Juan Soto has a fairly advanced knowledge of the strike zone. Just look at his walk totals (58 BB vs 66 Ks in 512 plate appearances the minors, 49 BB vs 59 strikeouts in 289 PAs in the big leagues), and his on-base percentage thus far in his career (.434 in the minors; .429 so far in the majors).
We’re not quite in “If he does not swing, it is not a strike” territory (yet), but the 19-year-old Washington Nationals’ outfielder clearly understands the zone.
He also has a tendency to let umpires know if he thinks they got a call wrong.
Find an ump who’s getting it from hitters all night, or has a fragile ego, like he did in the Nats’ loss to the Atlanta Braves last night, and it could be a problem.
Soto was punched out by home plate umpire Greg Gibson on a low 3-2 slider from Mike Foltynewicz in the first at bat of the fourth last night (it kind of looked like a strike, really, see pitch No. 6 below).
When he came to the plate the next time in the sixth, he dug in and let Gibson know that he didn’t think the pitch that ended the previous at bat was a strike.
Soto was tossed before a pitch was thrown, earning his first ejection ... at any level of the game, at least according to the Nationals’ rookie.
“I never thought he was going to toss me out, I didn’t say anything wrong,” Soto said when he spoke to reporters after what ended up an 8-3 loss.
But really, he’s never been ejected before? “Never. First time,” Soto said.
“Soto told him that that was a ball,” Nats’ skipper Davey Martinez explained. “And [Gibson] said, ‘What did you say to me?’ Soto said it again, and that was basically it. Until I hear what ‘Gibby’ has to say, I think it was kind of uncalled for really, and I told him, I said, ‘Look, I’m not going to argue balls and strikes, I can’t see balls and strikes,’ but clearly Juan thought it was a ball. But we do have video to see. I didn’t think it was appropriate for him to throw him out in that situation like that really. He could have said, ‘Hey, that’s enough. Let’s get in the box,’ whatever, but I’m not Gibby, so I’m not going to speak for him.”
The crew chief, Jerry Layne, spoke for Gibson after the game, telling reporters, as quoted by Washington Post writer Jorge Castillo, what led to Soto’s ejection.
“Basically, the reason he was ejected is he came up and he was discussing his at-bat before that,” Layne said. “And it specifically states that it’s a no-no to go in and look at pitches and then come out and argue on top of that. Plus, on top of arguing balls and strikes in itself. So, that’s what got him in trouble.”
Soto said he just told Gibson, “... the pitch before was a ball. Make sure he can understand and be better, and help him help us.”
Asked if what he said was any different than what he’s said to every other umpire he’s talked to, Soto said, “Nope.”
“I just try to be the same guy with all these guys.”
“They’re trying to do their job, and I’m trying to do mine, they make errors, we make errors, we’re human.”
Was it Soto’s rookie status that led to him being ejected because he hasn’t “earned” the right to complain or something ridiculous like his “stature” in the game?
Greg Gibson, the home plate umpire, ejects Juan Soto before the at bat even starts https://t.co/oDGwtYlTr4— TheFix (@TheFixPicks) August 9, 2018
“It’s hard to say,” Martinez said, “and I can honestly tell you, I played this game a long time, had a lot of at bats, and I’ve told umpires in the past, ‘Hey, my last at bat that pitch was a ball,’ and they would just say, ‘I’ll take a look at it,’ and if they say that, that’s all you can do.”
“It’s bad on both sides,” Bryce Harper, (who’s earned a few ejections arguing with umps in his career) said, as quoted by MLB.com. “I think it just caught up with some people. I don’t know if Soto is the one to talk back, because we do need him in the lineup. It’s frustrating, it’s definitely frustrating. But nothing we can do.”
Of course, all of the above is really just a distraction from the fact that the Nationals lost another one to the Braves when they had a chance to pick up a game on Atlanta and the NL East’s first-place Philadelphia Phillies, who lost to Arizona earlier in the day on Wednesday.
The Nationals left the bases loaded twice in the game, and went just 1 for 16 with runners in scoring position on the night in the loss.