“I swung at a ball,” Soto said about the swing and miss. “There’s nothing I can do if I swung at a ball. I just tried to calm down and tried to look in the middle of the strike zone and do damage.”
On the next pitch, he jumped right back into character when he launched a 441-foot blast into the right field seats, his first home run of the season with a man on base.
Soto finished 1-for-4 and so far this season hasn’t put up his typical, eye-popping numbers, though the sample size is small through just 32 games. He’s tied for fifth on the team with 10 RBI and is hitting only .256, though batting average isn’t the only indicator of success at the plate.
“At the end of the day, any way I’m helping the team,” Soto said. “For me, it’s kind of tough, because you want to help the team as much as you can. But it’s part of being a [No. 2] hitter. I just keep battling, keep doing my thing.”
He’s still above league average in a number of advanced statistical categories, including OPS+ (his 155 compares to the league average of 100) and wRC, which measures runs created while factoring on-base average. But his pitch selection this season could be a reason why his numbers haven’t been as high as expected.
“I think he is expanding a lot more than he typically does,” Manager Dave Martinez said. “I think it comes from a little bit of — he wants to drive in the runs when they’re out there. But he just needs to be him, and we always talk about it, I always talk to him about how he’s a really good hitter when he takes his walks. So just understand that he needs to take his walks.”
Soto certainly has taken his walks this season; he leads the majors with 25. But he’s also chased more than in past years, as pitchers haven’t given him as many strikes to swing at.
Only 35.8 percent of the pitches he’s seen in 2022 have been in the zone, the lowest percentage of his career. Last season, that figure was about 42 percent, and for his career the rate of strikes thrown to Soto has been 40.3 percent.
Since he’s seeing fewer strikes than in the past, Soto might be inclined to chase more pitches — something he didn’t used to do much. . Last year, Soto had a mind-boggling 15.5 percent chase percentage, but that number has jumped to 22.9 percent this year. That rate isn’t bad by any means; it’s still good enough for 15th in the majors.
But it’s Soto’s highest since 2019. His career chase percentage is 20.4 percent, about 10 percentage points lower than the league average.
He said after Wednesday’s game that he’s used to not getting a ton of pitches to hit but also feels like pitchers have been attacking the zone more this season than in years past.
“It’s been different,” Soto said. “For me, they really have been pounding the strikes against me. And I’m trying to hit the ball and sometimes it’s gonna be my way [and] sometimes it’s gonna be their way.”
Soto has been connecting on fewer strikes this year — his 83.1 contact percentage in the strike zone is the lowest of his career.
But it’s still early for him and the rest of the team as they try to find their rhythm, particularly at home. Martinez said that the competitive nature of this group has made guys, including Soto, press too much at the plate and try to play outside of themselves. Martinez said he’s “100 percent” certain Soto’s chase rate will drop as the season goes on. Nelson Cruz said better results will come as long as Soto sticks to being himself.
“At the end of the day, it’s him against him most of the time. You just have to stay positive, keep your head up and just be himself,” Cruz said.