Dave Dombrowski took a big swing this off-season, sending Matt Vierling, Nick Maton, and Donny Sands for Kody Clemens and polarizing reliever Gregory Soto.
Soto was a big get for the Phillies bullpen but he will come with questions. To some, they’re adding a two-time all-star closer to a bullpen that features game-changers like José Alvarado and Seranthony Domínguez in the back end.
To others, he’s a massive risk with only 8.95 strikeouts per nine in 2022 and a walk rate of over 12%. It’s easy to argue that Soto was fortunate with a HR/FB rate of 3.4% due to mostly pitching in a very pitcher-friendly park in Detroit.
What the Phillies need to do for Soto is help work on his command but not in the way you all may think.
His slider took a big step back in a handful of metrics in 2022, his whiff rate went down over seven percent and teams nearly doubled their batting average off it. This is actually because his slider caught too much of the plate. He needs to be able to consistently make it look like a strike but drop out of the strike zone.
Gregory Soto's slider took a big step back in 2022— Jordan Lyles's Innings (@AnthonyEsbensen) March 18, 2023
On the left is where he was throwing his slider in 2022, right is 2021
see a difference?
Screenshots from BaseballSavant pic.twitter.com/SQixOR2SIQ
Soto’s heater has the flashy makings of exactly what the Phillies like. They’ve acquired arms like Alvarado, Andrew Bellatti, and Matt Strahm over the last few seasons who all have fastballs that get swings and misses. Soto should be able to do that.
The issue is deciding on which fastball he should throw. He rarely threw his four-seam in 2021, opting to throw a sinker which is easier for a pitcher to command but with poor results. In 2022 he threw his four-seam over twenty percent more, with more flashy results like a whiff rate of over 26% compared to his sinkers 20.
The issue with throwing his four-seam is that it allowed a higher slugging percentage and the aforementioned command issues. He should probably stick to one so he can use his slider more. He threw both his sinker and fastball a combined 77% of the time.
It’s important that pitching coach Caleb Cotham is able to get things rolling with Soto as soon as possible. Cotham has been the pitching coach for the last two seasons with positive steps forward with nearly every high-velocity reliever they’ve added.
However, Soto missed valuable time early in camp because of visa issues and wasn’t able to report to the team until March 8. While there was no danger in him being able to begin the season or anything, it doesn’t help with them getting hands-on work with him.
Unlike in Detroit, Soto’s role is not going to be defined by the inning. Instead, it will be directly off of their two studs, Alvarado and Domínguez. There will be nights he starts an inning and some could even be the ninth. However, how much of the time will they ask him to come into a jam?
He’s not completely unfamiliar with it but still a question especially since they are converting another reliever who was a full-time closer, Craig Kimbrel.
While Soto is a two-time all-star reliever (when every team is required at least one all-star), he is far from a proven commodity. Will the Phillies be able to get a massive return on investment in 2022 or will it come later?