Let’s talk Jorge Soler. The 23-year-old Cuban transplant is currently on the 15-day disabled list — potentially for the remainder of the season — due to a left oblique strain, however even before hitting the shelf his average says he wasn’t hitting the ball. Owner of a modest (read: disappointing) .265/.323/.385 line with seven home runs in 378 plate appearances is surprisingly low, especially considering his .368 BABIP. For the sake of clarity, when referencing “among hitters” in this post, it means players with at least 350 PAs this season, Soler’s .368 BABIP rates ninth highest. Since 1994, aka the Wild Card era, 223 players have posted a .360 BABIP in a a season with at least 350 PAs. Soler’s batting average is the worst of those players, with Jack Cust’s .378 BABIP and .272 AVG in 2010 being the second lowest. As any good baseball nerd will know, BABIP alone often fails to paint the full picture. I opted to go with a mix of Baseball Heatmaps (BH) and Baseball Savant (BS) in order to get differing views of Soler’s batted ball information.
BH has Soler’s fly balls traveling an average of 280.55 feet, ranking 140th. Over at BS, the data is clustered into both fly balls and line drives, so that explains part of the difference. Baseball Savant has Soler at 298.08 feet and a 292 ranking. Via BS, his average exit velocity is 92.36 mph, tied for 36th highest. Similarly MLB’s Statcast shows a 93 mph exit velo for his hits ranking tied for 27th highest. It should be noted Statcast fails to display data for all balls in play and merely shows numbers for BIP that go for hits, almost like a built in confirmation bias. Nonetheless, the more tools available for evaluation, the more I’ll look at. If the admittedly shaky Statcast numbers don’t convince you, we can use FanGraphs Contact% data for more evaluations.
Using the same 350 PA minimum from earlier, Soler’s batted ball info is displayed in the table below, along with his ranking among 195 hitters.
Soler is hitting in the top third for lowest Soft% and in the top fifth for highest Hard%, both good places to be and both numbers corroborating the story of him hitting the ball hard. It isn’t as though he’s hitting into a shift — something which would also most likely show in up in his BABIP — but even his 40.1 percent Pull% is tied at 83rd.
Probably the biggest factor for the depressed average is a jump in his strikeout rate. Soler is being sat down on strikes 29.4 percent of the time. A 15.1 percent swinging strike rate — 11th highest among hitters — represents a 2.6 percent jump from what Soler posted in limited action last season. It should come as no surprise to see such a poor SwStr% hurt him, and his 68 percent contact rate ranks 189th out of 195 hitters.
Before we get too down on Soler, I’m actually optimistic for him. Age is such a critical factor in evaluations and if he was in Double-A, Soler’s 23.5 age would be older than the team average in a mere seven teams out of 30 between the Texas, Southern and Eastern leagues. Given he’s basically two levels above the normal prospect for his age, I’m willing to forgive some of Soler’s plate discipline numbers a bit. Beyond the age and cultural adjustments, injuries have taken a toll on him as well. Soler missed all of the High-A season in 2013 after June 13 due to a stress fracture in his left shin — though the Cubs did get him 93 PAs in the Arizona Fall League that season.
I’m still on board the Soler hype train and if he can manage to rediscover his double-digit walk rates from the minor leagues or dial back the K’s, his triple slash numbers will go up based on him simply putting the ball in play with so much force. If you happen to play in a keeper or dynasty format, I suggest attempting to trade for him if your league’s trade deadline hasn’t passed. If it has, wait until the off-season and see what you’d have to give up to acquire him. With some more development and refining his plate discipline, Soler makes for an excellent buy-low candidate given his pedigree, body frame and athleticism.