Geovany Soto: Where Have You Gone (Part 2)

Earlier this year, I analyzed Geovany Soto's "sophomore slump." Through a medley of serious injuries (which zapped his power) and bad luck (which zapped his BA/OBP), Soto's improving approach at the plate was masked beneath the appearance of "slumpiness."

After posting a super .285/.364/.504 (.868 OPS) triple slash line with an 11.2 BB% and 24.5 K% in his rookie of the year season, Geo Soto posted a disappointing .218/.321/.381 (.702 OPS) triple slash line last year with an ISO that fell over .050 points. No one is arguing that Geovany Soto's production fell short of expectations last year; however, Soto's peripherals seem to indicate that he is not a one-season wonder and that the team may have a golden opportunity, a la The Braves with Brian McCann, to lock Soto up long term for cheap.

Despite all of his failures last season, Geovany Soto improved his walk rate (13.1 BB%) and decreased his strikeout rate (23.3 K%). He swung at more pitches inside of the zone and less outside of the zone in 2009 compared to 2008. Soto also increased his contact rates on pitches both in and outside of the zone. These factors point to improvement and Soto's 2009 seemingly would have been equally good, if not better, than his 2008 rookie season if not for injury and bad luck.

First, let's look at the injury aspect. As previously noted, shoulder and oblique injuries are deadly. They limit movement and range, which limits strong contact and power. Beyond the dip in ISO, this is noticeable in Soto's change in runs produced per 100 pitches for each and every pitch type between 2008 and 2009. Soto's ability to drive fastballs decreased by almost a full run (also visible in Soto's -2.9% change in LD% last season), while breaking pitches --most of which Soto had success with in 2008 -- became almost "unhittable" (clearly Soto was making contact with him, as evidenced by the increase in contact percentage, but he was unable to drive the ball with sufficient authority due to his injuries, which the Cubs rushed Soto back from, that gave him limited mobility). With no WBC in 2010 and plenty of time to recuperate from a long and injured 2009, Soto should be back in full health next season and -- assuming he retains his gains in K%, BB% and contact rates -- he should be ready to return to form.

The second problem with Soto's 2009 season was plain old poor luck. From a .337 BABIP in 2008 to a .251 BABIP in 2009, it is no surprise that Soto's OPS fell by a whopping .166 points. Soto's 2009 xBABIP (screenshot of the xBABIP calculator pictured right) was a significantly higher and more palpable .314. By adjusting Soto's 2009 triple slash line by utilizing his .314 xBABIP (assuming all additional hits would have been singles), we find that Soto's luck-neutral (but still injury affected) 2009 triple slash line would have been .269/.365/.432 (.797 OPS). Had Soto not been limited by injury, that .797 figure would have easily approached his .868 rookie season OPS (which was slightly inflated by good luck).

Assuming that his shoulder and obliques are healthy in 2010, there is much reason to expect big things from Geo Soto. Between a rebound by Soto, a full season by Aramis Ramirez and an expected rebound by Milton Bradley (if he is not traded) and Alfonso Soriano (he can't been 2009 bad next year...can he?), there is no reason the Cubs cannot compete and win in 2010. In 2008, they had one of the league's best offenses. The Cubs 2009 was marred by injury and bad luck to many core players. With their rebound and perhaps D-Lee's return to form, the Cubs should be the NL central force to fear next year.

And just in case you are like Jim Hendry and not big on Milton Bradley, let me do a quick luck adjustment for his .257/.378/.397 (.775 OPS), as his .311 BABIP was lower than his .326 xBABIP. Assuming that Milton Bradley's power outage (his 2009 ISO was .035 pts below his career ISO) continues, his 2009 luck neutral adjusted line (assuming all additional hits would be singles) would have been a much less ugly .270/.390/.410 (.800 OPS) line. That's an .800 OPS hitting for power like Juan Pierre. Bradley normally doesn't hit like Juan Pierre. Hate him all you want; that .390 OBP is valuable at the top of the order even without power.