Geovany Soto made a solid statement his 2008 rookie season, slugging his way to a .371 wOBA, third among Major League catchers (Brian McCann and Joe Mauer).
He also tied for the Major League lead among catchers with 23 home runs.
Soto followed his impressive rookie campaign with a pretty severe sophomore slump, much to the chagrin of Cubs fans and potential fantasy owners predicting him to repeat or build upon his first season.
Soto hit for a mere .310 wOBA in his second season in the bigs and was hit with the recoil of working 141 games behind the plate his rookie year; he was hurt for a total of 37 days, including 31 days for an oblique strain.
The two seasons represented polar opposites of what you could expect from Soto. In 2008 his .219 Isolated Power Index (.150 average) was expected to be an absurd number from a catcher who spent hardly any time as a top prospect, and his .332 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) was seen as another number that was due for regression.
Meanwhile, in 2009 his .246 BABIP was seen as a fluke compared to his minor league numbers, while increasing his walk rate and decreasing his strikeout rate.
This sentiment was shared by FanGraphs' R.J. Anderson: "part of this is obviously regression and the other part is that he’s likely not a .371 wOBA hitter. The good news is, the answer is somewhere in between."
Well, as it turns out, the answer wasn’t somewhere in between. This season, Soto continued to elevate his walk rate and make the most of his at-bats, specifically in working his way to hitter’s counts.
In 2010, Soto has been hitting for a .398 wOBA, tops among Major League catchers with 300 plate appearances. Fueling that number has been his improved power (.231 ISO) and an obscene .401 on-base percentage (.327 average).
So what’s the difference been between the three seasons where Soto has enjoyed polarizing performances?
The main support to Soto’s successes is very clear: It’s been his ability to hit the fastball.
In 2008, Soto hit fastballs for 16.9 runs above average (RAA). His second season, in which he had his sophomore slump, he hit fastballs again for an above average number—3.9—although this drop in production against the heater led to an increased vulnerability to sliders (-3.5 to -11.2 RAA) and curveballs (3.4 to -2.1 RAA).
This season, Soto has rediscovered his ability to hit the fastball, hammering them to a 20.7 RAA mark, best among Major League catchers; his off-speed production thus improved accordingly.
What is to blame for the dip in production following his Rookie of the Year campaign? It would be easy to say that his oblique issues were the cause of this, although Soto has been injured this season as well.
It remains to be seen if Soto will maintain the successes he enjoyed in 2008 and 2010 or regress to somewhere "in between" that production or the numbers he put up in 2008.
This article was also featured at TheUnfortunateCubsFan.com