Did Juan Soto’s Swing Benefit from the Home Run Derby?
The urban legend seems to come up every year. “Being in the Home Run Derby will hurt your swing!” I’m not sure there’s a ton of data to back that up, but it stands to reason that violently over-swinging to hit home runs could hurt a player’s swing coming out of the Derby. At the end of the day, screwing around for one glorified batting practice probably won’t do too much though. It seems the opposite has occurred with Washington Nationals slugger Juan Soto.
Soto had an extremely exciting performance in the 2021 Home Run Derby, ousting top-seeded Shohei Ohtani in a first-round swing-off. He was then defeated in a close matchup against eventual champion Pete Alonso. Soto finished with the longest home run that night, launching one 520 feet.
Prior to the Derby, Juan Soto had a good first half. He slashed .283/.407/.445 with 11 home runs. The youngster wasn’t finding consistent power however, which mirrored the Nats’ own lack of consistency as they entered the break with a 42-47 record. Soto also had a 55.4% ground ball rate, the highest of his career and evidence that he was having trouble lifting the ball. He led the league in grounding into double plays. The Nationals superstar entered the competition with this to say:
It might mess with the swing of all the guys that are locked in, but I think it’s going to fix mine because I’m hitting too many ground balls. I hope it fixes my swing trying to put the ball in the air. That’s what we’ve been trying the whole year, so I hope it fixes mine.Juan Soto, via MLB.com
It Looks Like the Derby Fixed Juan Soto
Coming out of the All-Star Break, Soto has exploded. In the four games back, he already has five home runs. He has no problem hitting the ball hard, leading the Senior Circuit with a 24.0% hard hit per swing rate, but now he’s getting lift on the ball. Juan himself believes that the Home Run Derby played a huge role in his latest power surge:
You can tell. I just feel so much better now. I was thinking about it, and it really helped me a little bit get that feeling of how to put the ball in the air and everything. After trying everything I could in the first half, and the ball still was going to the ground, I think the derby helped me out big time.Juan Soto, via MASN Sports
While a causal effect is always difficult to determine, something is different, and Juan Soto believes it himself. The Nationals will certainly be excited to see him return to form just a year after the 21-year-old led the National League in batting average and all of MLB in on-base percentage, slugging percentage, on-base plus slugging, and OPS plus. After hearing for years how the Home Run Derby can hurt a player after the competition, it seems that the opposite has been true for Juan Soto.
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