Much has been written and said amongst the media, and even more has been said at barstools across Chicago — not all of which can be published — about the struggles of Cubs outfielder Jorge Soler.
Cubs fans seem to have a deep trust in their fearless leader, Joe Maddon, and rightfully so, but his decision to stick with Soler through his struggles garnered criticism from the media and the Cubs-faithful. The critics had a point: Soler was terrible for the first six weeks of the season.
Maddon may have stuck with him because he truly believed in the youngster’s ability, or maybe he stuck with him because he didn’t have a choice due to Kyle Schwarber’s injury. Either way, Maddon’s patience paid off.
Soler’s resurgence happened quickly and dramatically.
|Opening Day-May 11||31||.175||.261||.275||2||6||12|
|May 13-May 31||14||.256||.383||.538||3||6||6|
How has he done it? He’s seeing more pitches. The message that Maddon has been preaching to his entire team has finally gotten through to Soler. His walk rate in those first 31 games of the season was 9.8%; he’s walked on 14.8% of his plate appearances in his last 14 games. Being more selective at the plate provides more than just a better walk rate. If a batter is swinging at better pitches, naturally he has a higher chance of driving the ball. Hence the dramatic increase in his slugging percentage in the last couple of weeks. His .538 SLG% over that span is 128 points higher than the league average.
Moreover, it forces opposing pitchers to actually throw pitches in the strike zone. Soler loves to hit, which is a good thing, but it became a problem early in the year. Pitchers exposed his eagerness at the dish by making him chase balls off the plate. Now, he’s forcing pitchers to throw in the zone by laying off the pitches outside the zone. It’s working. That logic is one of the first things you learn in Baseball 101, but it’s often easier said than done.
This may seem elementary, but it’s a lesson that many hitters still need to learn. It’s been one of Maddon’s primary focuses for his team this season and it’s paying off. They now lead the league in walks by a wide margin which has helped them become the third highest scoring offense in baseball.
Despite his recent success, he’s still striking out way too much. His K% is at 25% on the year, which is actually five points better than last year’s mark. The improvement is encouraging, but it’s time he drops that mark to a more reasonable number. That should come with time. Once again, he’s only 24 year old.
Questions remain about Soler’s defensive capabilities. While he loves to show off his strong arm, he’s been known to struggle at tracking down fly balls in the outfield. Playing the corners at Wrigley isn’t easy — the wind is difficult to predict, playing the wall where it juts out can be tricky and nobody wants to run into a brick wall. Even if it is covered in ivy.
That being said, his defense needs to improve. We’ve seen him take baby steps in the outfield this year, but there’s work left to be done. He should take notes on his teammate and 3-time Gold Glove Award winner Jayson Heyward.
Maddon’s patience with Soler proved to be the right decision. In Schwarber’s absence, it’s crucial that Soler continues to hit the way that he has.
Kevin McCarthy, a junior at the University of Illinois, is serving an internship at Scout.com this summer and covering the Cubs for NorthSidersReport. You can follow him at @KevOMcCarthy on Twitter or contact him by e-mail at Kevin.McCarthy00@yahoo.com