Don't sleep on Soto's historic season

September 28th, 2021

There is so much greatness in baseball right now, it’s hard to keep track of it all. And especially when one of those outstanding players is on a team that won’t play postseason baseball, it’s important to be sure to recognize a stellar season before it’s over.

The above statement can apply to a handful of players in the Majors right now. But the subject in question today? None other than the best hitter in baseball: .

He’s likely to finish top-three in NL MVP voting, and this week is your last chance to watch him for 2021. And by the way, he’s still just 22. Ready to see his name on lists with a bunch of Hall of Famers and record holders? Good. Because it’s time to dig in. Let’s appreciate this season that we’ve been lucky enough to witness.

Here are all the reasons why Soto’s season is incredible and will go down in history.

The entire 2021 campaign

Last year, Soto became the fifth youngest player to win a batting title in the Modern Era (since 1900). This year? He very likely may win another, entering Tuesday at .321, just shy of former teammate Trea Turner’s MLB- and NL-leading .322 average. Only one player in history has won multiple batting titles before turning 23: Ty Cobb, who won three.

• Speaking of Soto leading in categories, here’s another: on-base percentage. This one, unlike batting average, won’t come down to the final week. The only question left is just how much he will lead the Majors by. Last year, he led everyone, at .490, becoming the fifth qualified player to lead MLB in OBP in his age-22 season or younger, along with Bryce Harper, Stan Musial, Ted Williams and Ty Cobb. This year, he’ll join Williams as the only players to do that twice before their age-23 seasons.

• Soto is the only qualified batter with more walks than strikeouts this season, with 139 free passes and just 86 punchouts. And of course, as you may have already guessed, Soto had more walks than strikeouts in 2020, too. Only other player has done that in his qualified age-22 season or younger in the Wild Card Era: Albert Pujols in 2002. And Soto will now have done it twice within that age frame.

• As described above, he reaches base quite frequently. Soto has an MLB-leading 25 games reaching base safely at least four times this season. Next most such games? 14, by Freddie Freeman and Carlos Correa. That’s quite the gap. So where does Soto’s total rank in history? Glad you asked. There have been just seven individual seasons since at least 1901 where a player had more than 25 games where they reached base safely at least four times. Those performances came from: Barry Bonds (2001-02, ‘04), Babe Ruth (1920, ‘23, ‘31) and Lou Gehrig (1931). Talk about next-level company.

Finishing strong: the entire second half, especially September

• Soto has reached base safely 72 times this month. The next-most in any calendar month in 2021? Freddie Freeman’s 57 times reaching safely in July. Soto is the fourth youngest player to reach base safely at least 70 times in a month, older than only Mel Ott, Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams when they did it.

• During a stretch earlier in the month, he reached base in 12 consecutive plate appearances. That was the longest such streak by a player in the Expansion Era (since 1961) at age 22 or younger, and the longest in Nationals/Expos franchise history overall, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

• Soto had a good first half, slashing .283/.407/.445, but he’s been otherworldly following the Midsummer Classic and his performance in the Home Run Derby, which he participated in in part to fix his swing. He now has a .542 OBP in the second half. That would be fifth-highest in the second half since the first All-Star Game in 1933 (min. 250 PA), behind only 2002 Bonds (.608), ‘04 Bonds (.589), 1941 Williams (.583) and ‘02 Bonds (.547).

• In September, it’s been on an even more impressive level. He has a .590 OBP this month, which would be fourth-highest in a September/October since at least 1901, behind only, you guessed it: Bonds. That would be ‘04 Bonds (.619), ‘02 Bonds (.614) and ‘01 Bonds (.607).

It’s all part of a standout career so far

Of course, this year for Soto is anything but an aberration, as many of the notes above imply. And it isn’t just about on-base or even batting average, either. His 161 career OPS+ would rank fifth in baseball history for a player through his age-22 season, with a minimum of 1,200 career plate appearances. The only players ahead of him on that list: Williams (183), Mike Trout (167), Musial (166) and Cobb (163). Hall of Fame company to start a career, for sure.

• Speaking of power, Soto has 98 career home runs, which is fourth most by a player before turning 23, trailing only Mel Ott (115), Eddie Mathews (112) and Tony Conigliaro (104). And that’s with a shortened 2020 season, too. In related news, his 11 career multi-homer games are second-most before turning 23, behind only Mathews (13).

• Let’s stick with the homers, but add on-base tendencies to the mix. He has 42 career games with at least one walk and one home run. The only players with more such games before turning 23 are Ott (55), Mathews (45) and Williams (44).

What about multiple homers and a walk? Soto has six of those games, tied with Ott for the most before turning 23. This is just what he does.

• Remember his 25 games reaching safely at least four times this year? He has 51 of those games total in his career, trailing only Williams’ 54 for players before turning 23.