2022 Player Review: Mike Soroka

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.

Author: tfloyd

Tfloyd was born on the site of Atlanta Fulton County Stadium. Before the stadium was built, that is; it was then the site of Piedmont Hospital. It took the Braves another 11 years to arrive on what is now Hank Aaron Drive, but I‘ve always liked to arrive at the ballpark early.

25 thoughts on “2022 Player Review: Mike Soroka”

  1. I too have an enormous soft spot for Soroka. Among the 10,000 reasons I could never be a MLB GM is the fact that I would pay guys I root for independent of what they might be able to do. It’s obviously a short step from “look how hard he’s worked” to “so nothing can stop him now” but that would be a heart decision and not a head decision, since it is at least as likely to be followed by “but then the next shoe dropped.” So I’m in favor of this offer, even if every doctor said he was through. But I’m not a GM.

    I was there at Citifield for his MLB debut, and a snapshot of his first pitch is stored on my phone. It ain’t gettin’ erased.

  2. Every year, something happens that’s never happened before in major league history.

    Maybe, just maybe, this year, that’ll be Mike.

  3. @Last Thread: can we chalk up all talk of trading RAJ to Off-season Musings to Avoid Complete Boredom?

  4. From Fangraphs – posted without comment

    Braves

    • Vaughn Grissom is working with Ron Washington on his shortstop defense.

    If it wasn’t apparent there’s a very real possibility Swanson will leave as a free agent, it should be now. The Braves sent Grissom from his home in Orlando, Florida, to New Orleans on Sunday to work with “Wash,” the first of three planned one-week sessions designed for one thing: to get the 21-year-old ready to play shortstop on a regular basis in the majors.

  5. “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.” Gold. Thank you!

  6. @4–I don’t think this tells us much about the chances of signing Swanson. I imagine AA would still like to sign Dansby, but he has a number (years and dollars) that he’s not willing to go above. Dansby may ultimately agree to that offer, but if he doesn’t we should not expect the Braves to up the offer. So they do need a fallback option. My guess is they are also kicking the tires on Turner and Bogaerts and exploring possible trades, in addition to considering Grissom as the possible SS.

    As to the Grissom option, the article (originally in The Athletic: https://theathletic.com/3905871/2022/11/16/braves-have-ron-washington-working-with-their-potential-shortstop-vaughn-grissom/) is yet another fascinating account of Wash and his passion for infield defense and commitment to improving his charges. I expect the report card Wash gives to Grissom after this three week intensive course will play a role in AA’s decision-making.

  7. I see this as negotiating through the newspaper.

    The word out of the Braves media for most of the fall was that Grissom was not seen as a long-term future shortstop, which is why they were trying to figure if they could convert him to outfield in the first place. If the Braves actually did think he could be a starting shortstop, they would have pushed back against those stories. They didn’t. That tells you what they really thought.

    I think Grissom could be a useful supersub for a long time. He might be able to have a Betemit-like career, and possibly better. But given what the team clearly believed about his future trajectory given the narratives during the last season, it’s hard for me to believe he’s got more up his sleeve.

  8. You’re right, Alex; they could have kept the Wash/Grissom workouts under wraps. They told DOB about this and gave him access and quotes largely to put pressure on Swanson. But for the same reason, I wouldn’t put too much stock in the narratives from last season, either.

    They may in fact be seriously considering Grissom as a shortstop. Wash has helped make Riley a very serviceable third baseman. I think they really do want to figure out whether Grissom can play there.

  9. Grissom mainly played short this past season in the minors and was underwhelming to say the least. I caught 5 games where he played (4 at A+ and 1 at AA) and he was switched out for a better defender in 3 of them. At short he is stiff and stays too tall making him have limited range although he did get to everything he could reach and had more than enough arm for the position. I can see Wash making him keep his hands low and improving his footwork but the stiffness is always going to limit his range (think Ron Cey’s movements for those of us old enough to remember).

    OTOH, all the projection systems seem to be saying 100-112 OPS+ and giving him a 3 WAR projection as a second baseman despite the below average D he played there in the majors. I believe this is, if anything, underselling his offensive potential, as the uppercut swing change is still new to him and he still hit too many grounders in 2022. The kid, in my opinion, is going to be a beast with the bat. I don’t see it happening at short, however.

  10. Not that it matters, but many of the ESPN talking heads had Dansby returning to the Braves. Their guesses are 5/150, 6/150, 6/165 and 6/12. One of them also thinks DeGrom comes here at 3/125.

  11. Couple of very old Soroka interviews that will blow your mind when you consider that this is a 19 year old kid being thrown in the deep end. I wish Eric Cole did more of this type of stuff but big hat tip for these 2 gems from 2018
    https://www.batterypower.com/2017/7/1/15907892/interview-with-mike-soroka-on-pitching-and-his-success-in-double-a
    https://www.batterypower.com/2017/1/18/14301122/an-interview-with-atlanta-braves-rhp-pitching-prospect-mike-soroka-he-is-really-good

  12. Grissom as a super-sub is putting an awfully premature low ceiling on him, no? I mean he might not make it, but his early offensive numbers project very well. I’d stick him in LF and have him bulk up if the SS thing doesn’t work out.

  13. The thing about Grissom is… if you think he’s the answer at short, you better be damn sure, because this is the last time in a while there are going to be freely available shortstops to solve the problem with. This year you’ve got your pick of Correa, Turner, Bogarts, and Swanson… but next year has nothing. 2025 has Willy Adames and Tim Anderson. 2026, your only option is hoping the Jays don’t extend Bo Bichette. If you’ve got a question mark at shortstop, this is about the worst possible time to punt on it and see what it looks like in a year, because in a year you will have no alternatives if your internal options don’t work out.

