Chicago Cubs catcher Geovany Soto ramped up his workout routine during the winter, shedding serious pounds after a disappointing, injury-plagued sophomore season. During his Rookie of the Year Award-winning 2008 campaign, Soto batted .285/.364/.504 and ranked third in the majors among catchers with 4.5 Wins Above Replacement (WAR). Last year, he hit just .218/.321/.381, falling to 1.2 WAR.
However, a huge chunk of that slide was due to his minuscule batting average on balls in play, and history suggests that we shouldn’t expect Soto to be nearly as unlucky in 2010.
In 2008, Soto had a .332 BABIP -- league average is usually around .300. That figure plummeted to .246 in 2009, despite few changes in his offensive profile. Soto's walk rate actually rose from 11 percent in 2008 to 12.9 percent in 2009, and he cut his strikeout rate from 4.5 percent to 23.3 percent. The 27 year-old swung at fewer junk pitches thrown outside of the strike zone (17.8 percent, compared to 20.1 percent in 2008) and took a cut at more hittable pitches within the zone (65.3 percent in 2009, up from 64.1 percent in 2008). Soto also made more contact, putting the bat on the ball 78.3 percent of the time he swung in 2009, compared to 74.7 percent in 2008.
Soto's Isolated Power (slugging percentage minus batting average) did fall, from .219 to .163. But that's still more pop than most backstops display. The average major league catcher posted a .141 Isolated Power in 2009.
For 2010, most projection systems figure that Soto's BABIP will bounce back to a level near his career .305 mark. Chicago's catcher possesses rare patience and power at a position where offensive production is often scarce. With more bloops and seeing-eyes singles evading gloves, Soto should post a much better batting line this season.
David Golebiewski is an author of FanGraphs.