Before the trade deadline, the Chicago Cubs traded catcher Geovany Soto to the Texas Rangers for AA pitcher Jake Brigham. I actually watched Brigham’s last start in the Rangers organization and wrote about it here.
Soto is having a career worst offensive year and MLB Trade Rumors lists him as a non-tender candidate in the off-season. This doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, as the Rangers’ other catcher, Mike Napoli, is a free agent at end of the year. I imagine that the Rangers acquired him because they have another year of control, although he may be overpaid in 2013.
Soto has a little bit of athleticism for a catcher, but he is not fast at all (as expected).
As a catcher, I don’t really like how he catches the ball, as he kind of snaps at it. However, according to Mike Fast‘s study on pitch framing, Soto is good at it and prevents runs with his framing. Overall I thought his results behind the plate were mixed. He had problems blocking balls, although Matt Klaassen’s catcher rankings from June has him as a positive pitch blocker. That is the only thing he lists as positive, and had Soto ranked as one of the very worst catchers in baseball. According to UZR, Soto is a good defensive catcher, but DRS says he is not a good defensive catcher. The Fans Scouting Report has his arm as about average. The point is, scouting and measuring catcher defense is really hard. Here is a short video of Soto catching.
He is noisy at the plate offensively. His whole body is moving when he is waiting for the pitch. However, he calms down before the ball gets to him other than a leg kick. One would think that may cause problems for Soto in catching up with fastballs. While he is seeing about a career high in fastballs this year, he doesn’t see a significant amount of fastballs compare to league average. When I watched Soto, he whiffed on some low breaking balls and seemed a little susceptible to balls breaking in to him. He was consistently attacked low with them but he wasn’t hacking wildly. I actually liked his ability to take pitches with 2 strikes and he seemed to be a passive/patient hitter. The plate discipline numbers agree with this, as he swings at pitches out of the zone way less than league average, and just swings less than league average in general.Here is a video of Soto batting.
So what is wrong with Soto offensively? For his career, he has a 104 wRC+, meaning he is an above league average hitter, good for a catcher. This year, it is down to 68, which is terrible. For comparison, he is hitting about the same as Jeff Francoeur (so ask Royals fans how well Soto is hitting). Why is this? As usual, Batting average on Balls in Play (or BABIP) seems to be a culprit. This year, his BABIP is just .220, versus his career average of .294. While his walk rate has dropped some, it is still above average, and he is striking out below league average. However, just chalking it up to luck seems to be lazy. He is hitting more ground-balls (at least compared to fly-balls) than he has since 2007 and his Isolated Slugging is not as good as it has been in the past. On the other hand, his line drive rate (which can be a bit subjective) is still very good and he isn’t hitting very many infield fly-balls. His HR/FB % is a little lower than his norms, but still higher than league averages. It is hard to tell what exactly is wrong with Soto. Perhaps the simple concept of regression to the mean is useful here. If there is nothing wrong with him, and he hasn’t severely regressed (he is still in the approximate “prime” age), then we should expect his numbers to return back to normalcy in the future (which possibly makes him a great buy low guy for the Rangers).