Launch angle revolution, meet Michael John Graydon Soroka of Calgary, Alberta, Canada. He does not give a whit about your attempts to hit “fly balls.” Don’t believe me? Look at his spray chart, through two starts so far:
See on the legend, how there are supposed to be green dots demarcating fly balls? Well... I don’t see no green dots. Neither does Soroka. Instead, what he sees is probably something like below, which evokes a hearty chortle at the legions of batters trying to “elevate.”
Yes, that’s right, among every pitcher with 10 or more batted balls allowed this year, Soroka is one of three with a negative launch angle allowed. Perhaps he chortles at this. I like to think so. Maybe he just nods approvingly, knowing that this is how it was foretold, and this is how it will be.* The results are actually even wackier than this — it’s not just that Soroka isn’t allowing good contact, or contact in the air, but it’s more stifling than this. Smothering, even, like the palatial snows of his homeland. Even when he allows hard contact, it’s not very elevated — of 29 balls in play against him, only six have been hit at 95 mph or harder. Of those six, three were grounders, and two of the liners traveled 167 and 208 feet, respectively, before bouncing. The furthest he’s allowed a ball to travel so far this season has been just 330 feet. For reference, Ender Inciarte’s average starting position is about 320 feet from home plate, so Soroka’s kept his outfielders pretty immobile so far, much like the Canadian winter might.
* Note: Pitcher launch angle results are not very predictive. Do not draw forward-looking conclusions from this, or try this at home.
As of last night, there are only 12 pitchers in baseball that have allowed at least 25 batted balls but yielded no “barreled” contact. The Braves have three of them: Soroka, Max Fried, and yes, Sean Newcomb. Want to know a crazy stat? Of the other nine, none are starters. So yes, the Braves have the only three starters in baseball yet to allow a barrel over 25 or more batted balls. Unfortunately for Atlanta bats, they face Luis Castillo, who has the fewest barrels allowed on a rate basis among non-Braves starters, later tonight.
Other fun Soroka facts:
- Still among the pitchers who have 25 or more batted balls allowed so far, Soroka has the lowest average exit velocity on non-grounders allowed among starters, and is ninth overall. You probably figured this already.
- He’s 10th in average batted ball distance allowed, and again, first among starters.
- Collin McHugh sneaks in just ahead of him as a starter with a lower rate of “hard’ (95+ mph) contact allowed; he and Soroka are 11th and 12th overall behind some relievers.
So, you may still be saying, “Big deal! His major league exposure in 2019 is only two starts. That’s a small snowflake on a maple leaf!” Well, that is true, as Soroka is not yet extensively battle-tested at the major league level. But consider that even if you roll in his 2018, and limit the group to all pitchers with 100 or more batted balls since the start of last season, he is sixth in average launch angle allowed, at just around three degrees. By the way, fourth on that same list is Max Fried. Perhaps they can join forces and laugh at launch angle together. Perhaps they will.
There’s probably a bigger post out there about how despite the launch angle management, Soroka doesn’t quite suppress contact overall to the extent described here, because he allows a lot of liners, which are a pretty good outcome for hitters. His exit velocity yielded and overall xwOBACON-against are in the 60th percentile, i.e., not as awesome as his paltry launch angle figure so far. It’s really just the combination of relatively harder grounders and relatively few/weak flies that makes his batted ball profile pretty fun so far.
Anyway, back to 2019. Mike Soroka has the 11th-most innings pitched for the Braves this year, and is already third in fWAR. Yet another thing for him to laugh at, I suppose!