savant, which has him at 18th amongst qualifying MLB outfielders.

Soto cannot management that his staff has not carried out nicely this season. He has finished every part in his energy to make it possible for the Nationals are a aggressive staff. Simply Thursday evening, he hit two solo residence runs as Washington beat the Reds, a staff 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 every other participant within the Nationwide League.

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