Geovany Soto, where have you gone?

From both a real-life and fantasy perspective, Geovany Soto's 2009 season has been a massive disappointment. From a .285/.365/.504 triple slash line in 2008 to a .218/.323/.380 line in 2009, many people (from sports radio hosts to blog writers) have called Geo Soto this season's biggest disappointment, citing such baseless claims as "the sophomore jinx" and "it's mentally difficult to play in Chicago." I would agree that Geovany Soto's 2009 season has been disappointing, but for entirely separate reasons, many of which leave hope for 2010.

At the first and foremost level behind "the slump," Geovany Soto's 2009 season has been marred by a series of shoulder and oblique injuries. Injuries that, especially early on, the Cubs never let properly heal. After straining his shoulder in the beginning of the season, a look at Soto's game log reveals that the Cubs only sat their backstop out for five games (pinch hitting him once in that span). Shoulder injuries, as anyone named B.J. Upton or this Orthopedic study will attest, can unequivocally disable a player's performance level. I'm no Doctor, but from what I can gather, the shoulder muscles (specifically the supraspinatus muscle) are essential to arm elevation and stabilization of dynamic arm motion. Additionally, injuries and pain in the shoulder "may manifest throughout the body." This is not to even mention the fact that hitting for power comes from the torque generated by the hips and from the oblique muscles.

So what does this all mean? It means you absolutely don't rush someone with a shoulder strain (or an oblique injury) back to the lineup; you give them time to heal and recuperate, rather force them to play hurt and potentially aggravate minor injuries (for more information on aggravating minor injuries, check out what the Mets did to Johan Santana this season, despite an All-Star break evaluation that indicated Johan was pitching through persistent soreness). A look at Soto's monthly splits from 2009 highlights the effect of injury on a player's game -- the .398 OPS in April and .731 OPS in May clearly indicate that Soto's power stroke was greatly affected by the early season injury that was never allowed to properly heal. He looked healthy come June (.916) and early July (.841), until a oblique injury in the beginning of the second half sidelined him over a month and again affected his power stroke (.492 OPS). Soto's been strong in the EXTREMELY tiny sample size of September PA's he's been given (1.214 OPS in 9 PA's), but with the Cubs disasterously disappointing 2009 season almost over (11.5 games back of the Cardinals), the Cubs (and Geovany Soto) should focus more on resting their all-star backstop for next season rather than "breaking him out of his slump" -- especially because Soto's core skillset has improved each season in the majors, including this year.

Outside the power aspect, which I strongly account to mismanaged injury, Geovany Soto's peripheral statistics have simultaneously improved and been the subject of poor luck this season. In 2007 and 2008, Soto has respective K rates of 25.9% and 24.5%. This season, Soto has continued to shave down the strikeouts, posting a 23.2 K%. Over this same time frame, Soto has increased his BB rate from 8.5% to 11.2% to a current rate of 13.4%. Soto has gone from a batter with a giant hole in his swing (0.36 BB/K in 2007) to a hitter with quality command of the strike zone (0.67 BB/K, 0.50 MLB avg). Soto has largely accomplished this step forward in his game by gradually cutting down on his hacks at pitches outside of the zone (22.3% O-Swing in 2007, 20.5% in 2008, 18.1% in 2009; MLB avg is around 25.1%). Soto has also increased his contact rate this season (77.6% in 2009, 74.7% in 2009).

The usually elite line drive rate is down a significant chunk (from 21% to 19.8%) compared to last season, but that may have a lot to do with his shoulder injury early in the season (it is difficult to drive the ball when you have lingering soreness and pain lifting the shoulder). This may account for some, but not all of the 86-point plummet in BABIP -- the rest has been pure bad luck. Even at his depressed seasonal LD%, Soto's quick XBABIP (LD%+.120) is somewhere around .315 or .320 -- well below the .251 mark he's posted on the season. The massively low BABIP (and consistent 1.9ish speed score over 2007-2009) screams for better days ahead. It's not like smoking marijuana slows down your reflexes or anything, right?

Put this all together and you get the portrait of a productive player who has been hampered by injury and bad luck. Geovany Soto's minor and major league numbers indicate that he has the legitimate power -- even if his true maintainable ISO is only around .180 (Matt Kemp territory), well below the .200 career average mark, he's still a 20+ HR hitter -- and quality eye (13.4 BB% this season, 11.4% career average) to provide the Cubs lineup with the necessary offensive production required for success. 2009 may be a lost cause, but if the Cubs can keep Soto healthy going into 2010 and get some positive luck regression from Geovany Soto (in addition to Alfonso Soriano and Milton Bradley), the Cubs prospects for success in 2010 look pretty good. Not as good as they appeared going into this season, but Cubs fans should have some hope going into next season -- especially if pre-wrist injury Derrek Lee is back for good. Let's just hope the re-sign Rich Harden in the offseason.


The 'Bright' One said...

how would have the season been diff if marmol was closing from the beginning? Still unhittable and only 1 home run allowed all year. Thats like one outing for Gregg

Sexy Rexy said...

I think Stephainia Bell would be pleased with you

Cubsfan4evr said...

I was thinking about the Cubs and their off season plans last week. One thing I didn't know was what they should do about catching for next year. Lou has made Hill the starter for now. We obviously can't go into next season with him as the starter. Do we go and invest the little money we will have this off season on a catcher? After talking to TBO I realized we can't and shouldn't. As you mentioned a number of things affected him this season so we just need to hope he gets into shape this off season and the Soto from last year returns.