Juan Soto has known for some time now opponents aren’t going to pitch to him. At least not with any regularity.
He’s drawn 48 walks in 42 games since the All-Star break, far and away most in the majors. And that has produced a whopping .516 on-base percentage during that time, also far and away the highest in the majors.
If you’ve been paying even scant attention, you already know this. We’re not treading into new territory with this subject.
But here’s what has changed in more recent weeks, and a new reason to marvel at Soto’s performance: He’s hitting nearly every mistake pitch he sees with authority, and racking up ungodly offensive stats as a result.
That was especially noticeable during Thursday’s 7-6 loss to the Phillies, when Soto went 3-for-4 with a homer and a walk. He actually got four pitches to hit, and he hit three of them with authority.
Soto attributes his recent surge to a renewed mindset. He’s no longer just waiting for pitchers to walk him. He’s ready to get hits off them.
“Sometimes I get to the plate and I’m thinking they’re going to walk me, but they don’t. They were throwing right at me, and I wasn’t ready for it,” Soto said during a Zoom session with reporters Thursday. “Now I just try to stay ready, stay locked in. I don’t mind if they walk me. Just be ready to swing every time.”
That readiness has made a difference for Soto. He remains as patient as ever, taking six walks in his last four games to raise his season total to 106. But if he sees a pitch in the strike zone, he’s not going to waste it.
So it is that, in addition to his .516 on-base percentage since the All-Star break, Soto is batting a very healthy .341 and slugging .667 during that span.
“When we watch it day in and day out, for him to be as patient as he is, and then when he gets a pitch to hit he doesn’t miss it ... there’s not many guys in the game that can do what he does consistently,” said bench coach Tim Bogar, who filled in as manager Thursday while Davey Martinez recovered from a minor foot procedure. “He comes to the park every night knowing he’s getting two or three pitches in four or five at-bats. That’s all. For him to continue to do it night in and night out, and not go away from his plan, that’s what’s impressive.”
It’s helped that Soto has had some legitimate protection behind him in the Nationals lineup. Josh Bell has an .869 OPS and 11 homers in 42 games since the All-Star break. Yadiel Hernandez, now serving as starting left fielder and No. 5 hitter, has an .880 OPS in that time.
Now it’s just a question of Soto’s ability to keep up this pace throughout September. The club record for OPS in the second half of a season is 1.043, set by Bryce Harper during his 2015 MVP campaign.
Right now, Soto is at 1.183. So he’s got some room to work with over the season’s final month.