The Braves are heading to arbitration hearings with Dansby Swanson and Mike Soroka. That is, unless they sign multi-year deals beforehand, writes the Athletic’s David O’Brien. Otherwise, Atlanta will have a pair of interesting arbitration cases on their hands.
Swanson enjoyed a BABIP-driven spike in production over 2020’s 60-game season, logging a career-high 2.9 bWAR while appearing in all 60 games. That’s not an extrapolated career-high, that was Swanson arguably accomplishing more in his 264 plate appearances than he’d managed in 545, 533, or 551 plate appearances in 2019, 2018, or 2017, respectively. Not knowing how the arbitration panel is going to treat the truncated season makes evaluating Swanson’s season a tough task. Still, team and player aren’t that far apart, with the Braves submitting $6MM to Swanson’s $6.7MM, per O’Brien.
Soroka might be an even tougher case to decide, as the 23-year-old heads to arbitration for the first time. Soroka has been nothing short of spectacular thus far with a 2.86 career ERA/3.40 FIP, a 50.9 percent groundball rate, 19.6 percent strikeout rate, and 6.3 percent walk rate. Injuries have been the bugaboo for the Soroka, however, evidenced by a mere 214 innings across three seasons. Shoulder issues limited Soroka to just five starts in 2018, and he tore his Achilles just three starts into 2020.
In between, however, Soroka blossomed into one of the best pitchers in the National League. In 2019, he made 29 starts, logged 174 2/3 innings, and pitched to a 2.68 ERA/3.45 FIP with a 20.3 percent strikeout rate, 5.8 percent walk rate, and 51.2 percent groundball rate. While Soroka’s heavy sinker seems to gift him with the ability to depress launch angles and burn worms, not all of Soroka’s advanced metrics are sterling. Even in 2019 he gave up a fair amount of hard contact (37.5 percent hard hit rate) and enjoyed a sub-average .280 BABIP that may not be repeatable. He finished the year with a 4.12 expected ERA, per Statcast.
O’Brien seems to think a long-term deal is a definite possibility for Soroka, but it would be a risky move for the Braves given Soroka’s injury history. Assuming Soroka doesn’t sign an extension, he’ll head to arbitration having submitted a $2.8MM salary for 2021, with the Braves countering at $2.1MM.