2020 Pod Projections: Mike Soroka

The Pod Projection process sharing continues! The 2020 forecasts are now available and include over 500 player lines. As usual, I’ll dive into my projection methodology (detailed in Projecting X 2.0) by sharing my process on several hitters and pitchers.

2020 Pod Projection Index:
Jonathan Villar

Today, I’ll share my thoughts and methodology on projecting Mike Soroka, who finished second place in the National League Rookie of the Year voting following a sizzling first full season. Even though he has all of 200.1 innings to his name and posted an ERA a whopping 1.50 runs below his SIERA, there isn’t as much disagreement about his value than I expected. In February through 149 NFBC drafts, he has been selected as early as 83rd overall and as late as 146th overall, for a difference of 63 picks. That’s actually in the middle of the pack among pitchers taken inside the top 200 in gap size. Overall, his ADP stands at 109 and he’s the 30th starter off the board. Is that a fair price?

Games Started | IP: 30 | 170

These are close to what he posted in 2019, but you might notice if you’re doing the math that I’m forecasting a decline in IP/GS, from 6.0 last season to 5.7 this year. That’s because as you’ll see later, he’s not going to come close to repeating that 2.69 ERA. More runs allowed means he’ll be chased from his starts earlier, resulting in fewer innings pitched per start.

K%: 20.4%

Soroka actually outperformed his xK% by a full point, but since we don’t have any historical data, we won’t know for a while whether he’s going to be the rare consistent xK% outperformer. Soroka featured an excellent slider/changeup combo to go with his two fastballs, as both non-fastballs generated double digits SwStk% marks. So he has a potential choice of raising his strikeout rate and reducing his grounder rate or doing nothing. My strikeout rate projection is almost identical to his mark in 2019, but if he proves to be an xK% outperformer (or you believe he will be one), add another percentage point (to about 21.4%) to the projection.

BB%: 6.4%

I’m generally conservative with young pitchers and need them to prove they could continue to post elite walk rates. My forecast is slightly higher than his 2019 mark, mostly because I’m projecting him to reach a 3-0 count a little more frequently than he had. It’s more of an acknowledgement of how difficult it is to maintain any skill that’s so much better than the rest of the league than it is a knock on Soroka’s control.

GB%/LD%/FB%: 52% / 22% / 26%

Soroka’s line drive rate was a bit inflated last season, but batters have far more control over that mark than pitchers. So essentially, one season’s worth of LD% is relatively meaningless, and we should expect that to decline back toward league average. I’m projecting the line drives to be split between grounders and flies. Remember that given his quality secondary stuff, there’s a non-zero possibility he decides to swap some sinkers for sliders and changeups, which would reduce his GB%, but should increase his strikeout rate.

HR/FB%: 13.5%

I always regress this rate toward the league average, adjusted for home park, especially for young pitchers. We need lots and lots of fly balls to confidently conclude that Soroka has a real ability to suppress homers on flies.

BABIP: .300

Soroka outperformed in many metrics and BABIP was one of them, which as usual, got people trying to find a way to justify the low rate. Though I never unveiled it, this off-season I calculated a Statcast xBABIP (using their expected batting average) for pitchers and have been using it to help guide my pitcher Pod Projections. For all the narratives of Soroka inducing soft-contact, etc etc, his xBABIP actually stood at .309, which is well above the league average. It shouldn’t be surprising, as he allowed a higher than average rate of liners, and a high rate of grounders, both of which fall for hits much more often than fly balls and pop-ups. Soroka allowed just a .200 BABIP on his grounders versus a .236 league average, and since Statcast’s expected metrics account for launch angle and exit velocity, it would appear that he simply lucked out that those grounders found defenders more often than they should have.

Below is my final projected pitching line, along with the other systems for comparison:

Mike Soroka 2020 Projections
Pod 170 12 3.68 1.25 149 7.7 2.4 0.96 20.4% 6.4% 22.0% 52.0% 26.0% 0.300 73.1%
THE BAT 182 12 3.83 1.25 149 7.4 2.4 0.95 0.305 71.4%
ATC 177 12 3.57 1.24 151 7.7 2.3 0.99 0.307 74.3%
Depth Charts 182 11 3.64 1.20 159 7.9 2.0 1.04 0.308 73.3%
Steamer 189 12 3.94 1.23 165 7.9 1.9 1.15 20.7% 4.9% 21.0% 50.7% 28.3% 0.303 71.6%
ZiPS 176 11 3.32 1.16 154 7.9 2.1 0.92 0.300 75.1%

There’s actually a pretty big range in ERA projections, with ZiPS the lowest at 3.32 and Steamer the highest at 3.94. This is no surprise, as ZiPS regresses the luck metrics less toward the league average, as it assumes a higher percentage of the gap is skill, whereas Steamer much more heavily regresses those metrics toward the average. I, on the other hand, regress on a player-by-player basis, which is why I get an ERA right in the middle of the two. Steamer is way out on an island in HR/9 because it’s fully regressing that HR/FB rate, whereas I’m giving Soroka some slight credit for the potential to own some HR/FB rate suppression skill.

It’s interesting to see that everyone is at .300 and over for BABIP, giving Soroka literally no credit for his league average beating mark last year. Even after my long explanation for the .300 BABIP projection, I’m tied with ZiPS for the lowest!

Given the lowish strikeout rate and solid, but not great, ratios, I think he’s a bad buy at 30th among starters. Clearly fantasy owners are putting more stock in the sub-3.00 ERA without looking underneath the hood to determine if that’s any bit repeatable. I’d much rather roster a high strikeout guy that has the potential to match Soroka’s ratios and at least will provide value if the ratios don’t end up as strong. There’s just too much downside for a mediocre strikeout guy at Soroka’s price.

Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.

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rudy hess
rudy hess

Great piece. It feels like Soroka is a higher priced version of Kyle Hendricks, without the great WHIP. I’ll pass on Soroka as well and just wait for Hendricks.