Juan Soto: The Best Hitter in Baseball
We truly are living in a golden age of baseball. There are young stars as far as the eye can see, ready to dominate the game for years to come. Ronald Acuna Jr, Vladimir Guerrero Jr, and Fernando Tatis Jr, are all names that come to mind. Yet there is one star who through just four seasons in his career, has already separated himself as the best hitter in all of baseball- Juan Soto. Soto’ s first four seasons have put him on a Hall of Fame trajectory, and multiple MVP awards are in his future. But what makes him such a dynamic force at the plate?
An Eagle Eye:
Most hitters in MLB do not enter the league with a mastery of the strike zone. It takes time for them to learn how to spot which pitches are going to be borderline strikes, and which pitches will net them a favorable count. Juan Soto has had an expert eye since he entered the league. Since his 2018 rookie season, when he was just 19 years old, Soto has never had a season where his OBP was lower than .400. Very few hitters have been able to accomplish that feat. Soto’s discipline at the plate can also be demonstrated by his chase rate. In 2021, Soto had the lowest percentage of swings at balls outside of the strike zone with 15.1%. The next closest hitter, Max Muncy, had a chase rate of 19.1%. Soto’s ability to command the strike zone forces pitchers to make the absolute perfect pitch if they want to get him out. Most veterans spend countless at-bats developing that kind of patience. Soto is just 23 years old.
There are plenty of hitters in baseball who are able to get on base at a high rate. However, Juan Soto’s ability to punish the mistakes pitchers make separate him from someone like Brandon Nimmo, who walks at a high clip, but is not much of a power threat. While Soto does not have
the typical build of a power hitter, the statistics he produces are elite. Take the statistic hard-hit rate for example. In today’s StatCast era, a ball that is hit 95 mph or above, is considered a “hard-hit ball”. The leaders in this category are usually stereotypical power hitters. In 2021, Aaron Judge led this statistic with a hard-hit ball rate of 57.9%. Juan Soto finished the year 11th in the league with a rate of 52.4%. Additionally, Soto has increased his hard-hit rate every single season in his MLB career.
As far as less analytical statistics go, Soto is a stud. In 2021, he hit 29 home runs and tallied 95 RBIs, all while playing for a pedestrian Nationals team. But what makes Soto’s 2021 season even more impressive is that he had a historic second half of the year, even after the Nationals shipped off big-name players like Trea Turner and Kyle Schwarber. In the second half of 2021, Soto batted .348, recorded a ridiculous .525 OBP, and 18 home runs. His .525 OBP mark was eighth best of all-time for a single stretch. Soto’s overall approach at the plate put him into an elite tier of hitters. But his raw talent and ability to mash the ball separates him from the pack.
In 2019, the Washington Nationals faced the Houston Astros in the World Series. Over the course of seven epic games, Juan Soto, who was just 20 years old, propelled the Nationals to victory. He had a .333 batting average, slugged .741, and hit three home runs, including a stunning shot off of Gerrit Cole in Game 1. There is no better example of Soto’s unreal maturity than that World Series. It would have been so easy for him to buckle under pressure. However, not only did Soto stand tall, he was arguably the best hitter in the entire series. Make no mistake- this article is not a knock on the other stars in MLB. Guerrero, Tatis, and Acuna are all Hall of Fame caliber players. But Soto’s incredible patience, combined with his awe-inspiring ability to mash the ball to all parts of the field, make him the best hitter in baseball.