Washington Nationals: Juan Soto able to adapt to pitcher’s adjustments
By Blake Finney
One challenge for young players is the ability to constantly adapt to pitcher’s adjustments. Juan Soto had no problem doing so for the Washington Nationals.
Even though Juan Soto didn’t end up winning National League Rookie of the Year, he was one of the best breakout stories in baseball last year. The Washington Nationals outfielder wasn’t supposed to be this good, this soon, but he clearly had other plans with the way he played.
Nats fans were only able to marvel at Soto’s plate discipline, displaying an unheard of level of maturity for someone his age. It was tough not to smirk when he let a close pitch go by, before dragging his feet in the batter’s box and staring down the pitcher thinking “Nice try, I’m just better than you.”
But it wasn’t just the plate discipline that was an attribute of his game way beyond his years. Soto’s ability to constantly adjust to a pitcher’s game plan against him was also incredible to watch, and we saw it play out throughout his rookie season.
More from District on Deck
- Latest DraftKings Sportsbook Promo Code in Maryland: Bet $5, Win $200 Guaranteed
- Nationals Claim Jeter Downs Off Waivers
- Washington Nationals Minor League Spotlight: Robert Hassell III
- Washington Nationals Tuesday Q&A
- 3 Free Agents the Nationals Should Gamble On
On July 31st, Soto was slashing an incredible .313/.418/.567 as he continued to take the league by storm as a 19-year-old. But from August onwards, he did slow down a little, posting a .255/.402/.398 slash line in August, before rising up to a .283/.383/.525 line in September.
One interesting trend that emerged in the latter stages of the season was that pitchers were starting to try and jam Soto up and in on fastballs. In his pre-August fastball heatmap, you’ll notice how the trend was just to lay them in there over the middle, but from August 1st onwards, while there’s still a sizeable amount over the middle, there’s a large cluster in the top-right of the zone.
However, while his stats dipped a little, on the whole, he was able to adapt and let the location of the pitch dictate where he would hit it. When pitchers began to come up and in late on in the year, his opposite field percentage dropped from 29.2 percent to 25.5 percent, with his up the middle percentage rising to 39.3 percent from 33.9 earlier in the year.
You can see the adaptation in his batting average on balls in the top-right of the strike zone. According to Baseball Savant, in August when pitchers started pounding him up and in, he hit just .255, but then in September, he was able to adjust to the new gameplan and hit .283 on balls in that zone.
It’s almost unheard of for someone of Soto’s age to be able to adapt so well to major league pitching, given all of the tape available to them to study weaknesses of hitters. It’s fair to say that his ability to identify pitches is already among the best in the game. Among player who had at least 450 plate appearances, Soto ranked seventh best in the NL in swinging at pitches outside the strike zone, while ranking 14th in all of baseball.
He was also the third best rookie since 2010 at not swinging outside the strike zone too, with only Jesse Winker and Deline DeShields Jr. ahead of him. But Soto was able to trump both in the power department, making what he did in 2018 truly remarkable in all aspects of the game.
While some players usually experience a sophomore slump, Juan Soto has all the tools to avoid that happening. Washington Nationals fans should buckle up for his encore in 2019, as once again, we could be in for a treat at the plate.