In 2020, Solak hit two home runs, swiped seven bases (caught once) and slashed a respectable .268/.326/.344. Yes, that last number is lacking but while there’s a clear reason for that, that number should jump back closer to his 2019 mark. The power wasn’t there in 2020, and he homered once every 104.5 at-bats. Yikes. In 2019, it was a far more respectable 23.2 at-bats. Solak displayed nice power in the minors, most notably 19 home runs in 126 games at Double-A in 2018, and 27 home runs across 115 games at the Triple-A level. Will he develop into the big-time power bat in the big leagues? Probably not, but there’s certainly enough pop for him to consistently post a total in the mid-teens.
Solak hit fewer ground balls and line drives in 2020 compared to 2019 but enjoyed a nice jump in his fly ball rate. However, the light blue line for his HR/FB ratio plummeted. Why?
Wasn’t his exit velocity up? Slightly, yes.
What about his launch angle? That increased as well.
His barrel rate must have vastly declined, right? It nearly cut in half, yes. While that’s a sizable culprit, it’s not the biggest factor.
His HR/FB ratio went from 20.8 percent to 3.4 percent because his increase in exit velocity was fool’s gold. On line drives, his hard contact rate remained the same, but there was a noticeable jump in soft contact rate. When you look specifically at fly balls, his medium contact jumped up, and he hit more fly balls to the opposite field. His hard contact rate dropped over 13 percent compared to 2019 in terms of hard contact on fly balls to the opposite field. Both of his home runs in 2020 were to the opposite field, but the drop can be further explained beyond the hard contact rate in that subset of batted balls. On fly balls that Solak pulled, his hard contact happened to go up, but none of those balls left the yard. Why?
His increase in exit velocity was fool’s gold.
Compared to 2019, his average exit velocity on fly balls and line drives dropped nearly three miles per hour, from 93.2 mph to 90.6 mph. Meanwhile, his average exit velocity on ground balls jumped from 85.7 mph to 90.2 mph. In fact, his average exit velocity on ground balls was the tenth-highest among qualified hitters in 2020.
Overall, his exit velocity was up, but not all increases in exit velocity are created equal. In terms of Solak’s batting average outlook, the elevated hard contact, even on ground balls, helps a lot especially with his speed. In terms of hoping for increased power production, the decrease is rather substantial and is a huge deterrent to a 15+ home run campaign from Solak.
The last notable thing for Solak is that he has some major split disadvantages. Righties have an advantage against him, but lefties have their work cut out for them against Solak. Take a look at his numbers for his young career against righties and lefties.
If he can hold up defensively, rumor has it that they are going to give him the opportunity to be the everyday second baseman. It’s not that he’s horrible against righties, because a .256 batting average is far from putrid. However, it doesn’t even sniff his .316 average against southpaws.
If you take what we have seen from Solak over his first 91 big leagues games, and you extend it over a full 162-game season, you come to a stat line of a .277 average, 12 home runs, 16 stolen bases, 82 runs scored and 71 RBI. It sounds fine, but it doesn’t necessarily jump off the page, right? Well, it’s actually more rare than you think. In 2017, 11 players reached all of those numbers, compared to just seven players in both 2018 and 2019.
He’s currently the 16th second baseman off the board and is a “Jack of all trades, master of none” type player. He’s solid in just about every category, but he’s not dominant in any particular one category. From the chart below, you can see that his average draft position, per NFBC data, has really fluctuated, and he still is a trendy and cheap power/speed option. However, the price is falling back, which bodes well for us.
I think he’s a great value at his current ADP, and I’d be inclined to push him up slightly. If we can get a return to his 2019 marks, especially in terms of exit velocity specifically on fly balls and line drives, there’s no reason Solak couldn’t hit 15 home runs this year and join the 15/15/.275 club. Consider me a fan.