Juan Soto, who turned 23 a few weeks after the completion of his fourth big league season, finished the 2021 campaign ranked first in the National League in on-base percentage, with a .465 OBP, first in walks (145), first in OBP with RISP (.577) and in AVG w/ RISP (.396), and he was ranked second in average (.313 AVG), in OPS (.999), in wOBA (.420), in wRC+ (163), and in runs scored (111), while finishing 3rd in fWAR (6.6), and in SLG w/ RISP (.689).
That was good enough to make Soto a finalist for the 2021 NL MVP.
In 151 games and 654 plate appearances, Soto hit 20 doubles, two triples, and 29 homers, and he stole nine stolen bases as well, playing for an ultimately disappointing Washington Nationals’ club that traded off a number of expiring contracts at the deadline on July 30th, kicking off a reboot of the organization centered around a young core of players including their young star.
“He’s been so even-keeled throughout the whole process,” GM Mike Rizzo said when asked at the end of the year about Soto’s impressive 2021 run.
“You start off as a young rookie player and everything is in front of you, and you dominate a league to the point where teams are afraid to pitch to you and then we kind of reboot right in front of him and not a peep of discontent, and I think you’ve seen a different even better gear if that’s even possible the second half of the season than he had in the first half of the season, and I think that says everything you need to know about him.”
Soto put up a .348/.525/.639 line, 11 doubles, a triple, 18 home runs, 87 walks, and 57 runs scored in 72 games and 322 PAs in the second-half of the season, after his .283/.407/.445, nine-double, 11-home run, 58-walk, and 52-K first-half (in 79 games and 332 PAs).
“Soto’s .465 on-base percentage,” the Nationals noted in a press release on the outfielder being named an NL MVP finalist, “... was the highest in a season since 2008 (HOF Chipper Jones, .470), while his 145 walks were the most in a season since Barry Bonds set the Major League record with 232 in 2004 ... and [were] the second-most by any player prior to his 23rd birthday behind Hall of Famer Ted Williams (147 in 1941).”
“He reached base safely at least four times in 26 games,” the club added, noting that, “only Barry Bonds (2001, 2002, 2004), Hall of Famer Babe Ruth (1920, 1923, 1931), and Hall of Famer Lou Gehrig (1931) put together seasons with at least 26 games in which they reached base safely at least four times.”
“He’s so young,” manager Davey Martinez said at the end of the regular season, “and to do the things he’s been doing, he’s, as you can see, some of the names that pop up next to his, it’s incredible, it really is. So, I can’t wait to watch him continue to do what he does and watch him grow, I mean, he’s truly one of the best young players in the game if not the best young player in the game, so it’s been a lot of fun to be here with him and I expect us to be together for a long time.”
Over the final weeks of the season, Soto was asked about having likely played his way into the mix for the NL MVP award.
“It feels really good,” he said. “After that slow start and then just come from the bottom and come all the way up, it feels great.”
“We’re going to see at the end of the day how it goes.”
The 2021 NL MVP winner will be announced live on the MLB Network later this month on Thursday, November 18th.