Juan Soto went 0 for 4 with a walk and two strikeouts in the series finale with the New York Mets on Thursday, leaving him 2 for 18 since he came off a 10-game stay on the Injured List as he dealt with back spasms.
Thirty-three games in his sophomore season, the 20-year-old outfielder has a .228/.345/.415 line, five doubles, six walks, 21 walks, and 41 Ks in 145 plate appearances.
Asked to diagnose what’s gone wrong for Soto so far in 2019, after his record-setting rookie campaign, Washington Nationals’ manager Davey Martinez told reporters that it was a bit of a mix of Soto chasing pitches out of the zone, and opposing pitchers avoiding throwing him fastballs.
“A lot of his swings and misses have been balls,” Martinez said. “If you look at them, they haven’t really been strikes. For him, he’s really got to stay — I know they’re throwing him — they’re pretty much pitching him backwards, they’re throwing him a lot of offspeed stuff — but he really has to stay on the fastball. I mean, he’s got to get ready for the fastball, and then stay back if they throw him breaking balls and they hang it, that’s when he’s really good.”
Going into the series finale with the Mets on Thursday, Soto’s O-Swing% (swings at pitches outside the zone/pitches outside the zone) was up 5.3% from 60.7% last season to 66.0% in 2019, and his O-contact% (the number of pitches on which contact was made on pitches outside the zone/swings on pitches outside the zone) was down from 68.1% to 60.4%.
Martinez was asked if Soto should be more focused on going to the opposite field as he did so often as a rookie, though Fangraphs actually has him going the other way more so far in 2019 (30.0% Oppo%) than he did last season (27.5%) and pulling the ball more often (37.5%) than he did (36.1%) while going up the middle less (32.5%, down from 36.4%).
SOTO 2019 SLICE CHART (VIA BASEBALLSAVANT.COM)
SOTO 2018 SLICE CHART (VIA BASEBALLSAVANT.COM):
“Last year when he was really good, he wore left-center field out. How many times have we seen him with two strikes he just put the bat out and hit the ball down the third base line? I mean, that’s just part of who he is,” Martinez said.
Will Soto sort things out as he continues to adjust to the adjustments the league has made after his breakout season in 2018? Will Martinez move him in the lineup at some point if it’s taking time to get on track?
Soto is batting fifth tonight against the Cubs and left-hander Cole Hamels. Trea Turner is back in the lineup and leading off, and Victor Robles is batting second in the first of three with Chicago in D.C.