Soria and the Bullpen
First of all, I’d like to thank Danny Parkins and Carrington Harrison of 610 Sports for inviting me to be a part of their very first Royals Round Table. I know I had a blast and I’m pretty sure Jeff Parker of Royally Speaking and Mike Engel of Kings of Kauffman had a blast as well. Other than the obvious fun of being on the radio, I had an idea for a topic that came from our discussion yesterday. A large part of the show was focusing on the Royals bullpen which is largely viewed as a strength of the team for 2012. And while I think that’s true no matter what happens with Joakim Soria, I think him getting back to at least being in the upper¬†echelon¬†of closers is pretty important in the Royals bullpen being great.
In spite of my post yesterday where I looked at the best possible solutions for the rotation, I just don’t see them as being a strength of this team. Because of that, the Royals bullpen will be ultimately important. Last season was Joakim Soria’s worst season in the big leagues. He gave up more runs in 2011 than he had in 2009 and 2010 combined. The good news is, at least a portion of his struggles could be chalked up to luck. He gave up way more home runs per flyball than he had at any other point throughout his career. In all reality, he wasn’t that¬†much worse in 2011 than he was in 2009 when he posted a 2.21 ERA. He was slightly worse in many categories, but not quite as big as the 1.82 gap in ERA.
2011 was just a weird season for Joakim Soria. The year started with him requesting to no longer be referred to as The Mexicutioner, and by the end of the season that was not a problem for fans. In one stretch in late May, prior to losing his closer’s job for a week, Soria blew three saves including one especially heart wrenching loss on Memorial Day. From that point to the end of his season, Soria went 2-2 with a 2.58 ERA in 37 games. He struck out 41 and walked seven in 38.1 innings. Just from looking at those numbers, that seems pretty much like the old Soria, but watching him, you just knew it wasn’t.
After years of serious consistency, you never quite knew what you were going to get from Soria on a day-to-day basis. Even in his fantastic run at the end of 2011, he gave up multiple runs in a game three times including his second four run inning of the season. The total number of times he gave up multiple runs was seven which is four more than in 2010. You all know that. You also probably know that traditionally relievers have short shelf lives and even the best sometimes just burn out after a few seasons. I just don’t think that’s exactly the case with Soria.
I do believe that he will never be as good as he was in 2008 or 2010, but I don’t think he’s a 4.00+ ERA closer. According to Fangraphs, Soria’s velocity remained pretty similar compared to the rest of his career. The biggest change he made last season was the implementation of a cut fastball. He claimed he had scrapped it toward the end of the year, but I think it had an adverse effect on the rest of his pitches, most noticeably his changeup. The first thing to help Soria fix himself is simply to be sure he never throws the cut fastball again. So back to the original point of this post – what does Soria mean for the rest of the bullpen?
I think the answer is pretty obvious. By Soria getting back to being at least close to his dominant self, the rest of the bullpen falls in line. This isn’t a matter of the Royals having nobody capable of replacing him because if there’s one thing the Royals have, it’s a wealth of closer candidates. This goes back to the starting rotation because late inning relievers are not the only part of the bullpen the Royals are going to need to rely on in 2012. Too many starts will be over before the sixth inning and probably even too many starts will be over before the fourth. And because there will be too many starts ending early, the Royals will likely need more than just the seven relievers they start the season with (and yes, Yost has said they’re going with seven).
So I apologize if this is overly simplistic, but bad starters make the need for a good, deep bullpen even more important and while Soria is probably not the right person to get stretched out and go two or three innings at a time, if the Royals don’t have him bolting down the closer’s role, they will have to take somebody like Aaron Crow, Greg Holland or Kelvin Herrera and lose their ability to give multiple, effective innings.
Last year, the Royals talked about how they’d like to get 1,000 innings from their starting rotation and that just seemed unrealistic with guys like Jeff Francis coming off injury as part of a rotation including Luke Hochevar, Kyle Davies and Bruce Chen. This year, I think the Royals have figured out they aren’t going to get those kind of innings from their starters which makes the bullpen even more important. Luckily for them, the organizational strength is relievers and the Royals even shored that up by picking up Jonathan Broxton and Jose Mijares in the offseason. No matter who is in the bullpen, Joakim Soria getting back to what he does best is the very best thing for both this team and the bullpen specifically. The current roles out there are so perfectly aligned to the reliever’s talents that the bullpen may actually be good enough to make up for a lackluster rotation. A lot of that hinges on Soria.
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