WASHINGTON — Juan Soto’s second-inning single up the middle Sunday wrapped up the National League batting title for him. It’s an achievement in both to be lauded and framed with context.
First, Soto, just 21 years old, continues to astonish at the plate. His .351 average in 196 plate appearances easily won him the batting title. Atlanta’s Freddie Freeman finished second at .341.
“What can we say about Juan Soto?” Davey Martinez said.
Soto’s total line from the season puts him into the MVP conversation: .351 average, .490 on-base percentage, .695 slugging percentage and 1.185 OPS. Adding his age and the stop-and-start nature of his season because of a positive coronavirus test just prior to Opening Day, then left elbow soreness, his numbers are even more eye-popping.
“I just feel really happy,” Soto said. “I’m glad it just happened.”
But, his amount of time on the field is a needed caveat here when making historical comparisons. He is the first member of the Nationals organization to win a batting title. That is flat.
He is the youngest player to win a batting title in the National League. That needs a lot of context. Pete Reiser hit .343 in 1941 for the Brooklyn Dodgers. He finished the season 22 years and 195 days old. Soto is 21 years, 338 days old.
However, Reiser was at the plate in 1941 (601 plate appearances) three times as much as Soto was in 2020. Which shifts the weight of each season.
“It’s a little different because we played 60 games and I didn’t play all 60 games,” Soto said when asked to compare this title to one from a full season.
Soto entered Sunday just three points ahead of Freeman. Seth Lugo walked Soto on four pitches in his first trip to the plate. The single through the middle moved him to 1-for-1 on the day. He did not hit again because the Nationals removed him from the lineup just before Trea Turner’s grand slam put them in front, 11-3. Soto appeared to have secured the 2020 batting title with his single and Freeman going 0-for-1 to start his day in Atlanta against Boston. The Nationals checked the numbers in the dugout and decided to remove Soto because the gap between Freeman and Soto reached a point of clarity.
“I told him, look, we knew what the situation was,” Martinez said. “You did your job.”
In the end, Soto won by a clean 10 points. He is the best hitter in the National League in 2020, which was yet another year of improvement and perhaps indicative of more to come.
“I definitely think you haven’t seen the best of Juan Soto yet, that’s for sure,” Martinez said.