Nationals GM Mike Rizzo doesn't expect a significant drop-off from Juan Soto with Anthony Rendon now on the Angels.
"I don't think it's going to be as drastic as we think, just because Anthony (Rendon) hit in front of him, so the same guys protecting him last year will protect him this year," Rizzo told The Sports Junkies Monday in West Palm Beach. "Although you had a guy on base 40 percent of the time in Rendon, so there was a lot of traffic for Soto and that's going to be our idea this year, is to have enough traffic out there so they have to pitch to him."
Last season Soto batted behind Rendon, who had a career year in 2019. The thinking goes that if Rendon got on base, teams were more likely to pitch to Soto with a runner on base, otherwise risk allowing an even bigger inning by giving whoever was hitting behind Soto two runners on base. So in that way, Rendon – with his .412 on-base percentage – served as a shield for Soto, who saw significantly better pitches as a result.
With Rendon gone, it will more frequently be the hitters behind Soto offering him protection, Rizzo explains.
"If they don't pitch to him, then that could lead to a huge inning, because we've got very, very capable hitters behind him," he said. "He's going to get his walks no matter what, and some guys are gonna pitch around him like they did last year, even if Babe Ruth was behind him.
Soto made his presence known last season, hitting 34 homers and driving in 110 runs in 2019, and in 2020, the expectations will be even higher. In the past, opposing teams had to game plan for guys like Bryce Harper and Rendon. Now, they'll all be locked in on shutting down No. 22.
Opening Day is rapidly approaching, and opposing teams are circling for what they're going to do when Childish Bambino steps to the plate.