2019 Atlanta Braves Player Review: Mike Soroka

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!

69 thoughts on “2019 Atlanta Braves Player Review: Mike Soroka”

  1. Ryan, I think it might be Jonathan Hyde (his last name wasn’t listed) who posted that comment, not JonathanF.

  2. @2
    Yup…Changed it.

    In response to Jonathan, Soler has an interesting clause in his contract (hat tip to Boggy of Knockahoma Nation) that allows him to opt-out of his contract and go through arbitration which would push his salary to 10.5MM. With that being said, I think the Royals would have to come off of Wright and maybe ask for a lesser prospect, or even multiple.

  3. Anyway, the trade in that link is Jorge Soler for Ender Inciarte, Kyle Wright, and Alex Jackson.

    I think Ender has very little positive or negative value. I think he’s probably worth about what his contract is. So I think he ends up being a salary dump if he’s indeed traded. But someone has to be willing to take that contract back, for what that’s worth.

    I’m not sure how much positive value Alex Jackson has either. He’ll be a 24-year old catcher in AAA who hit .229/.313/.533 last year, thanks in large part to 28 home runs in 345 PAs in a time and place where everyone was hitting home runs. I could be wrong in saying he doesn’t have much value.

    So the trade is essentially Soler for Wright. Soler’s another guy who greatly benefited from the juiced ball from last year. He had a .750 OPS in 5 seasons until last year when he led the league in games played, home runs, and strikeouts. He had a .922 OPS, up from .820 in 2018, and he’s entering his age-28 season, so it’s not unreasonable to think that he’s entering his prime and his skillset works really well with the current offensive environment. He’s a bad defender. He’ll make $4.4M next year, and he’s got one more arb year after that.

    You’d have to know what MLB is going to do with the ball to properly evaluate him, I feel. But are you willing to give up a top pitching prospect for a guy who could either smash 50 home runs and give you a .900+ OPS or could turn into a pumpkin because his balls don’t leave the yard with as much frequency? Even if there’s not as much upside, I feel like you can get more out of Kyle Wright.

  4. While I don’t expect the Braves to do something like this for Charlie, the BoSox just re-signed 2 of their non-tenders, one receiving a split contract and the other for less $. Osich was mentioned on our podcast recording last night.

    It’s worth noting that both of these guys have options, while Culberson has none.

  5. It’s a combination of details that lead me to think he is gone. Frenchy is convinced he is gone, stating that the price and years have gone too crazy for the Braves. $18M for Hamels brings the Braves up to ~$132M. I believe they could open the year somewhere between $140M and $145M, so under that expectation the team would have ~$13M remaining without any salary-clearing trades.

    So, upon seeing we’ve signed Hamels at $18M, I conclude that our free agency could be done without moving some salaries.

  6. I love to be wrong about the Braves not spending more, though.

  7. Braves sign Cole!



    Oh. Yay?

    I don’t hate it on its own. He’s better than Keuchel for sure. But I’ll never change my position that this was the year to sign a real ace and the franchise not spending the money to get Cole or Strasburg is forever disappointing. This team still has nobody to go toe-to-toe against a Scherzer or Kershaw or Degrom in a Game 1.

  8. @15 I strongly agree with you, but as long as Soroka is healthy I might put all my chips on that horse toe to toe against any of those guys. I really do believe in the kid.

  9. @16 – He is darn good. But I’m not convinced he’s THAT guy yet.

    Site poll opportunity?
    Mike Soroka will finish 2020 as a ________ ranked starting pitcher using WAR.

    A) Top 10
    B) Top 20
    C) Top 30
    D) Top 40

    I’m comfortable answering “C”.

  10. @18

    I’m with Stu. Soroka is our ace. I think Hamels is a good 3, if he is healthy.

    We need Fried or Folty to step up and be the 2.

    If we can’t sign JD, we need to see if we can pry Turner from LA. There is a big hole in the lineup.

  11. @18 Just curious, but why? Soroka finished 10th in pitching WAR in all of baseball in 2019 at just 21 years old and only pitched in 29 games.

  12. I don’t know how anyone can say without any certainty what the OD payroll will be, and no offense Donny, but you were pretty adamant they weren’t going to raise payroll at all, let alone significantly, just last year. I have no idea if they can add Donaldson. If they wanted to have their OD payroll next year be similar to their end of the year payroll this past year, they’d get pretty close to being able to do that by shedding Greene and Ender’s salary and signing Donaldson.

    Or they could just trade for Matt Chapman. That would work too.

  13. @22 That’s true. And Frenchy’s comments are not any better than our own, considering we just signed Cole and he was talking about MadBum. AA may have a contingency plan for bringing back Donaldson if what’s what he is intent to do.

