Making Sense of Mike Soroka’s Recent Sensational Stretch

Atlanta Braves righted-handed starting pitcher Mike Soroka (6’5″) is on quite the tear of late. Through seven starts (44.2 IP), the twenty-one year old Canadien native has allowed just twenty-five hits, five earned runs (1.01 ERA), and one big fly (0.20 HR/9). His sterling 1.01 earned-run-average is the lowest among starters who have thrown a minimum of 40 innings. Soroka has also conceded the fewest number of home runs (just one!) among the starters who met the previously mentioned criteria.

Photo: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

What makes Soroka’s sensational performance even more impressive is the fact that he battled right shoulder inflammation throughout the vast majority of the 2018 campaign, which limited him to just five major league starts (25.2 IP). During spring training, Soroka misfortunately suffered further setback when he irritated his shoulder while lifting weights, having to be shut down once again, much to the displeasure of Braves fans.

Luckily for Atlanta, Soroka was able to recuperate rather quickly, making his first start of the season on April 18th against the Arizona Diamondbacks. He immediately settled in and went on to pitch five innings of one run ball. Soroka has continued to make a habit of dominating hitters ever since, pitching a career-high eight innings his last time out (5/20/19 against the Giants in San Francisco), giving up just one earned run and two hits.

One trait which enables Soroka to excel is his innate ability to generate ground balls on a frequent basis. In fact, his 56.5% GB rate is in the top five highest among all starting pitchers. Soroka’s slider (61.1% GB according to FanGraphs) and sinker (70.5% GB, up 22.1% from last year) are the two pitches he relies on to coax a ground ball.

Much of Soroka’s improvements this season can be attributed to increased command of his pitches. Last year, right-handed hitters surprisingly gave Soroka more trouble than left-handed hitters…

2018 vs L

  • AVG: .250
  • OBP: .304
  • SLG: .327

2018 vs R

  • AVG: .327
  • OBP: .357
  • SLG: .500

This year, however, Soroka has flipped the script…

2019 vs L

  • AVG: .197
  • OBP: .290
  • SLG: .279

2019 vs R

  • AVG: .135
  • OBP: .231
  • SLG: .167
2018
2019

Soroka’s has had a lot more success against righties this season, and there are several possible explanations as to why that may be the case. One of which being that he’s making fewer mistakes down the middle of the plate. Also, Soroka is pitching more in on their hands than he has in the past. But perhaps the most significant change in his approach is that he has been regularly burying the ball down and away from RHHs.

In 2019, Mike Soroka has made numerous adjustments to his pitch mix as well. He’s throwing fewer fourseam fastballs (17.0%, down 12.4% from 2018 according to FanGraphs) in favor of his sinker (46.5%, up 7.0% from last year) and slider (25.9%, up 5.2% from last year).

His average fourseam fastball velocity is up by a few ticks this season (93.5 mph, up 0.6 mph from last year according to Pitch Info Pitch Velocity as found on FanGraphs), which has yielded extremely positive results on the pitch (they are substantially better than last year)…

2018

  • SwStr% (FanGraphs): 7.6
  • AVG: .364
  • SLG: .515

2019

  • SwStr%: 10.3
  • AVG: .172
  • SLG: .207

He has also produced more vertical and horizontal movement on the pitch, as conveyed by the two graphs below…

To put it simply, Mike Soroka is getting ~2.3 additional inches of rise on his heater and ~2.5 more inches of arm-side moment on his four seamer (either in on the hands of righties or away from lefties), which has made the pitch a more effective offering for him.

The way he’s created more movement is likely through the implantation of a new release point…

2019 (left) and 2018 (right); courtesy of Baseball Savant

Mike Soroka’s slider has also been a plus offering for him this season, which is remarkable considering its inconsistency in 2018…

2018

  • SwStr%: 11.4
  • AVG: .276
  • SLG: .414

2019

  • SwStr%: 14.7
  • AVG: .143
  • SLG: .171

The pitch has been dropping nearly three more inches this year compared to last year, though it’s worth noting that the increased movement could also be attributed to the fact that Soroka has taken some off of his slider (83.9 mph, down 1.6 mph from 2018).

Mike Soroka has definitely proven that he has what it takes to mow down hitters at the major league level. His .203 BABIP screams that luck is certainly on his side, but his 84.5 mph exit velocity (Baseball Savant) is in the top five percent of the league, so there’s no question Soroka is inducing weak contact. As long as he can stay healthy, one has reason to believe that Soroka can compete for not only the rookie of the year, but also for the NL Cy Young.

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