It was “just” a 60-game season, but Juan Soto finished the 2020 campaign with the highest batting average in the National League (.351; second-highest in the majors), MLB’s top OBP, (.490), highest SLG (.695), highest wOBA (.478), highest wRC+ (200), fifth-most walks (41), and the highest BB% (20.9%) in the 47 games he played and the 196 plate appearances he had, after starting late following a positive test for COVID-19 on the morning of the season opener.
What was Soto most proud of after he’d wrapped up his 2020 campaign?
“I’ve been really proud about being patient and taking my walks, because they’ve been walking me a lot,” the NL Batting champ said after the season finale in D.C.
He also led the majors in intentional walks after opposing teams apparently decided not to let the slugger beat them.
“Sometimes it’s really tough. Most of the time when you get a 3-1 count, ready to go, and they walk you intentionally,” Soto continued.
“Just try to keep my mind down and prepare for my moment,” he added.
“Forget about the walks and everything, just try to keep in one spot and try to do the adjustment to go to the next at bat, and go at bat to at bat.”
As good as he’s been in his first three seasons in the majors, Soto, who is still just 21 (until October 25th), and as his manager said after Game 60 of 60 this season, there’s still room for improvement in the outfielder’s game.
“You haven’t seen the best of Juan Soto yet, that’s for sure,” Davey Martinez told reporters on his season-ending Zoom call late last month.
“I mean, he’s going to continue to get better in all aspects of the game. You’re talking about not only a potential MVP this year, but for many, many years.
“He’s good, he’s really good, and like I said, he wants to get better.”
While it was a big season for Soto, individually, the Nationals, as a team, underperformed and failed to make it back to the postseason a year after they’d won it all, but their left (or maybe right) fielder, said he’s confident the pieces are there and they’ll compete for the World Series championship again in 2021.
“I think we’re going to be good,” Soto said. “We’ve got a couple good hitters on the team, we’ve got the defense, we’ve got the pitching, which is the most important thing, so I think we just need a couple pieces and then come back and we can make it all the way again.”
Finding someone who can hit behind Soto this season might help make opposing pitchers pay if they decide to walk him again next year, which is something (lineup protection) that Soto said he didn’t concern himself with before he saw how other teams ended up walking him repeatedly.
“It’s really different having Howie Kendrick behind me,” Soto said after the 37-year-old vet struggled to stay in the lineup while dealing with hamstring issues this season.
“At the beginning I didn’t know how different it is, my hitting coach said, ‘Man, you need Howie behind you right there,’ and everything. And I didn’t expect that, I was like they’re still going to pitch to me, and then I realized they walked me intentionally a lot of times, and then I said, ‘Oh, right I need somebody behind me and all that kind of stuff.’
“It’s a challenge to just keep your bat and your swing in the strike zone, try to don’t go out of the strike zone and everything.”
Soto’s 21.0% O-Swing% (the percentage of pitches a batter swings at outside the strike zone as defined by Fangraphs) was 10th lowest amongst qualified major league hitters, meaning he was able to stay disciplined and spit on pitches outside the strike zone, which is big for a hitter who sees as few pitches in the zone as he did (37.2% Zone%, 7th lowest percentage of pitches in the zone amongst all big league hitters in 2020).
Now it’s time to rest up and prepare to do the same in what’s hopefully a full season in 2021.
“For me right now just rest,” Soto said when asked what was next when the season ended for the Nationals. “Be with my family a little bit, try to keep safe my body and everything.
“Find out how I’m going to work out this year with all this going on, try to see what kind of places I can go to work out. Start working out, get my body in shape and ready to come back.”