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Does Juan Soto’s two-strike crouch work?

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At two strikes, Juan Soto shrinks his strike zone by crouching down. Does it actually do anything?

Washington Nationals v Chicago Cubs Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

One of the things that makes Juan Soto special is his mature approach at the plate. The Nationals outfielder may not be able to legally buy alcohol in the United States, but he doesn’t just have the discipline of a seasoned vet, he has the discipline of Joey Votto in his prime. A 15 percent walk rate would be good for anyone, but it’s incredible for someone who is younger than OK Computer.

His low chase rate is the primary driver of his ability to draw a walk, but Soto has another strategy he employs. When the count reaches two strikes, Soto crouches down lower to shrink his strike zone. Here’s Soto setting up for a pitch from Adam Conley before he gets to two strikes.

Here is again in the same at-bat when the count got to two strikes.

It’s an idea so simple, one must wonder why everyone doesn’t do it. It’s working out for Soto.

Or is it?

Do umpires actually account for Soto’s shifting zone or do the boundaries of the zone on the first pitch and keep them there?

Juan Soto is a good hitter with two strikes, but he’s not the best. His career 90 wRC+ in two strike counts ranks 18th over the last two years. His strikeout rates and walk rates are better than average when at two strikes, but neither is exemplary. They’re about what you’d expect from a hitter who walks a lot and doesn’t strike out that much.

Looking at the called strike rate of borderline pitches that Soto takes, it looks like the effect—if there is one—is small. Umpires are generally more generous when a batter is at two strikes. Conversely, they’re more likely to call a strike when the count is at three balls. In all counts in 2019, left-handed hitters have a 47.3 percent of a pitch in the shadow zone being called a strike. The shadow zone is the area around the edges of the plate.

Baseball Savant

Before two strikes, that rises to 50.3 percent. At two strikes, it falls all the way down to 29.7 percent.

Called Strikes to Lefties in Shadow Zone

Count Called Strikes Balls Strikes
Count Called Strikes Balls Strikes
All Counts 23,976 26,649 47.3
Before 2 Strikes 21,770 21,441 50.3
2 Strikes 2,206 5,208 29.7
2019 Baseball Savant

When Soto gets to two strikes and hunkers down, he has a 29.1 percent chance of having a shadow zone pitch being called against him.

Called Strikes to Juan Soto in Shadow Zone

Count Called Strikes Balls Strike%
Count Called Strikes Balls Strike%
All Counts 469 532 46.8
Before 2 Strikes 425 425 50
2 Strikes 44 107 29.1
2018 and 2019 Baseball Savant

That’s not enough of a drop off to say that Soto’s strategy is definitely working, but this includes pitches on the inside and outside of the plate. Soto could get as low as the kid from the Little League World Series, and it wouldn’t affect the width of the plate. What it should affect is where the top and bottom of the strike zone is drawn. At least it should with a human umpire behind the plate.

In the Atlantic League where the electronic strike zone is being tested, Soto’s crouch wouldn’t affect anything. The tops and bottom of the strike zone are based on height according to an article in USA Today by Gabe Lacques, and that had an adverse effect on shortstop Kent Blackstone.

Like many athletes of a certain height, Blackstone gifted himself an extra inch in submitting his player information, because who wouldn’t prefer a 6-foot shortstop over a 5-11 shortstop?

Trouble was, the generous height was entered in the system to establish his strike zone. And so in his first few games with the auto strike zone, several very high strikes were called against him.

When Soto crouches down, we should see more pitches at the top of the zone be called a ball so long as there’s a human calling balls and strikes. Unfortunately, we don’t have enough of a sample to say that it definitely does or doesn’t work for pitches at the top of the zone. Down to two strikes, Soto has only allowed nine pitches in attack zone 12 (the border along the middle-top of the zone) to go by. Of those nine pitches, seven have been called a strike.

Called Strikes at Top of Zone to Juan Soto

Count Called Strikes Balls Strike% Avg. Plate Z Called Strike Avg. Normalized Plate Z Called Strikes Avg Plate Z Balls Avg Normalized Plate Z Balls
Count Called Strikes Balls Strike% Avg. Plate Z Called Strike Avg. Normalized Plate Z Called Strikes Avg Plate Z Balls Avg Normalized Plate Z Balls
All Pitches 56 21 72.7 3.18 ft 0.93 ft 3.47 ft 1.14 ft
Before 2 Strikes 50 20 71.4 3.19 ft 0.93 ft 3.48 ft 1.14 ft
2 Strikes 7 2 77.7 3.05 ft 1.01 ft 3.40 ft 1.11 ft
2018 and 2019 Baseball Savant

For pitches at the bottom of the zone, the returns are much more promising.

Called Strikes at Bottom of Zone to Juan Soto

Scenario Called Strikes Balls Strike% Avg. Plate Z Called Strike Avg. Normalized Plate Z Called Strikes Avg Plate Z Balls Avg Normalized Plate Z Balls
Scenario Called Strikes Balls Strike% Avg. Plate Z Called Strike Avg. Normalized Plate Z Called Strikes Avg Plate Z Balls Avg Normalized Plate Z Balls
All Pitches 97 157 38.1 1.59 ft -0.83 ft 1.3 ft -1.10 ft
Before 2 Strikes 93 114 44.9 1.59 ft -0.82 ft 1.30 ft -1.11 ft
2 Strikes 4 43 8.5 1.54 ft -0.87 ft 1.28 ft -1.06 ft
2018 and 2019 Baseball Savant

A sample of 47 pitches is still tiny, but only four of those 47 pitches two-strike pitches at the bottom of the zone have been called against Soto. That’s astonishing. The league average called strike rate on those kinds of pitches is 29.7 percent. Soto is down to 8.5 percent. A difference this large would be an absolute boon. In 100 at-bats, a regular hitter might be expected to be rung up on 29 such pitches, but Soto could buy himself second life 20 more times. Not all of those second chances are going to result in reaching base, but it’s better than the alternative.

It just might take him four years to get those 20 extra opportunities though, and that’s if there’s an effect. Again, it’s a small sample, and Soto might just be getting lucky rather than tricking the umpires. For now, it seems to work on pitches at the knees. If it’s helping him extend an extra five at-bats a year without taking anything away, it’s worth making the slight adjustment.


Kenny Kelly is a writer for Beyond the Box Score and McCovey Chronicles. You can follow him on Twitter @KennyKellyWords.