NASHVILLE, Tennessee. —Was it really only 16 months ago? How can it be possible that Juan Soto’s entire tenure as San Diego Padre went by so quickly that it fit between seasons of “Curb Your Enthusiasm”?
But that’s the deal in The Deal, and not just any deal. When Soto went from the Washington Nationals to San Diego, I wrote that it was “the biggest deal in trade deadline history.” But this is a summary of Soto’s frustrating time as a Padre. He now he’s a New York Yankee.
So let’s do this. Sixteen months ago, I wrote a Soto by the Numbers column to help explain the monstrous size of that original trade to San Diego. Now that you’re calling Allied Van Lines once again, let’s step back to explain what the Yankees are getting (and what they’re not getting) with this issue of Soto in numbers 2.0.
The magic number: 24
As I did in my last Soto column, I’ll start with the number that makes all the other numbers so mind-blowing: his age at the end of last season: 24. Think about that.
Since the 2000 season, nine players have won the Rookie of the Year award at an age older than Soto’s age as of the 2023 season. Nine. This guy is already on his way to Cooperstown. Those guys, nine in all, were just beginning their baseball journey.
So what’s the problem with Juan Soto? He’s so fucking young…still. And now he’s been changed for 11 players only in the last 16 months.
The magic number: 157
Soto’s OPS+ has decreased slightly over the last 16 months. But he’s still hovering in the orbit of the elite, at 157. That tells us that, during his age-24 season, he’s been 57 percent more productive than the average hitter in his sport during his six seasons in the big leagues. Now comes the part of this column where I try to explain how rarefied that is.
In the modern era (1901-present), only five hitters have achieved at least 3,000 plate appearances during their age-24 seasons and come out on the other side with an OPS+ of 157 or better. Let’s see if any of these names sound familiar to you:
Ty Cobb: 176
Mike trout: 170
Mickey mantle: 166
Jimmie Foxx: 166
Juan Soto: 157
Phew. Want to lower the bar to a minimum of 2,500 plate appearances? Sure. Why the hell not? Then we can add four more cool names:
Ted Williams: 190
Alberto Pujols: 167
Tris Speaker: 162
Rogers Hornsby: 158
So there are nine names. You can find more information about seven of them in Cooperstown, New York, on their Hall of Fame plaques. The other two are Pujols, who could begin rehearsing his Hall of Fame speech tomorrow, and Soto.
I don’t present this list to give Soto the idea that he should start rehearsing his own speech. I present it to you because you should know that each modern hitter whose career began the same way Soto’s ended in the magical kingdom of baseball.
The magic number .421
Guys as young as Juan Soto aren’t supposed to have a career on-base percentage that starts with a “4.” But the memo telling him that must have gotten lost in the mail, because, during his age-24 season, thanks to the sharpest eye at the plate in baseball, this guy has a .421 OBP. And you’ll be surprised to know that puts him in even more incredible company:
OBP of .421 or better until age 24
Ted Williams: .481
Jimmie Foxx: .432
Arky Vaughan: .429
Juan Soto: .421
(minimum 2,500 plate appearances)
So that’s a good group. Except Soto sets himself apart from almost everyone because he also has 160 career home runs to go along with that .421 OBP. And here’s the full list of every other hitter who had ever done that, at this age, before Soto entered the conversation:
End of list.
The magic number 179
I’m repeating one last nugget from Soto’s original by-the-numbers column because it’s too spectacular not to bring back for an encore.
I mentioned back then that Joe DiMaggio was a Hall of Famer. His career OBP was .398.
Joe Morgan is a member of the Hall of Fame. His career OBP was .392.
Honus Wagner is a member of the Hall of Fame. His career OBP was .391.
But here’s Soto, who already has a .421 on-base percentage, and it’s hard to see his OBP falling even within that range anytime soon. And why is that? Because for Soto’s OBP to fall below .400, he would have to avoid reaching base. in his next 179 plate appearances!
For some reason, I don’t feel that. So what do the Yankees get with this guy, Juan Soto? Not just a great hitter, but at best, a historically special hitter. And they seem to be aware of it… Since they just traded five guys to buy a year of that!
On the other hand, however, they must also be aware of…
The not so magic number minus-6
There was a time when Soto was considered an above-average defender in the outfield. That moment seems like a looong time ago. It is not like this?
According to Sports Info Solutions, Soto finished last season with -6 Defensive Runs Saved? Doesn’t that seem so ideal to you? Possibly because it is not so ideal. In fact, only nine full-time outfielders in baseball were worse than that. That sounds like it could be a problem, for a man interested in making $500 million next winter when he redeems his free agent lottery ticket.
