2020 Projection: Will Michael Soroka Maintain His Strikeout Surge, Evolving Into An Elite Option?

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Those who grabbed Michael Soroka early in the season were rewarded with a breakout season, if you were searching for strikeouts you were likely disappointed:

174.2 IP
13 Wins
2.68 ERA
1.11 WHIP
142 Strikeouts (7.32 K/9)
41 Walks (2.11 BB/9)
51.1% Groundball Rate
.280 BABIP

Obviously if you want to point towards the strikeout rate as a reason to avoid Soroka you are splitting hairs, because the other skills are elite.  He showed pinpoint control, generated more than enough groundballs and was capable of routinely avoiding hard contact (36.3% Hard%).  There was a little bit of luck (79.9% strand rate), but even with a regression there he’d be a solid option.

Of course his groundball rate regressed significantly as the season progressed, something we’ll need to watch:

  • First Half – 57.0%
  • Second Half – 45.0%

He was utilizing his sinker less, including a 38.93% mark in September, so it’s possible that he continues to generate a more pedestrian groundball rate.  It’s not a bad mark, but when coupled with the strikeouts it would be fair to be concerned.

Of course with the lower utilization of his sinker he saw a jump in his strikeout production:

  • July – 8.28 K/9
  • August – 5.09 K/9
  • September – 9.67 K/9

The August number drags the number down, but suddenly he’s looking like a potential strikeout per inning pitcher.  Armed with a changeup (22.29% Whiff%) and slider (16.59%) capable of getting swings and misses, as well as an 8.0 career K/9 in the minors, there clearly is more upside potential.

As long as he can maintain that second half groundball rate, a spike in strikeouts coupled with his control would keep him lined up as a Top 30 starter.  If he can develop an ability to maintain the strikeouts with the first half groundball stuff?  Then we’re talking about a potentially elite starter.

As far what we’d expect in 2020, it all comes together for the following projection:

2020 Projection:

200.0 IP, 16 W, 3.47 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 183 K (8.24 K/9), 50 BB (2.25 BB/9)

While he’s no lock to maintain his 2019 production, the odds are far better that he does.  In other words, if someone in your league is looking to sell high (or opts to avoid him due to the lack of strikeouts) don’t be afraid to pull the trigger. At worst he’s a solid option, but he has elite upside that can’t be ignored.

Sources – Fangraphs, Brooks Baseball, Baseball Reference

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