Nationals Baseball: Juan Posto

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Juan Posto

This will never live up to the hype, of Soto or the delay in this post. But here we go. Soto has been up for two months which is actually a really good time to start to look at his stats.  We can easily overreact to what happens in the first couple of weeks when a player comes up, just like we can overreact to a player's start to a season.

If that start is unusually bad or unusually good it can carry a while. For example if you are a .270 20 HR type of guy and you hit exactly like that for a month, but started with a crazy 2 weeks, your numbers would still be way off.  If you were crazy good to start you might look like a .320 30 HR hitter still, crazy bad and .220 14 is possible.  But around 2 months in a crazy two weeks starts to dissipate to the point where you kind of think what you are seeing is really real.  So what do we see?

Well we can look at just his raw numbers but to try to get to the heart of things even more, I like to look at rolling averages. I want to see what he has hit like for most of his time here and if there has been any trends as the league has reacted to him.  So here are some 10 game rolling averages (with trendlines!).

 

(Yes I did move the Yankee game back into June) At first glance you see a general downward trend in his stats.  Looking more specifically, you see a pronounced downward trend in SLG, a mild downward trend in AVG, and a very mild one in OBP. But what is the effect of the hits going through and what's the effect of his actual patience and power? If we isolate SLG and OBP (pull out the influence of singles basically) we see another angle on what's going on.

 

His SLG going down pretty steadily, while his OBP has actually gone steadily up.  Now these can be pretty influenced by singular events. His two homer game (around the 11 mark here) makes the SLG jump for 10 games while his 3 walk game (around 29) does the same for his OBP.  But I think there are real things here. He is hitting for less power, one homer and 2 doubles in July. He is still getting on base, seven walks in his last 11 games which doesn't include that 3 walks one.

It's hard to piece out right now how these may be related. He is not particularly seeing more balls (or at least his ratio of strikes to balls is pretty consistent - but that will include fouls as stirkes) but they may be giving more pitches that he doesn't like and he maybe taking them more for good and for bad. Try not to read into it too much beyond the surface analysis - remember 2 months.

In general I'm very enthused by these numbers - yes his average has gone down as they've managed to get him to hit more grounders but it's a slow fall and it's a drop that right now has him around .300. And his plate discipline, usually the hardest thing for young players to develop looks completely real. His OBP is amazing for a player of his age.

Does the power drop bother me? He's 19! Nothing outside of complete terribleness bothers me! What I would say is that he looks like a guy that crushes mistakes left out and over the plate. He's seeing less out and over the plate so consequently fewer XBH but he's got YEARS to learn how to hit other pitches for power. (and maybe he doesn't but hits them for average and that's still probably good enough!)

The league is adapting to Soto and he will have to adapt back but from what I've seen he's holding his own despite the league adjustments. I see a guy that I might pencil in as .280/.290 hitter next year with great patience and useful pop with the possibility of much more. This could change if the average keeps dropping but we'll revisit at the end of the year. I'd be surprised if his floor was much lower than say .250/.340/.400 which is basically league average at the plate.

Now if he hits his floor that may not be good enough. We haven't talked about it but Soto is NOT a good fielder and it's more likely that he gets worse than better. I know there is a lot of variability there but bodies don't get more athletic as they age. You get bigger and slower. He's got a lot of natural talent but so did Bryce and you see he never developed into anything more than a mediocre corner OF. I wouldn't bet on Soto being anything more than passable until he's pushed to 1B at some point later in his career (mid 20s? early 30s?)

OK I know you are thinking "this is negative!" but what I'm saying is - the floor I think the kid has set AT 19 is league average bat with below average fielding. That's not great but it's also probably a starting OF for a few teams in the league. That in itself, a floor that high, is super positive. The ceiling? Well the sky's the limit. He knows the zone. He's shown the ability to work outside pitches the other way and crush meatballs nearly every time they are presented to him. And I mean crush. The natural power is there so you have to think when he does get some more experience the homer numbers could really jump.  Everything is there so that if it comes together a Bryce-like "best season ever" is possible. Can he hit .330? Seems like it. 42 homers? Probably. Walk 124 times? He might be able to do that now.

