The Truth About the Troubling Jorge Soler

I’m willing to bet that if you stopped and asked any Cubs’ fan today what they think of Jorge Soler the response would start with an eye roll, move on to a mouth squiggle and end with words that aren’t very flattering. After all, Jorge not only struck out in all four of his at-bats last night, in the second game of the doubleheader with San Diego, he struck out in perhaps the biggest moment of the game. He not only struck out, he flailed wildly and didn’t even come close to that breaking ball.

Joe Maddon is doing what Joe does best, he’s sticking by a struggling player, looking at all of the outsiders and telling them that Jorge is going to be just fine (ESPN). It’s interesting when Joe says these things but troubling when we continue to see results like we did last night. Now, of course, if he’d have hit a grand slam last night we’d be too busy cheering and lauding him as the new future of the Cubs to pay any attention to his recent struggles.

The Cubs signed Jorge to a long-term contract back in 2012. It was a nine-year, $30 million deal which, at the time, seemed like a heck of a bargain. A player with his level of upside, under team control through 2020 at an average of $3.33 million per year – you take that every single time. But there is a problem with this contract. It presents a player like Jorge, who’s had a tougher life than most Major League players, with access to an almost fairy-tale like life, outside of the strife of Cuba where he had very little. There’s a great article at BP Wrigleyville that talks about Jorge’s past and his development.

I won’t say that I disagree with the fact that Jorge is underdeveloped for his age due mainly to his difficult path. That certainly plays a significant role. And I’d be willing to bet that if you asked anyone close to Jorge about his level of motivation they would tell you he is extremely motivated. But there’s a huge difference between saying, and even appearing to be motivated, and having a motivational fire burning inside that enables a player to really make a change in a situation like this, where a big leap and reframing of the mind is necessary to move to the next level. It just seems to me like Jorge is lacking that level of motivation.

This is Major League Baseball we’re talking about here and in order to succeed at the highest level in baseball all players need the ultimate level of focus and commitment to go along with the highest level of skill. Those things are mutually dependent on each other and from what I see in Jorge, they just haven’t been there — not all at once. And there’s no one that can tell you when, or if, those things will all come together.

Consider Jorge’s numbers so far this year. It may come as no surprise to learn that Jorge is dead last on the team in fWAR among position players at -0.8 and, yes, that even includes pitchers. His K% is 25% and is third worst on the team behind only Tim Federowicz and Miguel Montero. His BABIP of .211 is second worst, his batting average is .175 which is worse than Jason Hammel and Jake Arrieta, and his on-base percent is .261, better than only Tim Federowicz where compared to position player on the Cubs. Statistically speaking, he is at rock bottom right now.

With respect to sample size, when looking at K%, what would normally be considered a small sample size is often large enough for K% to stabilize. According the FanGraphs, you only need about 60 PAs for K% to be meaningful where you can start to make inferences about the data with relative confidence. And K% doesn’t necessarily mean that a player is not playing well because an out is an out no matter how it happens. If a player has a high K% but his BABIP, OBP or WAR are good than it just means they get their outs swinging instead of other ways. But that isn’t the case with Jorge. He is having major difficulty recognizing pitches.

The question now is what to do with Jorge. The answer is not easy. Bottom line is that he needs more Major League at-bats if he’s going to improve. The trouble with that is that he had a window, albeit small, when Javier Baez was on the DL. Now that Javier is back and playing with reckless abandon — he’s slashing .300/.344/.467 with .8 fWAR and 3 Def — it’s hard to sit Javy in favor of Jorge. Doing that makes no logical sense at all.

If Javy is getting playing time, the best place for him seems to be third base with Kris Bryant in left field. He can fill in at shortstop and second base, maybe even third base to give Anthony Rizzo the occasional day off, but third base seems to make the most sense. And, obviously, you’re not going to sit Kris Bryant. So there goes the idea of getting Jorge his at-bats. The only other way he gets enough ABs is if there is another injury — and I don’t want to go there for obvious reasons.

The only path that seems to make any sense at this time is to send Jorge to AAA to get him in the lineup everyday and bring him back up after a month or so. My assumption is that he will eventually start to hit the ball, a lot, in AAA, regain his confidence and be ready to fill in when needed on the big league squad.

In the end, there is no easy solution here. The Cubs are going to win a lot of games this year, even if Jorge is not batting well and in the lineup everyday. But, with an fWAR at -0.8 at this point in the season, if things get much worse it’s hard to imagine where he goes from here. I just think that at some point, trying to force him into the lineup and hoping his head gets right isn’t going to work. I’m sure that Joe would disagree. What do you think?


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