Who Is He?
It was in August 2016 that I settled into my seat behind the visitor’s dugout in Asheville to watch a game with the Rome 9. Patrick Weigel talked to us fans before the game as he was wont to do and told us we were in for a treat tonight, but don’t watch the radar gun. That got me watching the gun, of course. The gangly righthander on the mound turned out to be fascinating indeed to watch: he started the game throwing fastballs 85-91 while constantly changing speeds on it to keep the hitters off balance. I imagine it was a bit like watching Christy Matthewson back in the day.
I already knew who Mike Soroka was: #28 overall pick in 2015, $1.95M signing bonus, looked good in rookie ball the year before. But still, before I saw him, I didn’t know him. The 2nd trip through the lineup he began adding in a breaker that also varied in speed by 8-10mph. He hung one and it got popped out to right (only 285 feet in McCormick field) but that was his only mistake and the only baserunner allowed until the 8th. That was the inning I realized how special this kid really was.
First batter hit a hopper to third and the raw-fielding Austin Riley booted it, man on first. Next pitch, tailor made DP ball to Riley…which he booted again so badly that the runners ended up at 2nd and 3rd, 1-1 game, division lead on the line. So… 95 on the black, strike 1. 96 on the black, strike 2. Unfair change for strike 3. He threw the exact same sequence to the next 2 guys as well. 9 pitches, 9 perfect pitches, end of scoring threat. Riley would hit a homer in the 9th and Rome won the championship.
The thing is, before that 95 on the black pitch, Soroka hadn’t thrown one pitch over 91 all day and only a couple that fast. He was “pitching in a pinch” as Christy used to say.
What Happened in 2019?
Mike was not just the best pitcher on the Braves but finished 6th in the Cy Young voting and 2nd in Rookie of the Year. He started the year late after a concerning shoulder injury in Spring Training which apparently happened while weight lifting. After last year’s finish where he spent forever on the DL with an undefined shoulder problem we were all worried. No worries mate, he was just pacing himself! He ended up in 29 games and was the same guy I remembered from A-ball: he averaged 92 on the heater but got it up to 96 whenever he really wanted; filthy breaker; improving change.
For some reason – likely small sample size luck – Soroka pitched far better on the road than in Cobb Co, so the braintrust only got him 1 start in the playoffs. Unfortunately we know how that one worked out.
How about the Future?
Due to his pitching philosophy, Soroka has wrecked projection systems his entire career. Projected 2020 ERA ranges from 3.2 (Fangraphs) to 4.19 (Steamer). I think they both underestimate his poise and the fact he always has a little extra up his sleeve for when he needs it. While I am always hesitant to sign pitchers to long term deals, Maple Maddux is the best bet you are ever likely to get on one. As he is likely to get about $30M through his arb years I would offer $24M for them with at least 2 options at $12-15M each. This protects both parties against injury while being fair. Get it done, AA!