Jorge Soler straight crushes baseballs. In fact, I’ve heard rumors that Discovery Channel is in talks with him to star in a new show called How It’s Destroyed.
But despite regularly generating enough force to achieve terminal velocity, Soler has yet to see appreciable results in his power numbers. His paltry total of 6 home runs sits behind every other player in the top 24 in terms of average batted-ball speed, a list that includes such power-hitting luminaries as Justin Bour, David Peralta, and Justin Smoak.
So why isn’t the Cubs’ right fielder seeing the same results as these other guys? Well, let’s look at how he’s hitting the ball. The average major leaguer has a soft/med/hard contact split of 18.5/52.9/28.6 (percentages) and line drive/ground ball/fly ball breakdown of 20.9/45.4/33.7. Soler’s respective slashes are 15.3/49.8/34.9 (more hard contact) and 29.7/42.4/27.9 (more liners, fewer flies).
And therein lies the “problem.” When Soler came up last year, his line-drive percentage was an unsustainably low 11.9; that’s Rusney Castillo and Curt Casali territory and is almost one-third of this year’s number (29.7). As his LD% has shot up this year, his ground balls (52.2% in 2014) and flies (35.8%) have dropped markedly. The dip in grounders isn’t bad, but the dearth of fly balls directly impacts the homer total. After all, you have to get the ball high enough to put it over the fence.
As is, Soler seems content to keep his hits low enough to avoid radar detection and put infielders at risk for serious bodily harm. Is that such a bad thing though? I mean, I know we’d all like to see him do more of this…
But it’s not as though we’re looking at the same kind of struggles Starlin Castro has fought through. Not that anyone’s comparing the two, just that Soler hasn’t lived up to the expectations many of us had for him. That’s particularly evident in light of the contributions of Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber, the latter of whom is one of those aforementioned players who actually hit it as hard as Soler.
Still, as much fun as it’d be to see the massive Cuban jumping into the rookie home run derby taking place daily at the corner of Clark and Addison, I don’t want to see the guy try to tweak his swing and sell out for power. Maybe that’s something he can work on in the offseason, but I’m perfectly content to have him continue as is for now. Besides, vapor trails can be almost as fun as rainmakers in some cases.
There should be a natural progression back toward more flies and homers as Soler continues to adjust to major league pitching, which has already made adjustments to him. He’s seeing far fewer inside pitches, particularly middle-in, and has had to deal with a pretty heavy concentration of low-and-away stuff. It hasn’t helped that umpires appear to be giving Soler a pretty unfavorable zone, which has combined with the pitches he’s seeing to bring his overall contact rates down.
The drop in contact (72% to 68%) is far from alarming, but is indicative of some tweaks Soler can make to his approach in general. A quick look at his contact rate by pitch location — or a review of the first homer in the video above — shows you that Soler loves hitting high strikes. Throw it upper-middle of the zone to up and in and he’s going to rake. Keep it down, however, and his production drops off the table.
This is all a part of the learning curve every young player must go through, a back-and-forth battle to try and stay ahead of your opponent. To that end, pitchers have mitigated Soler’s power thus far this season. At the same time, the contact he’s making is as hard as anyone else in the league, which means that those sexy numbers are just around the corner. In reviewing some of the data, I think the lack of fly balls might be a little less about the mechanics of his swing and more about what he’s being forced to swing at.
Either way, I’m not seeing anything here that gives reason for concern. In fact, I’m more hopeful than ever that Jorge Soler can develop into a serious monster when it comes to turning pitches into souvenirs.
Now if we could just get him to take better routes on the line drives other guys hit.