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Jorge Soler has shown his true potential recently

The talent has always been there, the question has been about sustaining it.

Detroit Tigers v Kansas City Royals Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

About two months ago, Jorge Soler had ridden a career filled with ups and downs to a crossroad. He was hitting a very pedestrian .236/.287/.491 for a designated hitter, equating to a 98 wRC+ that ranked ninth out of 15 qualified designated hitters in the American League. He was striking out at an absurd 30 percent rate and had seen a dip in his walk-rate, giving him a 0.20 BB/K ratio that flirted with last place among his positional peers. The subpar .287 on-base percentage loomed over his profile so much that even his elite-level of power couldn’t cover it up. His lack of offensive production combined with his negative value in the field and on the bases put him near replacement level with an fWAR of 0.2.

If Soler continued at his current pace, he would have probably been playing himself closer to being non-tendered than extended. At 27 years old with almost 1,500 plate appearances of average-ish offensive production under his belt, he was running shorter and shorter on time to pick things up.

Luckily for Soler, his performance has taken a full-180. Since the beginning of June, he’s slashing a much improved .246/.354/.536, good for a 133 wRC+ (fourth among designated hitters). Driving the increased production has been a considerable jump in his walk-rate and dip in his strikeout-rate, as for the past six weeks he’s been working with a much more manageable 0.44 BB/K ratio (sixth among designated hitters). In terms of Statcast data, it would not be an understatement to say he’s been one of the hottest hitters in baseball for a fourth of the season. Among 81 hitters with at least 150 plate appearances since the beginning of June, his xwOBA ranks sixth. His xSLG ranks seventh, fueled by a stellar exit velocity of 93.4 miles per hour.

xwOBA leaders since June

Rk. Player Results xwOBA
Rk. Player Results xwOBA
1 Mike Trout 82.562 for 163 0.507
2 Christian Yelich 70.599 for 163 0.433
3 Josh Donaldson 70.133 for 166 0.422
4 Matt Olson 65.023 for 157 0.414
5 Max Muncy 65.828 for 161 0.409
6 Jorge Soler 65.618 for 161 0.408
7 Ozzie Albies 63.827 for 157 0.407
8 Pete Alonso 66.108 for 163 0.406
9 Anthony Rendon 63.359 for 156 0.406
10 Cody Bellinger 62.523 for 154 0.406
xwOBA leaders since the beginning of June, minimum 150 plate appearances Baseball Savant

Focusing on a smaller but more recent sample size, it’s apparent that Soler is only trending upwards at the plate. Among 138 hitters with at least 40 plate appearances since the beginning of July, Soler ranks third in xwOBA, trailing only Mike Trout and Josh Donaldson.

July xwOBA leaders

Rk. Player Results xwOBA
Rk. Player Results xwOBA
1 Mike Trout 24.339 for 41 0.594
2 Josh Donaldson 21.535 for 45 0.479
3 Jorge Soler 22.786 for 49 0.465
4 Mookie Betts 24.493 for 53 0.462
5 Danny Jansen 19.420 for 43 0.452
6 Christian Vazquez 20.226 for 46 0.440
7 Juan Soto 19.218 for 44 0.437
8 Matt Olson 19.236 for 44 0.437
9 Christian Yelich 19.627 for 45 0.436
10 Cody Bellinger 21.331 for 50 0.427
Minimum 40 plate appearances since the beginning of July Baseball Savant

So what has changed for Soler? For starters, it’s been improvements in both his plate discipline and quality of contact. Starting with his plate skills, which were horrendous to begin the season, he’s shown some steady strides in some key areas. Earlier in the season, much of Soler’s struggles had to do with swinging too often outside the zone and making little contact on those swings. His outside-zone swing percentage ranked into the top half of qualified hitters (74th of 167) in the months of April and May, while his outside-zone contact percentage was the third worst rate in baseball, higher than only Joey Gallo and Brandon Lowe. Not an ideal combination.

But for June and July, Soler has made adjustments for the better. Out of 173 qualified hitters during this time, his outside-zone swing percentage is the 18th lowest. The few times he does swing outside the zone, his contact rate on those pitches, while still bad, has moved up to only the 20th worst rate in baseball. Throw this all together and you get improvements in both the walk and strikeout departments.

Soler’s plate discipline improvements

Player Months PA BB% K% SwStr% O-Swing% Contact%
Player Months PA BB% K% SwStr% O-Swing% Contact%
Jorge Soler April/May 234 6.0% 30.3% 15.3% 31.1% 69.0%
Jorge Soler June/July 161 11.0% 25.5% 11.1% 24.4% 72.7%
FanGraphs

As for the month of July, Soler’s outside-zone swing percentage has dipped to an even lower 22.3 percent and his outside-zone contact percentage has jumped into the top half of baseball.

Of course, when you take more pitches outside the zone and do more damage when you swing at them, that will cause pitchers to go after you more often. Well... that hasn’t exactly been the case with Soler. As a matter of fact, they’re going after him less often and so far, and he hasn’t taken the bait.

FanGraphs

I honestly can’t find a clear explanation as to why this is happening. For now, my best guess is his improvements in quality-of-contact on pitches located inside the zone. The league-average xwOBA for a pitch inside the zone in 2019 is .339. The average barrel percentage is 7.3 percent. For the months of April and May, Soler sat with respectable marks of .375 and 10.6 percent in those categories. For June and July, he’s posted elite marks of .450 and 17.5 percent. Not to mention, his third rank in the American League home run standings (25) could have something to do with him scaring pitchers off.

But in looking at quality-of-contact as a whole, Soler has made more key improvements across the board. Overall, he’s doing more damage on contact thanks in part to an increased barrel rate and a large jump in exit velocity in the ideal launch angle range (I set it at 10 to 30 degrees).

Soler’s quality-of-contact improvements

Player Months PA xwOBA xwOBACON Barrel % 95+ MPH EV % Ideal LA EV
Player Months PA xwOBA xwOBACON Barrel % 95+ MPH EV % Ideal LA EV
Jorge Soler April/May 234 0.333 0.460 11.6% 43.5% 93.8
Jorge Soler June/July 161 0.408 0.511 19.6% 47.4% 98.0
Baseball Savant

This certainly isn’t the first time we’ve seen a hot streak from Jorge Soler. In the past, most of these instances have been followed with disappointment. But we haven’t seen a streak this good from yet and it’s almost getting to the point to where it isn’t such a small sample size. Soler has the talent to be one of the more fearsome hitters at the plate in all of baseball and his numbers in this current streak suggest only that. He just needs to find more consistency.


Patrick Brennan loves to research pitchers and minor leaguers with data. You can find additional work of his at Royals Review and Royals Farm Report. You can also find him on Twitter @paintingcorner.