Judging the Royals

Ned Yost has options other than Joakim Soria as Royals’ eighth-inning set-up man

Kansas City Royals relief pitcher Joakim Soria wiped his face after Baltimore’s Ruben Tejada hit a single in the ninth inning on Monday.
Kansas City Royals relief pitcher Joakim Soria wiped his face after Baltimore’s Ruben Tejada hit a single in the ninth inning on Monday. The Associated Press

On Monday night, in the ninth inning of tie game against the Baltimore Orioles, Joakim Soria was brought in to keep the score 1-1 and get the Royals to extra innings.

Soria was getting mixed results with his changeup — some were down, some were up — but Salvador Perez kept calling them and Soria kept throwing them.

With the winning run in scoring position, Soria threw a 1-2 change-up to Crag Gentry and this one stayed in the zone, about knee high, and Gentry hit a game-winning RBI single.

After Gentry’s ball went past him, before it even left the infield, Soria leaned back and threw his hands in the air.

Bad body language

Monday night was not the first time Joakim Soria has shown bad body language on the mound and that matters.

When I was recently asked about Wade Davis and his mound presence, I said Wade always looked like a hitman, trying to decide how many witnesses he’d have to kill. Wade gave nothing away; nothing that encouraged the other team or discouraged his own.

The same held true for Greg Holland; you couldn’t tell what he was thinking or feeling by looking at him.

Whatever the situation, Davis and Holland’s teammates could gain confidence from looking at their pitcher. It didn’t matter if the bases were loaded and there was nobody out, their body language said: don’t worry, I got this.

There’s a reason those guys were called cyborgs.

But Soria lets his frustration show with walks around the mound, heavy sighs and throwing his hands up like he can’t believe the batter hit that pitch.

It’s not a mound presence that encourages confidence in his teammates or fear in his opponents.

It wasn’t a good pitch

In 2016, Soria had a rough year; in tie games or situations defined as “late and close” he gave up eight home runs. Afterward, Soria would sometimes claim the home run was given up on a good pitch.

If a pitcher breaks a bat, but the hitter still manages to flare the ball over the third baseman’s head, the pitcher can say he gave up the hit on a good pitch; but when the ball leaves the yard, the pitch wasn’t that good.

That’s been pointed out more than once and, at some point, Joakim Soria decided to quit talking to reporters.

Soria at his best

This season Soria’s overall numbers are much better; his ERA is 3.35 and he’s given up only one home run in tie games or late and close situations.

But we tend to remember when someone fails, and 14 of Soria’s runs allowed have come in “high-leverage” situations, which is a stat geek’s way of saying the pressure was on. (They can’t put this stuff in plain English or we’d all know what they were talking about.)

But I digress, as I often do.

Longtime Royals fans remember when Soria was the Royals closer, and back then Joakim was that late-inning cyborg; from 2007 to 2011 his ERA was 2.40 and he saved 160 games.

Back then, Joakim Soria was the guy you wanted pitching when the game was on the line.

When is it time to make an adjustment?

Joakim Soria is still a good reliever and he’s shown he can still be a valuable part of the Royals bullpen. And as all Royals fans know, Ned Yost can be stubborn and loyal to a fault.

Sometimes that serves him well and sometimes that backfires. Ned might choose to keep Soria in the eight-inning set-up role and, eventually, Ned might be proven right.

But with the addition of Brandon Maurer — a guy with 20 saves of his own — Soria doesn’t have to be the eighth-inning set-up guy, Ned has alternatives.

But if Soria remains the eighth inning set-up man, losing the bad body language wouldn’t hurt.

Talking to the media is optional.