  14. @21 –

    1. Track record just isn’t there yet. 2019 was great, but it was one year.

    2. A bit worried 2019 might have been his max potential from his skill set. Can he really improve on his K% or BB%?

    3. Not much wiggle room with his velocity. If he loses 1 or 2 mph on his fastball he’s basically Kyle Hendricks, who is nobody’s Ace.

    4. Braves pitching prospect PTSD. Kris Medlen, Tommy Hanson, Jiar Jurrjens, Mike Minor. All had that one nice season and then…

  15. @24 I’ll give you #4. Add Julio Teheran and Mike Foltynewicz to the list of guys who had a good season but didn’t follow it up.

    But the one thing none of these guys ever had that Soroka clearly does is what’s between the ears. There’s no guarantee of a long career, but for the moment with where he’s at I’ll take him against anyone.

    And to answer your #2, there’s really no where else to go except to pile on innings and complete games, which with how he pitches is entirely possible.

    It was a shame that they didn’t trust him with game 1 of the playoffs.

  16. The side bar reminded me. I was hoping for a 2021 club option. Then saw that Hamels is still subject to a QO which would be for similar money. To me, that makes this signing, MUCH better.

  17. Those were my memories from 2016, btw. My laptop finally died so Ryan rescued the piece for me.

    Excited to get Hamels, both because I have long admired him but also for what it says about the direction of our payroll. That $4 moved to the 2019 budget might be important after all!

  18. @25 – You said it, Man. I still don’t understand Keuchel in game 1 or only starting Soroka once.

  19. And Wheeler to the Phillies…

    He was the one guy I was sure I didn’t want. I’d bet on Hamels outperforming Wheeler in 2020 and the Phils are going to be on the hook for Wheeler for several years (terms not available yet).

    This is a great day if you ask me.

  20. The market seems pretty darn good for the players this year. I didn’t think Cole Hamels would cost $18M, either, but at least it’s on a one-year deal.

  21. Love the write-up Ryan. Can’t help but love Soroka and whoever coined Maple Maddux is a genius. Seriously, who does deserve that credit?
    But even more seriously, check yourself and your figures on what you are suggesting to offer to buy out his arb years +2. You should be ashamed of yourself and should offer double that or be prepared for well deserved chastisement for taking advantage of the neophytes and orphans from a certain commenter from the geriatric set. And of course we understand should we pay Soroka all that we ought to we wouldn’t have money leftover for the Cole Hamel type signing.

  22. I have to say I’m not certain you can’t stock an entire WS-contending team on a combination of one-year deals, one year rentals and some good young pre-arb and low-arb talent…. at least until a new agreement is signed. And that’s a really low-risk way to compete. Will Hamels be worse than Strasburg next year? Probably… But do the Braves need a Strasburg to compete for the pennant? They do not. And in the playoffs… well, I’ll take my chances with Soroka matched up with anybody in the game. And it ain’t my money, but a 7 year contract on a pitcher, even one of Strasburg or Cole’s (not Hamels) character is way too risky.

  23. @24 I don’t think it’s true about his velocity. I mean, he definitely sits 90ish, but he does legitimately seem to have mid 90s he can reach for, and mid 90s is plenty of velocity given his other skills.

  24. Also, whoever from the last thread (Tfloyd, maybe?) with the daughter who graduated Hanszen ’04, it is verrrry likely I met your daughter at least once. All my friends were at Hanszen.

  25. @38

    I think I was the first to use Maple Maddux on this site, but I’m about 90% sure I filched it from somewhere else, so I won’t claim authorship of it.

  26. Pleasantly surprised to read about the Hamels signing.

    Wheeler must have a good agent. He’s on the shelf too frequently to be worth anywhere near that.

  27. Also, with the Braves signing Hamels, I’m now expecting the Braves to trade some of these Triple A starting prospects who are blocked for at least one bat.

  28. No kidding, Bumgarner and Wheeler are basically the same age but Bumgarner has thrown 1,100 more innings in his career.

    Phillies are probably going to have paid Wheeler a large amount of money to sit on the DL a lot when it’s all said and done.

  29. I like the Hamels signing from a baseball perspective, but it’s gonna be strange to pull for him. Out of all the NL East “main rivals” we’ve cycled through, those Phillies teams were some of the most hateable. I mean, could you ever cheer for Ryan Howard? This is almost that.

    On another note, as a long-time lurker and part-time poster I checked out of this place for a while last year as the tone down here in the peanut gallery had gotten a little shrill and argumentative. It just wasn’t as fun of a place to hang out. Just spent the afternoon reading through the recent backlog of posts and it’s great to see that everything is back to normal. Rob, appreciate everything you did for the site and excited for the Ryan C era!

  30. @44 Just to add balance to the argument: Wheeler has tossed >180 IP the past two seasons. How many seasons does he need to go before the injury label doesn’t apply?

    Re: Bumgarner
    Bumgarner and Wheeler are basically the same age, but MadBum’s career is perceived to be in decline and while Wheeler appears to be ascending. 1100 innings will do that, I guess.

