Judging the Royals

Joakim Soria: Should the Royals give up on him?

Kansas City Royals relief pitcher Joakim Soria.
Kansas City Royals relief pitcher Joakim Soria. The Associated Press

On Wednesday night, the Royals lost to the Twins 6-5 and Joakim Soria took the loss; his eighth of the season. Read the comments following Rustin Dodd’s game story and the consensus seems to be that Soria should never pitch again and manager Ned Yost is a dope for running Soria out there.

But as usual, the picture isn’t totally black and white; there are shades of gray.

In 2016, Joakim Soria has appeared in 62 games; if I counted right 45 of those appearances were scoreless and that’s about 72 percent. On Tuesday night, Soria came into a tie game in the seventh inning and went 1-2-3; he even got out Brian Dozier, who has been so hot you could toast marshmallows over him. So Soria doesn’t always pitch poorly when the game’s on the line.

But that doesn’t mean Soria has pitched well either.

He’s a reliever with an ERA of 4.13 and eight losses to his name. In 2016 opponents have hit .266 off Soria and for comparison’s sake; the league average for team batting average is .259. But with runners in scoring position, Soria’s opponents hit .185. With two outs and runners in scoring position, that number drops to .175.

Go through Soria’s splits for 2016 and you can cherry pick stats that make him look good or awful in high-pressure situations. That’s probably why Ned Yost bristled when asked about his use of Soria in high-leverage situations. Opponent’s batting average goes up to .278 in those situations, but if you choose to believe the glass is half-full, 72 percent of the time opponents do not get a hit.

So when Ned said: “To insinuate that he’s giving up runs in every high-leverage situation, is wrong.” Ned was technically correct. But Joakim Soria sure isn’t Wade Davis.

Soria has been inconsistent and inconsistent players are hard to manage. The inconsistent player does well enough to make you give him another opportunity, then poorly enough to make you sorry you did.

If Soria is inconsistent, why keep using him?

Why did Alex Gordon get to scuffle for four years in the big leagues before his breakout year in 2011? Why is Bubba Starling — who hit .181 in Class AAA Omaha — being given every chance to succeed?

I’ve got no idea what passes between Ned Yost and the Royals front office, but I can tell you one thing for sure: when a team’s front office places a big bet on a player, that player will be given every opportunity to make that bet look like a good decision. The Royals signed Soria to a 3-year, $25 million deal and it’s going to take a lot of bad pitching before the team gives up on him.

Just look how long it took the Royals to admit that second baseman Omar Infante was a bust.

And Soria did not lose the game by himself

The Royals scored a run in the top of the ninth inning, but that wasn’t enough to tie the game because Kelvin Herrera gave up a home run in the eighth. He did it by hanging an 0-2 breaking pitch to Byron Buxton, who is currently hitting .224. Kelvin started Buxton with a breaking pitch, hung it and Buxton didn’t swing. Despite the fact that Herrera was hanging his breaking pitch, he and Drew Butera decided to throw another one and that gave the Twins a two-run lead.

In the sixth inning, Danny Duffy fell behind Robbie Grossman 2-0, then piped a fastball right down the middle; Grossman homered to left center.

In the fifth inning, the Twins scored an unearned run when Alcides Escobar made a bad throw to first base.

Joakim Soria has the “L” next to his name, but it was a team effort.

In conclusion…

Royals fans have gotten spoiled by the excellence of their team’s bullpen. In 2015, the Royals had six relievers with an ERA under 3.00, in 2016 it’s four and two of them — Wade Davis and Matt Strahm — have been dealing with arm issues. So the pen isn’t as deep and locking down a game in the last three innings isn’t as easy.

Until they find a better option (and Strahm seems like an obvious choice until you think about his arm issues), Soria will probably continue to pitch, but because he’s been inconsistent it would be better if Ned could avoid using Soria when one bad pitch means a loss. And if Soria does pitch in a high-leverage situation, somebody else might want to be warming up just in case.

The Royals have a day off and get back at it on Friday; they start a three-game series with the White Sox and can’t afford any more late-inning bullpen meltdowns.

We’ll soon find out what that means for Joakim Soria.

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