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Hok Talk: So let’s talk about Jorge Soler

He has found another gear since the All-Star Break

Cleveland Indians v Kansas City Royals
Jorge Soler trots the bases as he has many times before, this year.
Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

A few weeks ago I took a lot of flak in this space for giving Jorge Soler a C on his midterms. If you think I’m going to back down, you can think again. To that point in the season, he had earned a C. But there definitely remains a chance for him to earn a significantly higher grade on the final if keeps up what he’s been doing since then.

Before I talk too much about what’s changed about Soler since the All-Star Break let’s go ahead and mention all of the categories he has set career highs in already this season:

  • Games played
  • At-Bats/Plate Appearances
  • Hits
  • Home runs
  • Runs scored
  • RBIs
  • Doubles
  • Walks
  • Strikeouts

While that list does look impressive it’s important to realize that all of that is due almost entirely to the first entry on the list which is due almost entirely to him being healthy for the entire season up to this point. When I graded him out as a C based on expectations I gave him credit for being healthier than expected but took some credit away for taking far fewer walks than expected.

I know too many of you the most important thing for Jorge Soler is the number of home runs he may or may not hit. You’ll be glad to know his home run pace since the All-Star Break is almost identical to the pace before. His season average is one home run per 16.29 plate appearances. Since the All-Star break, his average has been only slightly worse at one blast per 16.4 plate appearances. He’s still on pace to hit 41 home runs if he plays every remaining game. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Jorge Soler this year is that, despite an injury history longer than a Patrick Mahomes game-winning touchdown drive, he has not yet missed a game.

But the thing that has changed the most drastically since the All-Star Break is his walk rate. Before the All-Star Break, Soler was walking only 7.5% of the time. When people talk about why Mike Moustakas hasn’t been able to get a real payday since hitting free agency for the first time they mention that he doesn’t walk as much as you’d like; Moose has walked between 7-8% for five of the last six seasons. This is what I mean when I say Soler wasn’t walking enough. Since the All-Star Break, though, Soler is walking in an astonishing 18.3% of his plate appearances. He’s done this while maintaining his power as previously noted and reducing his strike-out rate from an unsightly 28.9% to match his walk rate. When a guy can hit for power like Soler is and also walk as often as he strikes out you have a very valuable player on your hands.

One thing that I exaggerated a bit in the mid-season grading piece was when I said that it made no sense to keep rostering Soler. I misspoke very badly and I apologize for that. What I should have said was that a contending team probably wouldn’t have room on its roster for him. The Jorge Soler before the All-Star Break bore a stunning resemblance to Chris Carter. Chris Carter was the NL home run leader for the Brewers in 2016 with 41 home runs before they allowed him to walk and he signed a 1-year/$3.5 million deal with the Yankees. He led the league in home runs and couldn’t even get an eight-figure contract the next season. Reminds me of the time the Royals gave Alex Rios $11 million for some reason, but I digress.

Chris played in only 62 games for the Yankees before they cut him. He hasn’t played a game in the big leagues, since. But perhaps more important to note is how little he contributed to the Brewers success in 2016 while hitting more home runs than anyone else. He was worth only 1.0 WAR according to FanGraphs; Baseball-Reference isn’t any kinder and rates him at 0.9 WAR. For reference, generally speaking, a player should be worth at least 2.0 WAR to be worth starting every day. Obviously, players worth less than start every day for their clubs but as a GM you’d see that as an obvious area for improvement.

Jorge Soler was on pace to be a bit better than that; about 1.5-2 fWAR. But since his surge after the All-Star Break, he’s already been worth 1.4 fWAR and he’s still got 50 games to keep pushing that number up. Whatever you may think of me, I hope he does.

Some people around baseball and these message boards were disappointed the Royals didn’t trade the slugger at the deadline. As for me, I’m pretty happy about it. The sample size since the All-Star Break is only a couple of weeks. It’s not nearly enough to bounce his value back up from where it had bottomed out before. I’m hoping he continues hitting the tar out of the ball when he isn’t taking his base so that there will be plenty of data suggesting he’s turned a corner. If he continues he’ll go from being relatively worthless as a trade chip at the All-Star Break to worth a pretty decent prospect or two by the off-season. That would be a heck of a win for Dayton Moore if it works out.

Brad Keller has been really good, too

For the last two months, Brad Keller has been remarkably good. Despite a walk problem earlier this year his last two months have seen him drop it down to 2.12 BB/9 which is a pretty solid number and allows his low number of strikeouts to play up to their best. His ERA over that period has been a better than solid 3.44 but he’s only been getting better.

Since July started he’s maintained the walk rate but increased his groundballs which have allowed him to drop his BABIP nearly 30 points and brought his ERA down to a sparkling 2.12. The most impressive part of that is that he had a distinctly un-Keller-like start his last time out against the Blue Jays. He gave up three home runs for a total of four earned runs. He had never allowed that many home runs in a game before. If you drop that outlier off the end he had a 1.33 ERA and three wins in four starts prior to that unfortunate start in July.

Unlike Soler, it’s a lot harder to know what the Royals should do with Keller this off-season. On the one hand, high-quality starting pitching is extremely difficult to come by and, despite his lack of strikeouts, he’s put up more than a full year of really good work on the mound and he’s still only 24 and under control through 2024. The Royals could sign him to an extension and have an anchor to their rotation for the foreseeable future. Or they could probably deal him for a wealth of prospects. If there is one thing we have learned from the trades the past few seasons it’s that teams will still pay out the nose for proven starting pitching.