Detroit Tigers: An inside look at a strange season for Gregory Soto
The Detroit Tigers’ closer has had an interesting season
Death, taxes, and Detroit Tigers fans bashing on the team’s closer: life’s three guarantees.
Gregory Soto came on in the top of the 9th inning in a scoreless tie in yesterday’s game against the Tampa Bay Rays. He gave up two jam-shot bloopers to put runners on second and third with two outs. Then the wheels fell off.
Soto walked three straight batters, including walking two runs in to give the Rays a 2-0 lead. He was then relieved by Jason Foley, who also didn’t have it yesterday. He gave up five more runs, three of which were charged to Soto.
This sparked more outcry amongst Tigers fans, as they have grown tired of Soto’s wildness. But has he really been as bad as fans think he has?
First off, he already has more saves (20) than he did all of last season (18). Coming into yesterday’s outing, he had an ERA of 2.13, over a run and a quarter lower than last season. Even after yesterday’s blowup, it’s still lower than last year.
The biggest change from last season for Soto has been the decreased use of his slider. He’s only throwing his slider about 21% of the time this season, compared to 37.6% last season, per Fangraphs. His fastball/slider usage is more akin to what it was in 2020.
To compensate for this, Soto has upped his four-seam fastball usage to 28.3%, up from about 6-7% in previous years. He’s still throwing his sinker about half the time, but he’s never thrown it less than he has this season. For example, he threw it 72.8% of the time in 2020 and 56.1% last season.
Interestingly enough, his walks per nine is the lowest it’s ever been. Walking over four batters per nine innings still isn’t great, but it’s an improvement. Sadly, he’s hit seven batters this season, which is more than double the number of batters he hit from 2019-2021 combined. His K/9 is also the lowest it’s been since becoming a full-time reliever. His CSW% is also down almost four percent from last season.
Despite only giving up one home run this year, he’s getting hit about as hard as he ever has. His hard hit rate allowed has ballooned to 43.4%, up from 35.8% each of the last two years. His average exit velocity allowed of 91.8 mph is the highest of his career. He’s also allowing more line drives. This is what happens when you heavily rely on one pitch.
Soto clearly hasn’t had the same feel for this slider this year, and that’s a problem, especially in the long term. If he’s just going to keep throwing fastballs and sinkers, then he’s going to keep getting hit hard. But the stuff is still there. Throwing 97-100 from the left side is still nasty, and that combined with his violent delivery still makes batters uncomfortable in the box.
The Detroit Tigers always seem to have a closer who’s effectively wild. Todd Jones and Jose Valverde immediately come to mind. Fans never like them because of it, and that’s understandable, especially if you have high blood pressure or some sort of heart condition.
Additionally, yes, there were better choices for the Detroit Tigers’ All-Star selection this season. I personally would have liked to see Alex Lange get the nod. But closers always seem to get first dibs when it comes to getting relievers into the All-Star game. The real problem here is that the Tigers didn’t have a single hitter with a pulse. If they did, they make the team instead of Soto.
It’s been a weird season for Gregory Soto. He gets more hate from fans than he deserves. Is he the best closer ever? Not by a long shot. But he’s probably the best closer the Detroit Tigers have had since 2011 Papa Grande. Maybe Chris Fetter can work with him to help him get the feel for his slider back.