Phillies 2024 Season Preview: LHP Gregory Soto

Soto needs to be more consistent in the Phillies bullpen in 2024, and he'll rely on his slider to achieve that goal.

Philadelphia Phillies relief pitcher Gregory Soto
Philadelphia Phillies relief pitcher Gregory Soto / Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY Sports
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The next player in our Philadelphia Phillies 2024 Season Preview Series is relief pitcher Gregory Soto.

Previous season previews: José AlvaradoAndrew BellattiAlec BohmConnor BrogdonNick CastellanosRodolfo CastroKody ClemensJake CaveDylan CoveySeranthony DomínguezDarick HallKolby AllardBryce HarperJeff HoffmanOrion KerkeringRafael MarchánBrandon MarshYunior MartéMichael MercadoMax CastilloNick NelsonAaron NolaLuis OrtizCristian PacheJ.T. RealmutoJohan RojasMichael RuckerWhit Merrifield, Cristopher Sánchez, Kyle Schwarber, Edmundo Sosa

We'll look back at Soto's 2023 performance and then examine where he might end up this season using the popular Steamer and ZiPS projection systems, which can be found on FanGraphs.

Gregory Soto 2023 stats and 2024 projections

2023 Stats: 69 G, 60.1 IP, 3-4 record, 4.62 ERA, 3.59 FIP, 1.14 WHIP, 65 SO, 22 BB, 0.9 fWAR

2024 Steamer: 70 G, 70 IP, 4-3 record, 3.62 ERA, 3.90 FIP, 1.30 WHIP, 80 SO, 32 BB, 0.6 fWAR

2024 ZiPS DC: 70 G, 70 IP, 5-5 record, 4.52 ERA, 4.31 FIP, 1.33 WHIP, 89 SO, 33 BB, 0.3 fWAR

Gregory Soto 2024 season preview

Reliever Gregory Soto had a confusing year in his first season in Philadelphia. After coming over in a trade from the Detroit Tigers, a trade the Phillies undoubtedly won, the former Tigers' closer put up the highest ERA of his career since his debut season in 2019. That somehow came with a 2.84 xERA and 3.59 FIP.

The left-hander also had the lowest WHIP of his career, at 1.14, and ran a 51.3 groundball rate, with a 26 percent strikeout rate. The ERA result is certainly bafflingly considering the rest of the numbers.

Month-by-month, he was all over the place.

Month

AVG

SLG

ERA

Mar/Apr

.098

.171

2.84

May

.325

.400

9.64

Jun

.125

.219

.096

July

.278

.333

4.00

Aug

.237

.447

7.45

Sept/Oct

.189

.432

3.48

He was stellar in the first month of the season (subscription required) and again in June. In the final month, despite a .189 opponent batting average, he still gave up a .432 slugging percentage but held an acceptable 3.48 ERA. May, July, and August were rough.

Soto should beat his walk rate projections with his slider

In 2023, Soto registered just over a strikeout per inning (9.70 K/9) and the best BB/9 of his career at 3.28 — his career average before coming to Philadelphia was 5.28 BB/9.

The projections for this season expect the 29-year-old to improve his K/9 to 10.27 (Steamer) and 11.39 (ZiPS). Unfortunately, that comes with a bump in his walks per nine again. Steamer predicts a 4.15 BB/9, while ZiPS sees a 4.21 BB/9 in Soto's future. But those numbers take into account his previous seasons and don't consider the changes he made last year.

Under the guidance of pitching coach Caleb Cotham, Soto dropped his four-seam fastball usage from 31.8 percent to 17.5 percent, in favor of focusing on his slider as a seconday pitch to his 98 mph sinker. After throwing the slider 21.6 percent of the time in 2022, he upped it to 39 percent in 2023, according to Baseball Savant.

“The slider was something we really wanted to fix and work on,” Cotham said last July, per The Athletic's Matt Gelb (subscription required). “So he’s getting into a consistent move down the mound more often. His arm’s on time more often. His slider is flying correctly. It’s flying how it used to a couple of years ago. Those things happen. He recalibrated and did a lot of good work on it.”

And it's a good thing he did throw the slider more. He had a 49 percent whiff rate and a 37 percent strikeout rate with the breaking pitch.

Soto will be a big piece of the Phillies bullpen in 2024

So far in the early days of spring training, Soto has seen three innings of action. He has logged three strikeouts, two walks, and surrendered one run.

Look for Soto to be a big part of the Phillies bullpen this season as the team heads toward Opening Day without a designated closer. Last year, he made 24 appearances in the seventh inning, 31 in the eighth, and 10 in the ninth, logging three saves. In high-leverage situations, he held 88 batters to a .203/.318/.270 slash line and was at his best, by far, in those situations. In low- and medium-leverage spots, he allowed .348 and .393 slugging percentages, respectively.

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