Mike Soroka turned heads in 2019, turning in a 2.68 ERA over 174.2 innings, producing 4.0 WAR and finishing second in the NL Rookie of the Year race. Our own Eric Cole’s Canadian man-crush warranted lofty comparisons as fans likened him to Greg Maddux with the nickname “Maple Maddux” from his calm, composed, cerebral mound presence and pitch-to-contact style. The 22-year old pitcher was so good that it is worth discussing the merits of the Braves trying to extend him, despite having five more years of team control over him. I’ll examine the pros and cons of extending him at this current point in his career. Soroka has shown enough that he is likely going to be a very good pitcher for a long time. An important thing to consider when contemplating extending Soroka now is whether more value could be had by waiting to attempt to extend him, or extending him now.
Reasons to extend him now
I’ll start this section with a fairly obvious statement that is worth saying: Mike Soroka is good at baseball and would likely make any team better. There are, however, reasons to believe that he could be even better than he was in 2019. His K/9 sat at a very pedestrian 7.32, well below the league average of 8.88 in 2019. Maple Maddux looks like he has the stuff to improve on his strike out rate, and at times he seemed to fall-back on his power-sinker in 2019, throwing it 44.6% of the time. A more balanced pitch selection combined with improved command on his four-seamer, which Soroka has talked about working to improve could help boost his K/9 and make him even more terrifying for opposing batters.
Not only was Soroka good in the regular season, but he had a fantastic playoff start in the NLDS on the road in St. Louis, throwing seven innings while allowing one run ball to go along with seven strikeouts. This just goes to set aside any concerns about Mike struggling in the postseason, while being a small enough sample to avoid jacking up his price tag based on a perception of him being a postseason hero.
The Braves also have leverage right now, given that they have the aforementioned five years of team control. All of these years are one year contracts, and since Soroka isn’t even arbitration eligible until next season, he has no real financial nest egg built up, which gives the team leverage in being able to offer him financial security in the form of an extension, at a team friendly price.
One other reason has nothing to do with Soroka himself, and everything to do with the overall situation of the league. There is a CBA negotiation looming between the owners and the MLBPA, which sheds substantial uncertainty on the future of player compensation. It may be prudent to extend Soroka before the new CBA is negotiated to avoid any unexpected surprises that need to be dealt with in future negotiations.
Reasons to wait
Extending Soroka now isn’t without it’s risks. One such risk is that of injury. Soroka has had some shoulder issues in the recent past, and while neither him nor any members of the organization seem particularly concerned about his shoulder long term, you never want to hear about shoulder injuries with players you consider core pieces. Furthermore, pitchers get injured as a nature of baseball, and an extension now would provide a long time for injuries to potentially hinder Soroka while he is still being guaranteed money.
Soroka’s performance isn’t without it’s questions as well. He did outperform his peripheral stats substantially last season, with an ERA of 2.68 compared to a FIP of 3.45 and an xFIP of 3.85. This could indicate some regression to come for Mike. In addition to seeing if he can sustain this success, it could be useful to allow Soroka to further prove that his style of pitching to contact and suppressing home runs is sustainable, especially if his strikeout rate does not improve.
On the whole, I think it would be savvy to lock Soroka up now. He has the mental makeup and work ethic of a guy you want to bet on, and his price is likely to only go up from this point. The injury “concerns” don’t really concern me, and even if he regresses some, Soroka’s style is always going to be conducive to outperforming his peripheral stats. Soroka seems to have the floor of a good number 3 in a rotation with the ceiling of an ace, albeit an unorthodox one in the modern game. One modern day model of success with his style would be Hyun-Jin Ryu. Obviously the hope would be for Soroka to avoid the same health issues Ryu has struggled with, and I would argue that Soroka has better pure stuff than Ryu. Ultimately, a Soroka extension does carry some risk, but in my opinion he is a player well worth handing an extension to.