Joakim Soria was, at one point, a valuable closer for the Kansas City Royals. He is still a valued pitcher, but he probably won’t be closer. Here’s why.
Part of the problem analyzing Soria is his Tommy John surgery recovery over the 2012 season. Almost any issue could be attributed to the surgery. I, however, doubt the surgery had much to do with most of the issues he may displayed. Elbow surgery, specifically Tommy John, doesn’t have the long-term anchors on performance that shoulder surgery does, and the number of pitchers who have bounced back is high enough that I won’t attribute any issues he had this previous season.
I will attribute some of the issues to a small sample size. After all, he only threw 23.2 innings. (This small sample size makes it hard to draw conclusions, so take the ones I make with a grain of salt. But I do use his 2013 season if it continues a trend, since there would have been previous evidence supporting the idea that the statistic in question isn’t entirely due to sample size. In other words, if a pitcher had a declining K/9 for five straight years, missed a year, and came back and continued declining with a low innings total, it wouldn’t be fair to say that the K/9 decline was entirely due to a small sample size. He had been declining for five straight seasons. His small season wasn’t really isolated relative to his other seasons.) His K/BB has been declining for the last three seasons, and his BB/9 has been increasing (that should be pretty intuitive). His walks are the most concerning. They have almost doubled. He does get the benefit of the doubt, since he was out for an entire season. Again, the small sample size probably played a part. But that can’t be completely ignored, especially because his velocity has taken a small step back. It has fallen exactly 1MPH, to 90.7, but a lot of that is likely due to age. He is 30 this season. This velocity dip gives him little room for error, but shouldn’t be an issue if he gets his control back. His deceptive delivery helps as well.
This velocity dip gives him little room for error. But he was never a power-pitcher anyway, so the dip shouldn’t hit that hard. But It is fair to assume he should rebound to somewhere around 3 BB/9, and his projected stats for next year should be adjusted accordingly. Are there any other issues?
Yes. His earlier work with Kansas City was upheld by an entirely unsustainable LOB%, between 85-90% in his prime. When that fell back to Earth, that number dropped as well, which isn’t coincidental. After all, if less men are left on base, more men are scoring.
That isn’t to say that everything is bad. Since he should be walking fewer guys than last year, there will be less men on base for him to allow to score. He still supports an outstanding K/9, and will never lose it. But he is probably closer to the 3.8-4.0 ERA pitcher he has been in the last two seasons than the 1.8-2.2 ERA he was in his prime. But I (and Steamer) see him doing better this year than he did last. Steamer projects him to have a 3.6 ERA and 3.82 FIP (no xFIP is available) but I project him to do better, since I think he will have a better K/9 and BB/9. I think more like a 3.5 ERA and 3.65 FIP, though I admit to picking those specific number out of my ass. But I honestly do think he will beat Steamer and become a better pitcher than he was last year. Enough to be a 7th or 8th inning guy, but not a closer.