The New York Yankees bullpen coming into the 2013 season is still a question mark. Mariano Rivera has shown a shred of doubt in regards to walking away from baseball (although most think he’s using retirement as a bargaining chip) and his 2012 replacement, Rafael Soriano, has already opted out of his final year in order to test free agency. Without those two, the Yankees are left with David Robertson (great), Joba Chamberlain (shaky), Boone Logan (inconsistent), and various spare parts. For that reason alone, it would behoove the Yankees to take a gander at Joakim Soria to help fill the late innings void.
Recently, The Kansas City Royals announced that they declined Soria’s 2013 option. It was an option that would have paid him $8 million, but instead he received a $750,000 buyout. At first glace, you can immediate see some similarities between Soria and Soriano. Both have had elbow trouble in the past requiring Tommy John surgery, however, Soria’s injury is more recent (2012). Also, both were closers before hitting the free agent market.
Diving into the stats a little bit reveals Soria, even at age 27, might be declining. For instance, his K/9 went from 11.72 in 2009, to 9.73 in 2010, and 8.95 in 2011. That sort of decrease is very troubling for someone his age and caliber. Furthermore, he’s getting fewer swing-and-misses in recent years. According tor Fangraphs, in 2009 he recorded a 13.2% swinging strike (SwStr%). That number decreased to 9.1% during the 2011 season. Another troubling sign is his HR/FB rating jumped almost two percentage points from 8.9% to 10.4%, and that’s while pitching in the spacious Kauffman Stadium.
But enough of the bad, let’s get into some good signs for Soria. Firstly, he’s only two seasons (2010) removed from a sparkling campaign in which he saved 43 games and pitched to a 1.78 ERA (2.53 FIP). It was a season worthy of All- Star honors, while pitching for the lowly Royals. Meanwhile, his fastball velocity is still averaging around 91-92 mph. He also throws a cutter, which hits around 89 mph. Imagine what Mo could do for this kid (a la, David Robertson) if he could teach him the finer points of throwing a cut fastball? He rounds out his arsenal with a slow curveball (average velocity around 70 mph), a slider, and the all-important change-up, which he can use to help neutralize right field’s short porch to lefthanders.
While he struggled in 2011, his walk rate (2.54 BB/9) stayed around his career numbers (2.48). If you want a point of comparison, Soriano walked 3.19 batters per nine innings this season and his career numbers sit at 2.87 BB/9. Meanwhile, Rivera’s career number sits at 2.04 BB/9, so Soria slots nicely between them in regards to walks surrendered.
Sadly, many remember Soria’s struggles in 2011 rather than his whole body of work. Who knows, his elbow could have been bothering him during that campaign and finally gave out during Spring Training the next year. I believe Soria is a terrific buy-low candidate for the Yankees, and who knows, if he excels this year maybe he could parlay that into the closer’s role if/when Rivera retires.
It’s a no-brainer if I were a general manager and Soria was willing to take a contract worthy of his current worth and not for his past accolades. It’s not often teams get an opportunity to pick up a young, all-star caliber closer/elite reliever. Low-risk, high-reward signings follows the same mold as Bartolo Colon, Freddy Garcia, and Eric Chavez and for the most part they shined in the roles they were given. I write that as if it were my money to spend and Soria is willing, but nothing is ever that easy in baseball.
Stats courtesy of Fangraphs