NASHVILLE, Tenn. —Did this really happen just 16 months ago? How is it that Juan Soto’s entire tenure as the Padre of San Diego passed so quickly to fit the seasons of “Curb Your Enthusiasm”?
But that’s the deal on The Deal – and not just any deal. When Soto moved from the Washington Nationals to San Diego, I wrote that it was “the biggest deal in the history of trade deadlines.” But that’s the end of Soto’s frustrating time as a father. He’s a New York Yankee now.
So let’s do it. Sixteen months ago, I wrote a Soto by the Numbers article to help explain the monstrous size of that original trade with San Diego. Now that he’s calling Allied Van Lines once again, let’s go back and explain what the Yankees are (and aren’t) getting with this edition of Soto by the Numbers 2.0.
The magic number: 24
As I did in my last article on Soto, I start with the number that makes all the other numbers so shocking: his age at the end of last season: 24. Think about it.
Since the 2000 season, nine players at the same age have won the Rookie of the Year award elder compared to Soto’s age as of the 2023 season. Nine. This guy is already on his way to Cooperstown. Those guys – nine of them – were just starting their baseball journey.
So what’s the deal with Juan Soto? He’s so damn young… still. And now he’s been traded for 11 players only in the last 16 months.
The magic number: 157
Soto’s OPS+ has declined slightly over the last 16 months. But he’s still in the orbit of the elite, at 157. This tells us that, during his age-24 season, he was 57 percent more productive than the average hitter in his sport than he was in his six seasons in the big leagues. Now comes the part of this article where I try to explain how rare this is.
In the modern era (1901 to present), only five hitters have earned at least 3,000 plate appearances based on their age in 24 seasons and come out the other end with an OPS+ of 157 or better. See if any of these names mean anything to you:
Ty Cobb: 176
Mike Trota: 170
Mickey Mouse Cape: 166
Jimmie Foxx: 166
Juan Soto: 157
Wow. Do you want to lower the bar to a minimum of 2,500 plate appearances? Safe. Why the hell not? So we can add four more awesome names:
Ted Williams: 190
Albert Pujols: 167
Tris speaker: 162
Rogers Hornsby: 158
So these are nine names. You can track down more information about seven of them in Cooperstown, New York, on Hall of Fame plaques. The other two are Pujols, who could start 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 speech. I present it because you should know Everything is fine modern hitter whose career began the same way Soto’s ended in the magical realm of baseball.
The magic number .421
Young guys like Juan Soto shouldn’t have a career on-base percentage that starts with a “4.” But the memo informing him of this must have gotten lost in the mail, because, through his age-24 season, thanks to the sharpest eye at the plate in baseball, this guy has an OBP of .421. And you’ll be shocked to know that this puts it in even more incredible company:
.421 OBP or better through age 24
Ted Williams: .481
Jimmie Foxx: .432
Arky Vaughan: .429
Juan Soto: .421
(minimum 2,500 plate appearances)
So it’s a good group. Except Soto stands out from almost everyone because he also has 160 career homers to go along with that .421 OBP. And here’s the full list of every other hitter who had ever done it, at this age, before Soto entered the conversation:
End of list.
The magic number 179
I bring back one last nugget from the original Soto by the Numbers column because it’s too spectacular not to bring back for an encore.
So I said Joe DiMaggio was a Hall of Famer. His career OBP was .398.
Joe Morgan is a Hall of Famer. His career OBP was .392.
Honus Wagner is a Hall of Famer. His career OBP was .391.
But here’s Soto, already hitting an on-base percentage of .421 – and it’s hard to see his OBP getting even into that range anytime soon. And why? Because for Soto’s OBP to get below .400, he would have to avoid reaching base in his next 179 appearances!
For some reason, I don’t feel it. So what do the Yankees gain with this man, Juan Soto? Not simply a great hitter, but at his best, a historically special hitter. And they seem to be aware of it… since they just traded five kids to buy a year!
On the other hand, however, they should 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. It seems like a long time ago since that moment. It is not true?
According to Sports Info Solutions, Soto finished last season with a minus-6 defensive points saved? Doesn’t that sound ideal? Maybe because he’s not 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 half a billion dollars next winter when he cashes in his free-agent lottery ticket.
