Free Geovany Soto
After 87 major league plate appearances from 2005 to 2007, the Cubs made Geovany Soto their starting catcher prior to the 2008 season. He answered the call by hitting 0.285/0.364/0.504 in 141 games (and 563 plate appearances), which contributed to a 0.371 wOBA, a 4.1 WAR season, and the 2008 NL Rookie of the Year Award.
In 2009, Soto missed 26 games in July and August and played in only 102 games. At the time he was hitting 0.230/0.336/0.396, making him roughly a league average hitter. When he came back, he wasn’t any better and finished at 0.218/0.321/0.381.
In 2010, Soto missed 16 games in mid-August and will miss the final 14 games of the season; as a result, he has played in just 105 games (starting only 97 at catcher). Most of the other games Soto missed were in a month-long stretch in late May and early June when he started only 15 of 27 games. At the time of his “benching,” Soto was hitting 0.256/0.408/0.393. He had only four home runs and four doubles through 147 plate appearances, but he was still a much better than his backup, who had produced this line through the same time period: 0.209/0.227/0.256. One of those is much better than the other.
Soto will finish the 2010 season with a 0.280/0.393/0.497 line on way to producing a 3.5 WAR season. Over 600 plate appearances, that projects to a 5.4 WAR season. Looking at Soto’s time in the big leagues, it’s not hard to see what happened in 2008:
Soto was terribly unlucky in 2009. His batted ball profile stayed the same; the slight shift from line drives to ground balls is not enough to explain an 86 point drop in BABIP. His home run per fly ball dropped slightly, but not significantly. He saw and continues to see the same set of pitches and, if anything, his plate discipline has improved since 2008.
Soto is one of the best hitting catchers in the major leagues; despite playing only 105 games, he ranks fourth among catchers in batting runs above average.
He’s only 27 years old and about to enter his prime; he needs to play as much as his body will allow. Lou Piniella was making the Cubs a worse team in May and June by not having Soto in the lineup as much as he could. Hopefully the new manager won’t make that same mistake.
*Sorry for all of those who are Koyie Hill fans. Koyie Hill’s mom, if you read this, I really am sorry. Your son is in the 0.1% of o.1% of terrific baseball players who make it to the major leagues. You should be proud.
**Sorry for everyone who hasn’t yet forgotten the Eric Wedge Era. Very insensitive to remind you as we approach October.