This has been a topic of conversation on some of my pieces in the past, and I can’t resist pondering about it again. Juan Soto, an extremely powerful left-handed hitter and the newest Yankees star, is not a pull hitter.
Out of 133 qualified hitters, Soto ranks 92nd in pull rate. And to be clear, most of those aren’t fly balls. It’s just not how his swing or approach work. Instead, he is one of the best opposite gap hitters in baseball. This approach has taken him a long way and will continue to do so in Yankee Stadium.
Soto’s swing is too flat to be catered towards pulled fly balls, even as those have become trendy across MLB in recent seasons. He shouldn’t take on any significant swing or approach change like Anthony Rizzo, or even other recent softer swinging lefties like Andrew Benintendi. We already know Soto is a great, intellectual hitter. He’s built his success around his strengths and ability to lift to the opposite field gap. This probably makes you think, what the heck is the point of this piece then? Well, let me tell you.
Soto may not look to make major changes in approach and swing like others have, but that doesn’t mean he can’t make a slight tweak or two that already fold into his skills and current approach. Catering your current mindset to your home park without making an overhaul is more than possible. A mechanical change is the most obvious in that you can typically see a hitter make a conscious physical alteration to get their bat path working to the pull side. Just think about Aaron Judge’s swing unlock in 2022. He relied heavily on his rear hip to create depth in his bat path to pull pitches in the air more often. Don’t expect anything like this from Juan Soto, though. His swing has essentially been the same since he debuted. If he is to consciously get more batted balls over the short porch, it’ll have to be an approach adjustment.
Last year, there were 70 home runs hit to the pull side by left-handed hitters in Yankee Stadium. The lowest launch angle was 18 degrees by Jasson Domínguez, and the highest was at 42 degrees by Anthony Rizzo. By looking at all pulled hard-hit batted balls in that range for Soto alone, we can get a better idea of what types of pitches he already does this to. From there, he has the information he needs to adjust his swing decisions to fit naturally into what his plan already is.
Within the stated launch angle and exit velocity criteria, Soto had 24 batted balls. To the pull side in general, he had 101 batted balls. Of those 24, 18 came on heaters. Of those 18, 12 came on pitches at the upper third or higher! Here are a few examples:
In other words, if Soto is to pull fly balls and take advantage of the favorable dimensions in right field, he needs to attack more high heaters. Simple enough, right? Kinda. His swing is already catered towards crushing high heaters, and this is one of the areas of the zone where he swings at an average rate (66.4 percent compared to a league average of 66.8 percent) and isn’t significantly more patient than his peers. Expecting him to be uber aggressive here probably isn’t realistic. On top of that, he didn’t really need the short porch on the swings I showed you. But since he didn’t need short porch, he has a lot more room for error. He can attack pitches that he hasn’t gotten all of in the past where he is very patient now, and the porch could help turn some of those batted balls into extra-base hits.
In 2023, he had 11 pull-side fly outs. Just 11. Eight of those 11 came on pitches inside. His swing rate on inner third pitches in the zone was 55.5 percent this past season. That is 11.9 percentage points lower than the league average for left-handed hitters. Yes, Soto is an 80-grade swing decision maker, but with more leeway for batted-ball success to the pull side, perhaps he may see more value in increased aggression.
It’s one thing to make a blanket statement that Juan Soto should swing more. It’s another to say he should attack a particular subset of pitches that will give him a better chance at favorable batted-ball outcomes. If he is leaving hits on the table, I’m sure he will want to go and get them.
There is a reason why a hitter this great is so patient, and it’s because he’s waiting to pick out a pitch he can do damage on. But the question here centers on, what if doing a little less damage will still result in a good outcome? It’s an important question to ask, and something I’ll be paying close attention to in the spring. It’s not asking him to suddenly become an aggressive hitter or change his mechanics. This is something that could fit nicely into his already fantastic profile.