As one of the youngest arms in the Atlanta Braves rotation, Mike Soroka has been nothing short of amazing this year, leading the way with an impressive 2.07 ERA through 13 starts. The Canadian is 8-1, which leads the team as well, striking out 63 hitters in 78 innings pitched, holding oppositions to a dismal .201 average. He’s also walked just 19 hitters all season.
The Braves pitching staff has struggled this year, with an ERA over four, but Soroka has definitely been one of the bright spots. With a ton of young arms such as Touki Toussaint, Soroka, Sean Newcomb, and Max Fried, a lot of these youngsters are still getting their feet wet at the major-league level. Soroka has shown amazing maturity in his first full big-league season though as he’s taken over as the leader and trendsetter for this staff.
The 21-year-old got the call-up in the second half of 2018, making five starts and posting a 3.51 ERA with a 2-1 record. This year he has been arguably one of the best starting pitchers in the game, sitting behind only Hyun-Jin Ryu with the second-best ERA in the majors. Soroka does lead the bigs in the least home runs allowed per nine innings at just 0.3. He’s surrendered just three long balls in 78 innings pitched this year. Soroka sported a 1.07 ERA, allowing one run or less in his first eight starts to begin the year. Not bad for a guy who began the year in the minors after dealing with light shoulder issues.
The one thing that makes Soroka so difficult to square up is his command and natural movement, especially on his sinking fastball. Let’s dive deeper into his brilliance.
Command is key
Soroka has always had outstanding control, one of the biggest reasons he was taken by the Braves in the first round back in 2015. The combination of his stuff, command, and size was very enticing and it’s safe to say the Braves made the right choice. First off, to be pitching at this level at just 21 years old and carving up major league hitters is extremely impressive in itself. But to have the second-best ERA in the big leagues is something to definitely take notice of. Soroka is a strike-throwing machine, which is one of the biggest reasons he’s having so much success.
He’s using his sinker 47.3 percent of the time this year, which has great downward movement and arm-side tail. The sinker alone is a huge reason Soroka has a 59.8 percent groundball rate this year. He relies on the natural movement of the pitch to induce a lot of contact on the ground, which more often than not, results in outs. It averages only 92 mph, but he’s able to ramp it up to the mid-’90s when he needs to. It’s more of a contact pitch anyway, as he’s registered just 8.5% of his strikeouts via the sinker this year.
The slider for Soroka is his put-away offering. He’s throwing it 25% of the time this season, and almost half of his strikeouts have come from his most filthy pitch (40.6% K rate). It’s a hard slider that sits close to mid-80s with a very sharp break as it dives out of the zone. He also has a four-seamer and changeup that he throws from time-to-time, but he is mostly a two-pitch guy. That brings me to my next point.
It’s not very often nowadays that you find a big league starter who relies mostly on two pitches. They definitely exist, but they’re few and far between. They also don’t have the type of success that Soroka is having either. It’s pretty remarkable to watch the youngster dominate hitters with two pitches that move in opposite directions. Then once in a while, he will fool opposing lineups with an 80 mph changeup or a mid-90s four-seamer up in the zone that no one was really expecting.
Soroka doesn’t strikeout a lot of hitters nor blow anyone away with a 99 mph fastball. But he can paint the corners on a consistent basis and command his two main offerings that both start in the same plane, making it very difficult for hitters to figure out if it’s a slider or sinker coming at them.
Anthony Rendon with the classic look of a hitter who just watched Mike Soroka paint the black with a nasty 94-mph sinker. 😷 pic.twitter.com/D4ltHIV2M0
— FOX Sports: Braves (@FOXSportsBraves) June 23, 2019
When you paint the inside corner with a two-seamer like that, not even one of the best hitters in the National League can hit it.
Will Mike Soroka continue to pitch at this high level all year long? Only time will tell. But if one thing is for sure, it’s that he has an amazing understanding of how to pitch and get hitters out. It’s unlikely he’ll keep an ERA right around two all season long, but given his natural abilities to hit his spots and induce weak contact, there is no doubt that Soroka is going to have a lot of success for many years to come at the major league level with numerous All-Star Game appearances along the way.