Now mind again this is after only 2 months of data, and things tend to mellow out for nearly everyone even if you can't immediately see the how. But the age and the numbers lead you to a very positive place right now. Soto is almost certain to be an everyday starter and has all the makings of a star. Can the league adjust to him in a way he can't adjust back? Is that happening now? If so, then the question becomes one of when, as you expect 19 years olds to grow as hitters as they age. If not, then the question is how high does his star rise.

14 comments:

BxJaycobb said...

@Harper
The reason I just don’t see him ever being anything but an above average bat is the patience. To be clear, he’s literally had Joey Votto’s eye at 19. That is....that is insane. I’m gonna go with unprecedented. I’m obsessed with baseball and baseball history and I can’t think of a teenager with his zone command. Ever. Even for a rookie it would be nuts. I think he’s likely to be a guy that is among the league leaders in walks annually....a .400 OBP guy even when he maybe hits into bad luck and is at like .265-.270. And with his pop, that means he almost can’t possibly be a below average hitter.
My main beef is regarding his defense: I would disagree on the “defense only worsens as you age” statement. Maybe that’s true starting at, say, a normal player’s MLB debut. Like after 2-4 years in pro ball. And maybe that’s true of speed (I say maybe because apparentl Juan Soto was a terrible runner when he was first signed by the Nats and through pure mechanical adjustments to his gate and hard work they made him into somebody with above average speed.) Still, true. Barring changes to his body where he slims down more (almost impossible), he will probably never be faster than he is now. But i disagree for this reason. Because we have statcast, we know that Soto can run very well. Not like a deer. But quite well. Above average speed. And his arm is solid, if not spectacular (again, statcast but also scouting). So his defensive mediocrity seems to be almost entirely about his reads routes and first steps, which can be improved with playing time. Again, I don’t know that players improve these things that much when they’re young. I DO think they improve them quite a bite in their first say 400 professional baseball games with MLB and minor league instruction. As an example, Turner went from “we don’t know if he’s going to be able to stay at shortstop” early in Pads lower levels to “one of the best defensive shortstops in baseball.” I assume from just reps and practice. Yeah IF is a bit different, but same principle. Let’s remember Soto’s basically has had a cup of coffee in pro baseball. Here’s a tweet from Keith Law (ESPN scout who i follow (“I think everybody assumes [Soto’s] defense will improve with more reps, better jumps, routes, etc, given his tools. Remember that he is playing left field for basically the first time in his entire life.” Will he ever be a gold glove outfielder? No way. Will he ever be a strength out there? PROBABLY not. But I actually doubt he will be a liability, given all this. Most scouts seem to think he will be an average outfield defender for a long time, and discussing a move to 1B seems way premature. And PS Victor Robles is projected to have almost Byron Buxton freak show range. So that will help. Anyway, I think the historical record of players who hit this well even for this long as a teenager in the majors and don’t become at least is nonexistent. So I’m excited about him.

Harper said...

I feel like "Oh he'll improve as he gets more reps" is something we hear all the time about players but I can't think of the last time I've seen it happen in the majors. None of the Nats OFs have ever been better than advertised, a few have been worse. Generally they have it down when they get here. Soto's age adds some growth potential but I'm dubious. Trea Turner is an interesting case because a lot of people are scratching their heads at his 2018 metrics (at a time where a lot of defensive measurements are getting the head scratch treatment). The jump doesn't seem to be in line with what's being seen on the field, at least to me. Better - sure. One of best? I'm not going that far.

As for eyes like this at 19 - it is rare. This is Mel Ott / Ted Williams type of batting (though to be fair more might have been able to do it - the walk wasn't valued as much so it wasn't taught in the same way or looked for). The cautionary tale would be Jason Heyward who walked and hit for power at 19 in minors, basically repeated it at 20 in the majors and then never reached that peak again. It'll be different for Soto (more HR power than Heywards ability to leg out triples) but nothing is a guarantee.

cass said...

