Mike Soroka was fantastic in 2019. In his age-21 season, Soroka flashed immense potential and was one of the best pitchers in the Majors. A 2019 All-Star, Soroka finished sixth in National League (NL) Cy Young voting and second in NL Rookie of the Year voting. Soroka was fifth in pitching WAR (wins above replacement) with 5.7.
On the mound, Soroka had a knack for forcing ground balls. Soroka was adept at keeping the ball in the yard, posting the NL’s lowest HR/9 mark (home runs allowed every nine innings). In terms of run prevention, Soroka was elite. Not only was Soroka’s earned run average (ERA) third in the NL, but he also posted a stellar 169 ERA+. Only Gerrit Cole, Justin Verlander, and Hyun-Jin Ryu posted better numbers.
The numbers were eye-popping, but what does it mean for 2020?
The Braves have a rich pitching history, but they have lacked an ace since John Smoltz, Greg Maddux, and Tom Glavine left. The Braves went nearly 70 years with sure-fire Hall of Fame pitching, but those days are gone. The likes of Tim Hudson and Julio Teheran had their moments, but they were seldom considered as one of the best in the NL. Soroka has a chance to be the first Atlanta ace in over a decade.
Could Soroka be the heir to the Braves’ throne?
Maybe. There have been countless flashes in the pan for pitchers. The most infamous in Braves history may be Kris Medlen. In 2012, Medlen had an ERA of 0.90 after June. As a starter, Medlen was 9-0 with a 0.97 ERA. After one of the most dominant stretches in MLB history, Medlen became the definition of average. Across nearly 50 starts with three different clubs, Medlen posted an ERA+ of 101.
Soroka’s 2019 campaign can be compared with some of the best in Braves history, including the best efforts of Glavine and Smoltz. Among Braves that qualified for the ERA title, only Maddux (five times), Kid Nichols (twice), Warren Spahn (twice) and Phil Niekro (once) were as adept at preventing runs as Soroka was in 2019. Soroka’s 2019 was better than the best efforts of Glavine and Smoltz. It was only a one-year sample, but Soroka etched his name among the best in Braves history.
What will Soroka do in 2020?
Soroka should surpass his excellent 2019 campaign. He showed poise and command of his pitches to a degree that 21-year-olds rarely do. As Soroka masters his execution and sequence of pitches, he should become a household name.
Soroka will be overshadowed by the likes of Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer, and Stephen Strasburg in his division, but Soroka has shown he can pitch just as well as any of them. With Dallas Keuchel and the aforementioned Teheran out of town, Soroka needs to cement himself as the ace for the next decade. The Braves have some promising pitchers such as Max Fried, but it is up to Soroka to carry the staff. Cole Hamels and Felix Hernandez could provide solid innings, but the work lies with Soroka.
By pitching to contact as much as he does, Soroka could fluctuate, but he should be fine. Soroka won’t break any strikeout records, but he can generate some swings and misses. If the season goes as planned, Soroka should post a sub-3.00 ERA and be among the Cy Young front runners.
The playoffs are the next step for the Braves, but Soroka showed he can pitch in October as he turned in a quality outing against the St. Louis Cardinals last season. An impressive showing, Soroka allowed just two hits and one run in Game 3 of the NLDS. It was only one start, but something promising to build off of for the Braves.
Soroka has a long list of Braves to make proud, and he just might be up to the task.
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