With the release of Statcast in 2015, some new words and phrases have begun to enter the everyday vocabulary of baseball fans. One of those is exit velocity (EV), which refers to how fast, in miles per hour, a baseball is going after it makes contact with the bat. It's another tool at our disposal that can help diagnose a hitter's slump, or identify if someone might be ready for a breakout. In the instance of Jorge Soler, it can help reassure us that there's nothing drastically wrong with him.
With the exception of one week in the beginning of June, Soler's average EV has been better than the major league average for the entire season; and he compares favorably to the best player in baseball.
While Mike Trout has been much more consistent over the entire year (as one would expect) he and Soler were fairly interchangeable in terms of EV, from the beginning of the season to the end of May. For all batters with more than 100 plate appearances, Soler has the 11th best average EV in baseball. While he clearly hits the ball hard, the results simply haven't been what was expected of him this season.
After an eye opening 2014, the Cubs were expecting big things from Soler, but he hasn't been able to put together any sustained success this year. He's increased his walk rate by over 16 percent, but other than that, all of his other statistics have fallen in terms of production. He's hit the same number of home runs in 2015 as he did last season, in which he had 224 fewer plate appearances; and his strikeout percent, isolated slugging, wOBA, wRC+ and fWAR have taken dramatic u-turns.
When Soler first came up, one thing that scouts raved about was his advanced "understanding of the strike zone" which would undoubtedly serve him well as pitchers tried to get him to chase. In 2014 his O-Swing rate was 27.8 percent, but this year it has risen to 34.1 percent. Not only is he chasing more pitches outside the strike zone, but he's also whiffing on them far more than he did a year ago.
In 2015, the bottom of the zone is bright red, whereas in his first taste of major league action, he rarely missed pitches at which he swung. Unfortunately for Soler, but to the delight of pitchers across the league, there's now a fairly large target at which they can induce swings and misses. While there were isolated quadrants in which Soler had problems making contact during 2014, there wasn't a defined area that could be attacked.
Soler has two options going forward: either stop swinging at those pitches entirely, or start hitting them with authority. Pitchers are going to pound that part of the strike zone until he proves that it's no longer a viable way to get him out, and until he makes that adjustment, it's open season.
This is also the approach that he needs to take against the slider, which has given him the most trouble out of any pitch-type in 2015. Last year, he saw it 19.8 percent of the time, and produced a negative pitch-value of -0.8. Opposing teams clearly noticed he had a problem with it, and they've ramped up the number of sliders thrown to Soler, which is now 22.4 percent.
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Soler has struggled against cutters, sinkers, curveballs, and changeups this season, but the slider is by far his biggest nemesis. According to Brooks Baseball, he misses that pitch more than half the time he swings at it, and has a GB/FB rate of 175 percent. There are clearly some adjustments that he must make for the remainder of the season, but as his EV has shown, there's still a lot to like for his future. He also has the league's highest line drive rate (29.5 percent), and has cut his ground ball rate from 2014 by 18.39 percent.
The Cubs have an incredibly young lineup, and with it will come some growing pains. The rapid ascent of players like Trout, Bryce Harper, and now Carlos Correa has warped our expectations of how young players should perform.
Soler is still only 23 years old, and he has fewer than 450 plate appearances in his major league career. He still has an exceptionally bright future, as he's shown that he has tremendous power and an ability to hit baseballs with an elite exit velocity. Soler might not be the monster that we'd hoped he'd be in 2015, but there's no reason to give up on him just yet.
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Matt Goldman is a Featured Writer with Beyond the Box Score and a Contributing Editor at MLB Daily Dish. You can follow him on Twitter at @TheOriginalBull.