Soto (.351) youngest to win NL batting title

21-year-old first Nat to win crown: 'You haven’t seen the best'

September 28th, 2020

WASHINGTON -- ’s season began with him standing in his living room, taking swings in sync with games on TV while quarantined on the COVID-19 injured list.

It ended with him winning the 2020 National League batting title.

The 21-year-old left fielder edged out Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman, .351 to .341, to become the first Nationals player to lead the NL in batting average. Soto went 1-for-1 with a single and a walk in Washington’s dominating 15-5 win over the Mets on Sunday afternoon in its season finale at Nationals Park.

Soto became the youngest to win the NL batting crown and the fourth youngest to win his first career title across both leagues.

“I just feel really amazing, all the job we've done this year, and more when it's a fight that close," Soto said. "It just feels really good."

Manager Dave Martinez crunched some stats and replaced Soto with pinch-hitter Jake Noll in the third inning, feeling comfortable with leaving the title competition up to Freeman’s performance against the Red Sox. Freeman went 1-for-4 after entering the day with a .343 mark. Soto entered with a .346 average.

Soto finished his third big league season with 54 hits, 13 homers, 14 doubles, 37 RBIs, 39 runs scored and 41 walks against 28 strikeouts in 196 plate appearances across 47 games. His .490 on-base percentage, .695 slugging percentage, 1.185 OPS and 201 weighted runs created plus (wRC+) are the highest rates by any qualified hitter since Barry Bonds in 2004.

“Outstanding,” Martinez said. “What can we say about Juan Soto? He comes every day ready to play -- not just hitting, but his defense, his baserunning, everything. He just keeps growing every day. Congratulations to him and what he’s done. Unbelievable accomplishment.”

Adding to Soto’s already lengthy list of achievements for his age, his .351 batting average is the fourth highest by a player in his age-21 season or younger since 1900. He trails only Alex Rodriguez in '96 (.358), Lloyd Waner in '27 (.355) and Jimmie Foxx in '29 (.354).

Soto’s .695 slugging percentage also tops all players in the same category, ahead of Mel Ott in 1929 (.635), Rodriguez in '96 (.631) and Eddie Mathews in '53 (.627).

“For me, it doesn’t matter the age,” Soto said. “If you deserve it, you deserve it. It just feels good. I know some young guys are coming behind me, and I know they’re going to try to do the same thing. I know they’re going to do it.”

It’s easy to look at Soto’s power as a sign of his hitting success. Of his 13 home runs, two came on Aug. 12 against the Mets at Citi Field. With a 466-foot blast in that game, Soto passed his career-long distance only two days after setting his previous best of 463 feet. But it’s his approach that Soto actually honed in on this season, as opposing teams began to change their pitching strategy against him.

“I’ve been really proud about being patient and taking my walks, because they’ve been walking me a lot, and sometimes it’s really tough,” Soto said. “Most of the time when you get a 3-1 count, [you’re] ready to go and they walk you intentionally. Just try to keep my mind down and prepared for my moment.”

Preparation is what helped Soto capture this award. He looked back on the nights he spent in his apartment while quarantined, simulating at-bats, doing pushups and riding on the stationary bike in anticipation of enacting damage on the field.

“In that moment, I just felt really bad about being at home, seeing all the guys needing another bat in the lineup and seeing how they started a little slow,” Soto said. “It was a hard time, but I said, 'I’m not going to give up. I’m going to try to keep my body in shape and come back ready to go.'"

Soto has a World Series championship and an NL batting title under his belt after only 313 regular-season games and 17 in October. So what’s next?

“I definitely think you haven’t seen the best of the Juan Soto yet, that’s for sure,” Martinez said. “He’s going to continue to get better in all aspects of the game. You’re talking about not only a potential MVP this year, but for many, many years.”