The last time Juan Jose Soto played at Nationals Park was less than two weeks after he was traded to the Padres at the trade deadline on August 2. San Diego played a three-game series in Washington from May 12–14.
By the end of that series, Soto had played more games on the road in a Padres uniform than in San Diego. Everything was still very new.
Now, the slugger is coming off a full postseason appearance with the club and will play his 100th regular season game with the Padres on Tuesday at Nationals Park.
After a slow start to the 2023 season in which he hit .178/.339/.344 in his first 26 games, the Dominican has started to show his true self as of late – the player Nationals fans saw in his first four years. Of career
In his last 16 games, Soto is hitting .333/.468/.627. His on-base percentage is second-best in the majors over that span, his slugging percentage is seventh, and his batting average is 11th. His wRC+ of 198 ranks fourth in that segment, behind the Cuban trio made up of Yandy Diaz (231), Luis Robert (216) and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. (207).
Here, the reasons why Soto is back in his old form and what he has to achieve.
Soto has always been recognized as his own critic. In the past two years, he had professed his intention to carry the ball more. In 2021, he participated in the Home Run Festival to help improve his swing.
“Maybe it will change the swing of guys who are in their best shape, but I think it will adjust mine, because I’m hitting a lot of ground balls,” said the Dominican before that event. “I hope it gets my swing right and I can put more balls in the air. That’s what I’ve been trying to do all year.”
In 2022, he again ran with the same goal in mind: “Look, it worked for me last year.” He won the event.
This year, he’s already started throwing more balls in the air before the Home Run Derby. In his first 26 games, 34.4% of his hits were fly balls or line drives. Since then, he has further increased that number to 42.4%. Why does that connection matter so much? Well, Soto is hitting .522 on those types of hits with a slugging percentage of 1.239.
To look at it another way, Soto hit his “sweet spot” – the percentage of balls hit within an 8–32 degree angle – only 18% of the time in his first 26 games. Since then, it has 32.2%
Soto is hitting .767 with a slugging percentage of 1.833, which he has hit in his “sweet spot” in 2023.
What hasn’t changed? because you didn’t need it
One of the biggest factors in Soto’s game is his plate discipline. That, and the frequency with which he hits power balls.
During his slow start, Soto Soto had remained the same when it came to spotting the strike zone. No other player in baseball has a lower swing rate against at least 600 pitches than the Dominican (35.2%). Among those who saw 350 pitches outside the zone, only Lamonte Wade Jr. (15.5%) surpassed the Dominican (15.7%) in percentage of pitches chased.
His swings are carefully chosen. But when he does, he makes good contact. His 57.5% hitting power percentage is another number he has held throughout the year. He is second among hitters with at least 100 connections in 2023.
His swing is tight and contact is tough. The only thing lacking was the ability to lift the ball. Over the past three weeks, Soto has once again looked like the player that draws comparisons with baseball immortals.
With the Padres trying to move up the NL West, perhaps a trip to Washington with a top-of-the-line Soto could inspire the club to do something similar to what the Nationals did in 2019, when He had won the series. After starting the year with a 19–31 record.