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 . . .: he averaged 92 on the heater but got it up to 96 whenever he really wanted; filthy breaker; improving change.
Soroka finished 13-4, with a 2.68 ERA. His WHIP was 1.11, thanks in part to a BB/9 rate of 2.1 And in his one postseason start, he went seven innings surrendering only two hits, striking out seven and walking none. He led the Braves in bWAR with 5.9, outpacing Donaldson, Acuña, Freeman, and Albies (all of whom were excellent that year).
[Y’all excuse me a minute—just got a text from RyanBraves—you want Soroka’s 2022 year in review?]
A review of Soroka’s 2022 season would be about as long as the book on Italian military victories of WWII or Pablo Sandoval’s diet book. So I figured we may as well review 2019, the last year Mike pitched (other than his ill-fated start to the truncated 2020 season, in which something horrible happened, but I don’t want to talk about that). In fact, the first paragraph you see above is lifted directly from Snowshine/Karl Ehrsam’s terrific 2019 Review of Mike Soroka: 2019 Atlanta Braves Player Review: Mike Soroka – Braves Journal No need to reinvent the wheel.
It is worth reflecting just a little longer upon how great Soroka was in his rookie year. Compare his rookie season to Spencer Strider’s:
Their ERA’s were virtually identical (Soroka 2.68, Strider 2.67, although Soroka’s ERA+ was a little better, 171 to 152). Soroka’s bWAR was 5.9 to Strider’s 3.7 (the difference largely due to Strider’s joining the rotation a third of the way into the season). Soroka’s WHIP was an excellent 1.11; Strider’s was an even better 0.995. Strider walked more batters, but the BA against him was a miniscule .180. The most glaring difference was the K rate. As you know, Strider’s was just about the best ever at 13.8/9, while Soroka’s was a mere 7.3/9. Just goes to show there are multiple ways to be an effective starting pitcher.
I didn’t make the Strider comparison to bring the mood down—although I suspect some of your imaginings went to a dark place. If Soroka can be that good as a rookie and then very possibly never be the same again, could that happen to Strider? The answer, of course, is yes. Some of us are old enough to remember Mark “The Bird” Fidrych.
But I am an optimist. I fully expect Strider to be outstanding over the next few years, and even improve in some aspects (developing a better changeup, for instance). What about Soroka’s future? As Yogi reminds us, predictions are hard, especially about the future, and Soroka’s future is about as murky as it gets. On the one hand, coming back strong after missing three full seasons is almost unheard of in MLB history. And in addition to the fragile Achilles tendon, Mike has experienced both shoulder and elbow soreness in the past.
On the other hand, if anyone can do it, Soroka has the resilience, determination, and intelligence to pull it off. In fact, Soroka and Strider seem to share an almost preternatural intelligence about pitching, an uncommon understanding of their own body and pitching mechanics, and a drive and determination to succeed that is unusual even in the rarefied air of professional athletes.
I’ll admit to a strong personal bias in favor of Mike Soroka. The Braves drafted him in 2015 out of high school in Calgary, Alberta, and he had immediate success in the minor leagues. In just his second year of pro ball, as an 18 year old, he and his rotation mates–Max Fried, Kolby Allard, Touki Toussaint, Patrick Weigel–led the Rome Braves to the league championship. (Oh, and they also had a couple of guys named Acuña and Riley in the lineup and AJ Minter in the pen.) I’ve never been one to pay much attention to the minor leagues or to prospect evaluations, but the big league club during that time was so abysmal that I looked for hope anywhere I could find it. What struck me about Soroka even then were the interviews he gave. This teenager understood pitching as well as any veteran.
So what can we expect from Mike Soroka in 2023? As y’all know, Mike did pitch in the minors at the tail end of 2022, in his long and laborious road back from multiple Achilles tendon surgeries. And the initial signs were promising: in his first rehab start in A ball, he struck out eight of the first nine batters, allowing one hit and no walks in four innings. He had mixed success in a handful of further rehab starts, and his season was shutdown in mid-September due to elbow soreness. All indications are there is nothing structural wrong with his elbow or shoulder; it will just take more time to get his mechanics and arm strength back up to speed. I believe he can do so; here is one more example of Soroka’s self-awareness and ability to adjust and adapt: Braves’ Mike Soroka had tightness near twice-torn Achilles, so he got high-tech help – The Athletic
The people that know Soroka best, the Braves’ front office, haven’t given up on his future. They just agreed to re-sign him for 2023 at $2.8 million. Here’s hoping that turns out to be a bargain for the team.