“Juan Soto can be as good as he wants,” said a rival executive who has watched Soto for years. “He just has to decide that he wants to be.”
But is it encouraging to know that a decent defense still exists or once did? It would be more encouraging if we didn’t have to ask this question!
The not-so-magic number minus-3
Hmm. For a historically special player, Soto certainly seems to have a lot of disadvantages on his report card.
So what is this not-so-magic number? According to Baseball Reference, Soto’s baserunning is above average. That put him in a tie for the fourth-worst baserunner in baseball among regulars who got enough playing time to qualify for the batting title, ahead of only…
DJ LeMahieu: -5
Brandon Nimmo: -4
Gleyber Torres: -4
But now here’s the worst part: If you’re wondering how many players were as sub-par as Soto was as both a defensive end AND a base runner, well, I was one too! And the answer is…
Only two major league outfielders ended up in that group: Soto and Nimmo, who will rotate to center field for the New York Mets across town.
The numbers say Soto has been an average to slightly above average baserunner in his first three seasons. But in the last three seasons he has had a minus-3, a minus-2 and another minus-3.
Would you give a half-billion-dollar contract to a player who is way below average in both the outfield and the bases? Let’s just say there will be some teams asking themselves that question next winter.
The not-so-magic number 2
Okay, here’s another number to think about. que e.g that number, “2”? That appears to be the number of times Soto has been traded before playing a single match at the age of 25. And for such a talented player, it’s just strange.
If we can stick to the assumption that players whose careers start like Soto’s end up in the Hall of Fame, I couldn’t help but wonder how many other players in Hall of Fame position were traded as many times as Soto before their season of 25 years .
So I asked MLB Network’s research department to look into it. And after a consultation with the Elias Sports Bureau, we had our answer:
How many other Hall of Fame position players in the live-ball era were traded twice that young? Yes. That would be zero!
Now, this isn’t necessarily a reflection on Soto the baseball player or Soto the teammate. It’s more about his agent (Scott Boras) and his impending free-agent price. On the other hand, if Soto had just finished leading his first team, the Nationals, or his last team, the Padres, to postseason glory, are we sure one of them—or both—would have traded him? I will not do that.
So… were you perhaps expecting “Ugly” as the final category? She apologizes. I hate to disappoint you. But what really matters is which version of Juan Soto the Yankees will have. So let’s try to answer this mystery with one last magic number.
The magic number .966
In the first week of May I wrote a column titled What We Learned in the First 30 Games of the Season. In it, I took a step back to recap Soto’s first three months as a father — and I’m done he should have taken the Nationals’ money (15 years, $440 million) before going to San Diego and making people wonder if he was as generational a talent as they once thought he was.
That’s because, during those first three months as a Padre — August and September of 2022, then April of 2023 — Soto’s confusing numbers with San Diego looked like this:
.224/.382/.388/.770, 11 HR, 23 XBH in 81 G
This prompted a rival executive to tell me at the time: “Look, he’s a great player. Great. But there is something fantastic and then there is $400 million fantastic.” And an 81-game “slump” has many people wondering if Soto really was a big $400 million. But…
Let me rewrite! Now let’s take a look at how she fared afterward, in her last five months as a father:
.290/.418/.548/.966, 30 HR, 60 XBH in 133 G
OH. It is very different. So what does that .966 OPS tell us about who Soto really is — and what the Yankees might achieve in 2024, when we imagine he’ll be slightly motivated by his campaign to earn half a billion dollars on that big stage in New York City? I questioned another rival executive who has worked in the National League since Soto arrived in the big leagues in 2018.
He asked if he was once again convinced that Soto was still a special offensive player, destined for the Hall of Fame, that executive agreed with that. Here’s how he responded.
“One hundred percent,” he said. “Now that he’s over the culture shock of actually being traded, his numbers will continue on the same trajectory: HOF in the making.”
But there was even more to that prediction.
“He definitely wanted to get back to the East Coast,” de Soto said. “Hitting in front of the judge (Aaron), he will win the MVP. And he just remembers you heard it here first… MVP.
Juan Soto, MVP. If this is what really happens in this man’s first season in New York, I can promise you. Next winter you’ll read a Juan Soto by 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 could his next contract look like?
Revisiting the 11 biggest offseason MLB trades of the last 10 years
(Top photo by Juan Soto: Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)