Juan Soto entered the 2021 MLB Home Run Derby with 11 homers on the year, tied for least among contestants. However, he surprised many by besting Shohei Ohtani in the first round, who led the league in dingers with 33 to that point.
Though Soto’s first half of the season might not have been quite up to his standards, he could be poised to explode in the latter half of 2021.
Sarah Langs of the MLB Network thinks that one stat should be a good indicator of what the 22-year-old can do in the upcoming months.
“If you look at what [Soto] has done this year, he has been, by a lot of stats, unlucky. So we look at things like expected slugging percentage, expected batting average—and when your actual batting average or actual slugging percentage is lower than the expected, that means that you’ve made better contact than the results you’ve gotten,” Langs said.
Soto’s expected slugging percentage (XSLG) this season is .543. So far, he’s mustered an actual slugging percentage (SLG) of .445 — not bad compared to pretty much any other baseball player. Still, Soto’s negative difference between SLG and XSLG (-.098) is the fourth-largest deficit in the majors, behind just Paul Goldschmidt, Aaron Judge and Kyle Tucker. So what does this mean?
“This tells me that he’s ripe for a breakout, and we saw that. I mean, he was on fire in June compared to earlier in the year, and obviously, he got off to a slow start with the shoulder injury and everything else,” Langs explained. “I think he’s about to break out.”
Soto wasn’t able to win the HR Derby this year. That crown went to the Mets’ Pete Alonso for the second consecutive time. But Soto did turn heads when he obliterated a 520-foot homer in the first round. His motivation for entering the Derby was even indicative of what he wants to accomplish in the home stretch of the season.
“He told his teammates part of why he wanted to do the Derby was to hit the ball in the air more…his groundball rate is the highest of his career,” Langs said. “If he hits the ball in the air, we see that. It’s probably not going to be 520 feet like in the Derby, but he will start hitting more doubles and getting the ball out of the ballpark more. I am fully expecting him to start doing that in the second half for the Nationals.”
Soto is certainly off to an incredible start following the All-Star break. The end result wasn’t good as Washington dropped a 24-8 contest to the Padres at home on Friday night, but Soto hit two bombs and drove in half of the Nats’ runs. So far, the prediction that he will be on fire in the latter half of the 2021 season is looking good.