Can a baseball player both be a buy-low and a sell-high at the same time? I don’t know, maybe? And that’s what Schrödinger’s cat is all about. If you don’t like cats, or you’re allergic, you should still try and meet this Austrian physicist’s little furry feline. Why? Well, you came here for complex thought experiments in theoretical physics and quantum mechanics, right? RIGHT? No, you didn’t at all, but the basic concept is simple, I promise. Better learn this meow than later, ya know? This theory lies in the belief that information exists at the very miniature (we’re talkin quantum baby!) level, and that until we observe a result, that observation is in a flux state (quantum superposition).
So what’s up with a cat in the box?
Well, put a cat in one (along with poison in a flask, and a Geiger counter). Once an atom decays, an internal monitor would react to the Geiger counter and break the flask. Now, if you’re still with me and not sending an e-mail to Grey complaining about my science sesh, just think about looking at the box. Think really hard as your staring at it. Stare at it for a while. Now, let me ask you this: Is the cat alive or dead? And that’s the point… The cat is both alive AND dead because we lack the information, despite knowing the two end results possible*.
All this is to say, that maybe, just maybe, Mike Soroka is a cat in a box. (And also: I’m a nerd.)
*Quantum mechanics and theoretical physics is quite the interesting subject! If you’d like to learn more about the particular theory I touched on, there are wonderful resources available, and I would start here. If you want something a bit less heavy, almost 50% of the Marvel Universe deals with this too, Ant-Man in particular. So there’s that. And if you’d like to know other resources, let me know in the comment section, happy to share multiple pieces of wonderful content delving into science and the universe around us.
Coming off a season where he finished with a 2.68 ERA and 1.11 WHIP in 174.2 innings, that would alone be impressive before you add in the fact that he was only 21-years-old. You’d think that during the preseason, champagne would fall from the heavens, doors would open, velvet ropes would part for drafting him. Well, that’s not exactly happening. His average draft position is in or around the 100’s, his overall consensus ADP is sitting around the SP-25 mark and Razzball currently ranks him 137th overall. So what’s the deal?
“Soroka saw a huge jump in innings, but that is the only down side I’m seeing for him. He was 14th best for average exit velocity [87 MPH] and 6th best for controlling barrels. He had the 5th best ground ball rate and, while not a flashy strikeout rate, he walks no one and forces weak contact. He could regress from his 2.68 ERA [and prolly will, since that was unreal], but as long as he doesn’t get severely unlucky on BABIP, he should be a solid number three.” – Grey.
The two issues Grey points to are completely legitimate ones.
First, the innings logged can be an issue to monitor. I’m always hesitant prognosticating health in any sport, mostly due to the lack of any, you know, medical knowledge. And with players so young, gauging something like this seems almost folly, but the idea of a jump in innings affecting one’s health, no matter how reductive it may seem, is still useful to evaluate. So bake that into the cake (mmm, cake), but don’t let it affect the overall picture.
Secondly, strikeouts make the world go around. (Actually, at this moment, social distancing and plenty of PPE makes the world go around, so be sure to help wherever and however you can!) And if strikeouts make the world go around, Soroka doesn’t really have much planetary rotation. I know, I have no friggin clue why I’m in science mode. END OF THE WORLD PEOPLE, WHAT DO. Okay, so, he’s not terrible in terms of strikeout rate with a 20.3% percentage, good for 76th out of 113 starters that passed the 100-inning threshold, but using basic division, that number seems pretty below average. This is mainly because his claim to fame is putting the ball into play and putting it on the ground with his sinker. Along with his two-seamer, four-seamer, slurve, and circle changeup, Soroka certainly has the repertoire, but he needs to start utilizing it a bit more to take that next step, lest he be a slave to batted balls in play, something Grey alludes to in his blurb. Keep in mind that his current profile should be repeatable and is something you can reliably already bank on. That’s a pitcher that keeps the ball down (51.2 GB%), has good control (2.11 BB/9), keeps the ball in the park (0.72 HR/9) but relies on balls put into play heavily for success.
Hello BABIP, my old friend. And that’s rub here of why Soroka can be both a steal and a flop. Mild hyperbole aside, Steamer projections have this regression factored in. Ending 2019 with a 3.45 FIP and .280 BABIP, projections for this season (just imagine like it was still an 162-game season) would have put him at a 4.06 FIP and .302 BABIP. I actually think this is a fair place to value him, except for one important wrinkle: His age.
Let’s not forget that he’s just 21-years-old. His profile isn’t static, and with time comes the opportunity to learn, adapt, and improve. Let’s put it this way: If Soroka continues to develop, stay healthy, and further improve his secondary pitchers allowing for more robust sequencing, his strikeout rate could rise, thus lowering his overall dependence on balls put into play. Compared to Kyle Hendricks more often than not, let’s not forget that Soroka’s fastball velocity last season sat at 92.9 MPH compared to Hendricks’ 87.3 MPH average. Now, the obvious question though is how much improvement in strikeouts is enough to move him into a higher tier?
As stated earlier, his 20.3 K% puts him basically in the meh-zone. I know this zone, I was born in it, molded by it. I didn’t see the non-meh until I was already a man! Interestingly enough, you know who has a similar profile, yet constantly outperforms their real & projected FIP while holding similar BABIP average and GB%? Hyun-Jin Ryu. Seriously. Granted, Ryu can also strike people out with a 8.03 K/9 in 2019 (career 8.08 K/9), nearly one strikeout more than Soroka… but isn’t that the point? Hyun-Jin Ryu has made a career by having a palatable strikeout rate, a stellar walk rate, and limiting homeruns. Sound familiar? I’d say Soroka has the chance and the ability to move the needle a bit and a bit looks to be all he needs, and if he does, that just might be enough to take him outside the top-100 and put him directly in the top-50 overall for years to come.
The idea of comparing apples and oranges when it comes to MLB player comparisons isn’t lost on me, but I’d be remiss to completely ignore an achievable road map. Think of Ryu as the “Cliff Notes” of potential success for Soroka. And as is true of a lot of players I’ve been covering this extended preseason, there is a certain risk of this “road map” collapsing in of itself (lack of dark energy, lul-science). But what are you exactly losing here by trying?
All I’m saying is, we’re all sitting here and looking at a box. Well, at least I am. You might still be writing to Grey. But in this box is Schrödinger’s baseball player and we’re not sure what we have here. Is he a buy-low? Is he a sell-high? Even after waxing poetic about him and science and fruit for over 1,000 words, I’m honestly not sure.
But at this moment, I know I’m sure of one thing: I’m definitely ready to open the box and find out. How about you?
Jay is a longtime Razzball everything who consumes an egregious amount of Makers Mark as a vehicle to gain wisdom and augment his natural glow. Living in the D.C. area, he also likes spending time visiting the local parks and feeding lettuce to any turtles he encounters, including Mitch McConnell. You can follow him @jaywrong, or read his rarely (like never) updated blog Desultory Thoughts of a Longfellow.