    So, if you decide Grissom’s the guy, that’s fine… but if you’re in May and he’s not hitting, or you’re in June and you’ve decided his fielding is not acceptable, you might as well resign yourself to shortstop being a problem for the rest of the decade.

    That’s why I’m super-sketchy on the idea of any kind of placeholder shortstop. I feel like the smart move this offseason is to decide which of the Big Four you like the most and pull out all the stops to sign him. If we’re in February and listening to Bowman and DOB raving about what a genius AA is for seeing the hidden talent in Elvis Andrus or Jose Iglesias or whoever… well, I don’t see that ending well, even if the placeholder isn’t a disaster in 2023.

  14. I don’t think of supersub as his absolute ceiling, I just see it as his most likely outcome. If he can do what Riley’s done and become serviceable or better at short, I’m sure he can hit enough to start.

    Maybe he could be a kind of Jeff Blauser type. Blauser had two incredible five-win, All-Star seasons in 1993 and 1997; the rest of the time he was something like league average, with a pretty good bat but a poor glove, overall making him a slightly below-average player. (He also had a lot of injuries and only averaged 124 games a year from 1989 to 1997, his nine full seasons in Atlanta.) In all, he was worth about 20 WAR total, in parts of 13 seasons, and half his WAR came in those two All-Star seasons.

    I don’t know if Grissom could be as good as Blauser. But he strikes me as a possible comparison, and it’s worth asking: would you even want to make Jeff Blauser the starter today if you could? Would you want a guy who, for most of the next decade, was a 1-win player whose poor defense placed additional strain on the starting pitching, if once in a while his bat generated an occasional star season?

    Personally, I still think Swanson is worth the extra $150 million.

  15. First, what about Ozzie at SS and Grissom at 2B?

    Second, from the prior thread, I’ll bet everyone whining on RAJ is twice his age. To me it’s underappreciated that he came to the US as a kid (he’s still basically what I think of as a kid but I’m old), left his family, couldn’t speak the language, and has had limited opportunity to mature naturally. He goes down for the count one year while his teammates are winning the whole enchilada and then this year his best friend goes down for the count and he has to play while still rehabbing. The whole agent thing could be as simple as trying to reconnect with his family. The guy has potential out the wazoo and given a little stability will almost surely show it again.

  16. That occurred to me too! But… Ozzie hasn’t been a shortstop since he was a teenager. That’s going to be extremely hard.

    As I wrote here: https://bravesjournal.com/2022/11/11/2022-braves-player-review-dansby-swanson/

    There aren’t any obvious internal solutions, barring something radical and borderline insane — like switching Ozzie Albies back to shortstop, a position he hasn’t played since 2016-17, when he switched to the keystone to accommodate Dansby.

  17. I’d be surprised if Ozzie is on the team for his entire current contract. I’m not saying that Grissom is the answer at SS (seems unlikely), but to my lying eyes he’s an answer somewhere . He’s a huge kid, and will get stronger. I want to see how his power develops as he hits age 25 or so. LF is the best place for that.

  18. I think Grissom has 25-30 HR potential. Somewhere. I’m VERY VERY high on guys that make GIANT leaps and not only don’t fail, but succeed. It almost always portends extended success. When Furcal played as he did with very little experience past A ball and hit .295, I’d have bet my life on him having a long productive career. He did. Grissom also hit .291 with an OPS+ of 121.

    He has a massive frame and looks to me like he’ll eventually fill out to 6-3 205-210.

    I am VERY HIGH on him. Very. He was brutal in the field but as its been WELL documented here, I don’t care a whit about defense at the ML level.

  19. #9
    At short he is stiff and stays too tall making him have limited range although he did get to everything he could reach and had more than enough arm for the position.

    You just described a rookie SS named Derek Jeter, who’s the same height as Grissom & was a similar body type.

    #15
    I love that RAJ is on my team. I appreciate that his talent is extremely rare. Aside from the contract talk, I’d just love to see some level of maturity (or at least baseball smarts) on the field. That’s all.

    Big talent-vs.-baseball smarts… it doesn’t have to be an either/or proposition. You’re allowed to have both.

    BTW, did a trip to Lexington, Ky., this past wknd. Froze my ass off at the UGA/UK football game, but it was still nice to win — the UK fans were happy to keep it relatively close.

    Two nights before, I caught a hoops game at Rupp Arena. UK beat SC State by 43 points — and the UK fans were complaining bitterly about their coach. They do know their basketball, but that’s one tough crowd over there.

  20. Hey, if he turns into Jeter, I’ll show up for three servings of humble pie. Certainly happy he’ll be part of our team’s capacity in one way or another. I loved watching him, and he certainly is a major leaguer.

  21. I don’t think we’ll ever see a player play anywhere close to as long at shortstop as Jeter did with the poor range he had. He made very few errors, but as defensive stats get more advanced, most teams prefer someone who makes 50 great plays with 20 errors over someone who makes 20 great plays with 10 errors. I don’t know if Grissom will be a similar fielder to Jeter or not (I doubt it), but if he is, I don’t think he’ll last long at short. However, I could see him making an excellent outfielder and I think his bat will play anywhere.

  22. Braves re-signed Brooks Wilson to a MILB deal today. He was really the only arm that I was upset about losing.

  23. @23
    I talked about this a lot & it all went back to his balky knee. His launch angle was completely gone because he couldn’t trust his lower half to get under the ball.

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