Juan Soto leads all teenage seasons right now in OBP - the only one above 400. Mel Ott was close but no one else. Edgar Renteria is third with .358, which is good but not in the same class.

https://www.fangraphs.com/leaders.aspx?pos=all&stats=bat&lg=all&qual=190&type=8&season=2018&month=0&season1=1871&ind=1&team=0&rost=0&age=14,19&filter=&players=0&sort=15,d

G Cracka X said...

Thanks Harper!

Question: how would you rank his first two months against the best first two months of any teenager in MLB history? Top 10? Top 5?

Harper said...

yeah - I expanded to 20 yo because I don't ever like to be too specific. Of course most of these guys are average driven too and really we are trying to look beyond that. If you want to be more guarded though it is only 50 games and expand out to 20 and see who went over .360 OBP over under 100 games and you see names like Terry Puhl, Ed Stevens, and Dick Kokos. Soto has the start, does he have the finish? If so, then he's up with mostly greats.

Harper said...

GCX - First two months of any teenager... depends on how technical you want to get I guess I'd put it at #2 behind Jimmie Foxx, though Foxx's first 50 games were spread out over three season (from 17-19). It's up there with Griffey's - who doesn't offensively have the numbers but it was a less offensive era and he offered postitive defense with flashes of brilliance. (FWIW - Bryce is in Top 10 as well likely) But we're parsing a little far here.

W. Patterson said...

Soto is just fun to watch and is the only Nat that I don't click on FF when he gets two strikes. Hope he remains fun to watch for the foreseeable future.

Donald said...

How much does his emergence impact the Nats thought process with Harper? I'm not sure they were ever all that likely to sign him, but now it seems even less necessary. Even if Soto will never be the generational talent of Harper, it's possible that Rendon + Soto is > Harper.

Fries said...

It's been echoed here before, but it makes too much sense to not sign Harper. Amazing talent, will with all likelihood be in the HoF, but if the Nats want to win, they need to lock down players like Rendon, sign more pitching, and get a catcher worth a damn. Signing Harper only makes sense if you plan on dumping salary elsewhere (e.g. find someone to take Zimm and put Soto at 1B)

BxJaycobb said...

Yeah. Signing Harper would have to be accompanied by other moves. Possibly trading of other outfielders.

BxJaycobb said...

The problem with that take is he (Turner) has now been excellent over a pretty large sample size at shortstop. It’s not just this year. His metrics were good last year as well. Some infielders are incredibly flashy and make fancy plays but have limited range that requires the fancy play (I’m thinking of asdrubal Cabrera, who is a bad fielder but looks smooth out there). Rendon is another guy who doesn’t LOOK like one of the 3 best defenders in baseball at 3B but he just gets great first steps even if he has fewer diving plays etc. turner I think is incredibly quick and gets to basically everything and is also good coming in on the ball and especially across the middle. Like a Brandon Crawford type. The only weakness i can see from eye test is he’s not amazing at going DEEP in the hole because his arm isn’t insane.
Regarding your point that Soto won’t get any better because outfielders don’t improve. Understand (1) I’m not seeing he will definitely improve. I’m just saying that (2) literally the last person to get to the majors with less minor league experience was Alex Rodriguez. He’s as raw as you can possibly be. It also leads him to throw the wrong base sometimes. I have no doubt in my mind he will improve at things like routes and first steps and judgment etc. the question is how much he will. I imagine it will be enough to be an average corner outfielder, maybe barely below. I doubt he’ll be a liability. It’s super rare for somebody fast to be consistently bad in a corner.

PotomacFan said...

Wait. Are you saying that Turner is better than Danny Espinosa:).

Anonymous said...

Harper,

""Oh he'll improve as he gets more reps" is something we hear all the time about players but I can't think of the last time I've seen it happen in the majors. None of the Nats OFs have ever been better than advertised..."

I seem to recall MAT not running good routes and making some substantial miscues in CF, coupled with flashes of brilliance during the early years. Everyone was criticising Dusty Baker for "believing in" Taylor and now after a lot of hard work he is delivering excellent defensive numbers in CF.

I guess I'm not as "dubious" and believe Soto is plenty young (he's 19 for crissakes) and teachable enough to improve defensively. How do you not get better playing with guys like Eaton and Taylor every day?

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