“Juan Soto can be as good as he wants,” said a rival executive who has been watching Soto for years. “He just needs to decide that he wants to be.”
But is it encouraging to know that there’s still a decent defender there, or that there used to be? It would be more encouraging if we didn’t have to ask that question!
The not so magic number minus-3
Hmm. For a historically special player, Soto seems to have a lot of negatives on his report card.
So what is this not-so-magical number? That’s Soto’s above-average baserunning, according to Baseball Reference. That tied him for the fourth-worst baserunner in baseball among regulars who had enough playing time to qualify for the batting title, ahead of only…
DJ LeMahieu: -5
Brandon Nimmo: -4
Gleyber Torres: -4
But now comes the worst part: If you’re wondering how many players were below average like Soto was as a defensive outfielder and a baserunner, well, me too! And the answer is…
Only two major league outfielders made it to that group: Soto and Nimmo, who will roam center field for the New York Mets across town.
The numbers say Soto was an average to slightly above average baserunner in his first three seasons. But in his last three seasons, he has gotten a -3, a -2 and another -3.
Would you give a $500 million contract to a player who was well below average in both the outfield and on the bases? Let’s just say there will be some teams asking themselves that question next winter.
The not so magic number 2
Alright, here’s one more number to think about. That is That number, “2”? It turns out to be the number of times Soto has been transferred before playing a single game at age 25. And for a player with so much talent, that’s just strange.
If we can continue with the assumption that players whose careers begin like Soto’s end up in the Hall of Fame, I couldn’t help but wonder how many other Hall of Fame position players were traded as many times as Soto before they turned 25 years. .
So I asked MLB Network’s research department to look into that. And after a consultation with Elias Sports Bureau, we had our answer:
How many other Hall of Fame position players in the live-ball era were traded twice as young? Yes. That would be zero!
Now, that’s not necessarily a reflection of Soto the baseball player or Soto the teammate. It’s mostly about his agent (Scott Boras) and his impending free agent price tag. On the other hand, if Soto had just finished leading his first team, the Nationals, or his last team, the Padres, to sustained postseason glory, are we sure either of them (or both) would have traded him? ? I’m going to say no.
So… were you hoping that maybe “The Ugly” would be our final category? I’m sorry. I hate to disappoint you. But what really matters is which version of Juan Soto the Yankees are getting. So let’s try to answer that mystery with one last magic number.
The magic number .966
In the first week of May, I wrote a column called What We Learned in the First 30 Games of the Season. In it, I took a step back to digest Soto’s first three months as a Father, and concluded should have taken the money from the nationals (15 years, $440 million) before going to San Diego and making people wonder if he was as much of a generational talent as they once thought he was.
That’s because, during those first three months as Padre (August and September 2022, then April 2023), Soto’s messy numbers with San Diego looked like this:
.224/.382/.388/.770, 11 HR, 23 XBH in 81 G
Which led a rival executive to tell me at the time: “Look, he’s a great player. Excellent. But there are cool things and then there are cool $400 million.” And an 81-game “slump” had many people wondering if Soto really was a $400 million big-time player. Aim …
Make me rewrite! Now let’s see how it went after that, in his last five months as a Father:
.290/.418/.548/.966, 30 HR, 60 XBH at 133 G
Oh. That’s very different. So what does that .966 OPS tell us about who Soto really is and what the Yankees could get in 2024, when we assume he’ll be mildly motivated by his drive to make $500 million on that big amount? internship in New York City? I asked another rival executive who has worked in the National League since Soto arrived in the big leagues in 2018.
When asked if he was convinced again that Soto was still a special offensive player, destined for the Hall of Fame, the executive was totally fine with that. That’s how he responded.
“One hundred percent,” he said. “Now that he’s gotten over the culture shock of being traded, his numbers will continue on the same trajectory: HOF in the making.”
But there was even more to that prediction.
“I definitely wanted to come back to the East Coast,” he said of Soto. “If he hits in front of (Aaron) Judge, he will win the MVP. And remember you heard that here first… MVP.”
Juan Soto, MVP. If that’s what really happens in this man’s first season in New York, I can promise you this. Next winter you will read a column by Juan Soto based on the Numbers 3.0 column!
Inside the Yankees’ pursuit of Juan Soto: How trade deadline talks formed the basis of the deal
Juan Soto is a Yankee. What would his next contract be like?
Reviewing the 11 biggest MLB offseason trades of the last 10 years
(Top photo by Juan Soto: Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)