The Yankees have somehow gotten an even better version of Juan Soto thus far

MLB: New York Yankees at Toronto Blue Jays
Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Yankees knew they were trading for a superstar when they completed a blockbuster deal with the San Diego Padres for Juan Soto. Everyone knew that this made the Yankees’ lineup better, especially considering that he would be entering a walk year. Last season, he hit a career-high 35 home runs as he played 162 games for the first time as well, showing off some improved game power. Since his MVP runner-up finish in 2021, Soto has come a little bit short of repeating that season, but he’s looked impeccable to start the season.

Normally a slow starter, Juan Soto has never had a wRC+ above 143 at the end of April, and yet he’s playing at an MVP level to open his year. The underlying metrics have improved dramatically, as somehow, the 25-year-old phenom has improved on a Hall of Fame caliber start.

Juan Soto Has Elevated His Game With the Yankees

MLB: New York Yankees at Toronto Blue Jays
Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

Last season, Juan Soto finished with a 155 wRC+, the eighth-best mark for any qualified hitter, increasing his production from his 2022 season where he slumped in the second half with the San Diego Padres. His average took a hit alongside his power that very same season, and some of the reports that have come out detail the emotions of a distraught Soto, a player who was shocked to find himself no longer on the Washington Nationals. 2023 saw a return to prominence, as he nearly doubled his WAR total (6.1), but 2024 looks like the start of an even better campaign.

What immediately stands out is the improved Sweet Spot Rate, as Juan Soto has struggled to generate line drives and ideal contact for hits since 2021. After three straight seasons of a BABIP above .300, it dipped below .300 from 2022-2023 a career-worst 28.5% Sweet Spot Rate (5th Percentile). It measures the frequency at which a hitter generates batted balls between 8 and 32 degrees and this season that has completely flipped on its head. He’s now at a 37.7% Sweet Spot Rate, ranking in the 70th Percentile and resulting in his highest BABIP ever (.368).

There are a lot of complicated names and metrics here, but my job is to take a complicated concept and break it down in an easily digestible fashion. First and foremost, let’s look at the plate discipline improvements, which I’ve color-coded with an orange-brown font to easily identify what we’re going to focus on. Chase% is self-explanatory, as it measures how often a hitter expands the strike zone to swing at a ball, and Juan Soto has an excellent eye. Still, his 2% improvement on that mark for last year is impressive, even more so when we look at Hittable Pitch Take%.

Juan Soto has seen a 3% drop in the rate at which he watches a pitch to do damage with travel into the glove, and given the increased passiveness out of the zone, this is a pretty impressive jump. His pitch recognition has been even better than it was last year, and his SEAGER score encapsulates that change. SElective AGgression Engagement Rate is a metric developed by Robert Orr of Baseball Prospectus to measure how well a hitter balances laying off pitches out of the zone while also attacking hittable mistakes in-zone.

For a full explanation of the metric, you can look right here on Baseball Prospectus, but his SEAGER score is the fifth-best mark in baseball (min. 50 PAs), and that’s happened while also improving the ability to do damage to the baseball.

If you’d like to get a full leaderboard of that metric and also have access to Hittable Pich Take%, the link is here as well!

Syndication: Arizona Republic, juan soto, yankees
Credit: Michael Chow/The Republic / USA TODAY NETWORK

The metrics in a blue font center around the quality of contact that Juan Soto is generating, with the driving factor behind his improvement being a 2.2 MPH increase in his bat speed. By swinging harder, Juan Soto can generate higher exit velocities, and that’s led to more barrels and a better quality of contact score from xwOBACON, which is short for Expected Weighted On-Base Average on Contact. Hitting the ball harder while improving your swing decisions and launch angle distribution is going to lead to a ton of success, and a lot of these metrics stabilize quickly.

Exit Velocity can stabilize as quickly as 40-50 Batted Ball Events, and Juan Soto has already racked up 61 of those on the season. Barrel Rate doesn’t take much time to stabilize either, and swing decisions don’t take much time to stabilize either, so we could be looking at a career year in Soto’s walk season. The results are remarkable, slashing .352/.478/.557 with a 210 wRC+ thus far, but the offensive skillset is just one part of the equation here. He’s putting up strong defensive numbers in the young season, with +3 Defensive Runs Saved and +2 Fielding Run-Value.

Juan Soto profiled well for right field, as the Yankees have been able to mask defenders like Matt Carpenter out there on occasions.

His bursts have greatly improved alongside his jumps, a product of the work he did over the offseason with former Red Sox centerfielder and defensive maestro Jackie Bradley Jr. We’re looking at a version of Juan Soto who could very well win the AL MVP, and if the Yankees want to win the World Series, this is the kind of player they’ve desperately needed. The Dominican phenom exudes confidence and energy that allows him to rise to the occasion, constantly finding himself right in the thick of their most crucial rallies.

A player that can match the MVP-like numbers we’ve seen Aaron Judge put up, he has led the Yankees to a 13-6 record despite the substandard offensive production from their captain. He’s been even better than we expected him to be, and some of the underlying metrics suggest he’s made legitimate skill progressions. He’s a superstar doing every little thing that the Yankees hoped for when they parted ways with multiple quality pieces to land him, and it’s been a joy to watch him every day.

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