AL WestAnalysis

Tyler Soderstrom is turning torrid

I recently turned on the A’s-Padres game, mostly out of habit. I was half-paying attention to the game when Tyler Soderstrom came to bat in the second inning. Before he even stepped in the box, I had written off the plate appearance, assuming the 22-year-old would be a quick out. After all, Soderstrom had entered the game with a .622 OPS, a 36.8% strikeout rate, and was facing one of the game’s premier pitchers in Dylan Cease. But Soderstrom proved the old saying about what happens when you assume was true, cashing in what would be the A’s only run of the game by sending the pitch to the seats in center field. It was a nice moment for a young player who’d been struggling, but I didn’t think much of it. Center-cut fastballs are ripe for being turned into souvenirs, Soderstrom running into one didn’t mean much. And then he did it again. The very next day, Soderstrom deposited another (admittedly center-cut) fastball into the Petco Park stands. Once is a coincidence, twice is a trend, and these two games inspired me to dive into Soderstrom’s season.

What I found was fascinating.

Let’s start with what Soderstrom does well. He absolutely crushes fastballs. He has a .507 SLG and 17.4 Barrel/Batted ball% against them, both well above league average. He also uniquely struggles with the pitch type, evidenced by his improved, but still high 18.9% whiff rate against them. When he gets a hold of one, he feasts. But he’s limited by his struggle to consistently make contact with the pitch. Soderstrom’s lack of consistency against fastballs becomes even more of an issue when you examine how he hits against non-fastballs. It’s here where Soderstrom’s inexperience becomes glaringly obvious, posting a 48.9% whiff rate against breaking balls this season. Fortunately for Soderstrom and whatever A’s fans who remain, he’s already on the path to improving.

Are you ready for some arbitrary splits? Since being called up by the A’s on May 8th, Soderstrom has played in 44 games. 22 before June 7th, and 22 after. The difference between those two stretches is drastic

Soderstrom’s first 14 games between 5/8-5/28, and his following 13, from 5/29-6/12

Now, even the most prone-to-overreaction fan would point out how both of these stretches, as well as Soderstrom’s season in general, are an incredibly small sample size. And that’s true. However, it is worth noting that Soderstrom posted an .826 OPS in June with consistent performance across the entire month.

In addition, these aren’t the only stats that point towards Soderstrom improving. The question with Soderstrom has always been his approach. As I’ve covered previously, Soderstrom can put one hell of a charge into a ball. That’s always been the case. The power to make any cow whose leather ended up on a ball feel it in the afterlife when he squares one up is what made Soderstrom a top prospect ever since he was in high school. It’s getting to that power regularly that stands between Soderstrom and potential MLB All-Stardom. Which makes the improvement of many of his underlying metrics so exciting. 

Circling back to Soderstrom’s difficulties against fastballs: part of why he struggles against them is how aggressive he is against them. He swings at 51.7% of all fastballs he sees, including 33.3% of fastballs out of the zone. But this isn’t the result of blindly swinging at whatever Soderstrom is thrown. Compare it to how he attacks non-fastballs, offering at just 40.1% of them in total, and only 27.9% of the time when they’re not strikes. The evidence of a focused approach is here. Soderstrom is going to the plate looking for fastballs to crush, and staying back whenever he sees spin. It’s a game plan that’s resulted in a near 10% walk rate so far, and at points this season as high as 15% – the highest Soderstrom has had at any level. And as Soderstrom adjusts more to major league pitching, it’s only going to get better.

If we go back to the splits for Soderstrom’s first 14 games, we’ll see that Soderstrom swung at an absolutely brutal 44.4% of fastballs out of the zone, resulting in an ugly 34.3% whiff rate against the pitch in general. Against non-fastballs, we see much of the same thing, a 30% swing rate against what would be balls resulting in a 47.6% whiff rate. But since then, Soderstrom has been swinging at just 20% of fastballs and 25.9% of non-fastballs out of the zone. This increased selectiveness has resulted in Soderstrom’s whiff rate against the two categories dropping to 11.4% and 40.7% respectively. Collectively, Soderstrom has lowered his overall whiff rate from 41.6% to 24.2%, an absolutely massive improvement, resulting in Soderstrom striking out less and getting to pitches he can do damage on, especially fastballs. Even if his last 13 games are just a result of getting hot, these metrics point towards him having the discipline to not be overmatched at the big league level

Taking all of this into account, it’s hard not to get excited about what Soderstrom might be able to do over the rest of the season and beyond. The power that has been tantalizing from day one, and an approach that shows signs of incredible promise, combine to make Soderstrom a reason to be excited about the A’s. After a string of high-profile first-round busts, the A’s might’ve finally found a gem.

As if Oakland fans needed another reason to wish the team wasn’t leaving.

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Elizabeth Tsai

A lifelong baseball fan, I've supported the Oakland A's through good times and bad. A numbers geek, I love diving into the stats to find any fascinating stories not obvious to the basic eye test. Proud transgender woman

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