  31. I’ll add that Wheeler’s career ERA is exactly league average for his career. Signing him to that contract is a huge gamble.

  32. Of course, Hamels DID drill Bryce Harper during Harper’s rookie season, so he can’t be all that hateable.

  33. @42 hey coop. All respect for the aged. I’m no spring chicken myself. Will turn 60 this coming spring. But spring baseball will make me feel no more than 50 I’m certain.

  34. Hamels is definitely better than Dallas.

    All we need now is to sign one of JD or Rendon then we are set. Otherwise, none of the good work done until now means much.

    Get it done AA, I believe in you!!!

  35. I’m enthused about the Hamels signing. The price is maybe a tad steep, but it’s a year. There’s no such thing, financially speaking, as a bad 1 yr contract.

    They can’t stop though. They still need to bring Donaldson back. The pitching might be playoff caliber, but the offense, at present, screams 4th place. Donaldson fixes that, and so much more.

  36. @52: never trust anyone under 75, a variation of theme from my misspent youth in the ’50s and ’60s.

    Bravemarine, wisdom doesn’t accompany gray hair, but many aches, pains and bouts of forgetfulness do.

  37. @19 Isn’t Turner’s defense slipping a bit or something? I know there was chatter he could move to 1B if LA inked another 3B.

    If the Braves were going to trade with LA, I’d rather they get Pederson. I’m not sure there’s a realistic option that I like as much as Donaldson to anchor the order though

  38. I don’t get the angst some Phillies fans have over the Wheeler deal. I think he’ll outperform MadBum over the next few years.

    I hope someone, other than Atlanta, signs Bumgarner so I know the Braves won’t. Lol

  39. @57 They’re on the hook for 5 years of Wheeler at $23.6M. His career has had lengthy interruptions because of injury, so they really need him to have 2 more years like his past 2 or he could become an albatross pretty quickly.

  40. You guys, I’ve been busy all day and have yet to read the thread, but wanted to let everyone know this is Snowshine’s work, not my own. He has a computer mishap and I had to post for him. Also, I cannot thank him and our team of writers enough for the excellence that has been shown in this series. We have some serious baseball intelligence in this place.

  41. @41–yes, it’s my daughter who is Rice 2004 (Hanszen). Although she grew up mostly in Texas, we raised her as a Braves fan. I’d like to think she wore a Braves cap around the Rice campus, but once they leave the nest they do what they want.
    Now she lives 5 miles from SunTrust Park and my grandchildren are Braves fans. Parenting is fraught, but we must have done something right.

  42. @Sean Q

    Glad to see you here again! Let’s hope that we can continue to walk the tightrope that is a healthy Braves Journal blog!

  43. Offseason thoughts

    No matter where the team end up come spring training, there is at least a plan coming to fruition

    The strategy of specific targets and acquiring those targets early may be the new market inefficiency of baseball’s off season, and the Braves FO are certainly leading the way, and whilst I cannot speak for everyone, I am very much in favour of their path

    The Hamels signing works both as an impact in 2020 as well as adding a mentor for the plethora of younger pitchers that the club have. Adding on the QO/draft pick after 2020 is yet another indication of FO that knows what it’s doing – and again, it may not be to everyone’s taste, but there is at least a plan

    The strengthening of the bullpen was needed and achieved. The need for catching help identified and solved, and all this before virtually anyone else save the White Sox have done anything of note

    Now can “we” just pay JD all the remaining money in time for Christmas please

  44. I think the off-season is reflective of what AA believes he has on the team already.

    1. The Braves already have a TOR. He was top 10 in SP WAR last season.

    2. The team is, once again, counting on Mike Foltynewicz to be some version of his effective self. In his last 8 starts, Folty was 7-1 with a 1.94 ERA and a 3.15 K/bb. He can do things.

    3. Sometimes I think Max Fried pitches better than the guy mentioned in 1. He had the highest K/bb (3.68) of anyone in the rotation and he was 17-6 last year because he doesn’t leave the game after 5 IP.

    4. Cole Hamels is the closest thing to a 36 year old John Smoltz we’re going to find, and if something goes wrong with one of the above, he’s the perfect anchor for a young rotation. Before going down to injury with the Cubs last season, Hamels was 11-6 w/ 2.98 ERA in 99 2/3 IP and 2.77 K/bb. He was not, as people are saying, basically Dallas Keuchel or Julio Teheran.

    I had hoped we would add another TOR to compliment the young Soroka and Fried, and I would have rather rolled the dice on Folty as our #4, but free agency proves time and again to be just a bad, bad place to go for top shelf talent. We need to trade for it (like go get Kluber), but seeing the above I can understand why we built up the bullpen first this off-season and now have provided a veteran to be a stabilizer in case things get crazy again like they did last spring with Folty, Newk, and Gaus.

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