Joakim Soria Player Projection No. 146

Key Stats: Up until last season, Joakim Soria was ranked in the top 110 by Yahoo for four consecutive seasons. He blew a career high seven saves last year which contributed to him being ranked significantly lower last year. There’s no reason to panic though. Soria had a much lower xFIP than his ERA and also got bit by a few more home runs than he should have (his HR:FB% was a career worst last year). Soria had a terrific September and remains a relatively safe bet at the riskiest position in the game. 

Skeptics Say: Every year the trade rumors come out of Kansas City, but according to Spotrac Soria won’t be a free agent until 2015. That means it’s unlikely he would be moved, but as we saw with Ubaldo Jimenez this past season, the number of years remaining a contract can also act as a catalyst for a deal. Given the amount of money the Phillies just paid Jonathan Papelbon, Soria’s contract looks like a bargain. If the Royals got the right offer, Soria could be moved and who knows what his role would become for his new team. 

Peer Comparison: Cockcroft ranks Jordan Walden ahead of Soria in his rankings. Walden was the better player last year, but the upside with Soria is much greater. Walden was ranked 133rd last year which is worse than any of Soria’s rankings from 2007 through 2010. Walden’s xFIP was 3.33 and Soria’s was 3.38 last season (the highest it has been in three seasons). Obviously Cockcroft is weighing last year’s numbers more than anything else, but given the consistency of Soria and the relative uncertainty of Walden I’d rather have Soria. 

Team Outlook: Josh Shepardson wrote about the Royals starting pitchers potential to improve next season. The Royals lowered their team ERA by more than half a run last season, and indeed they hope that number gets lower if Jonathan Sanchez can rediscover the consistency he had in 2010. I’ve always said and still believe that a closer shouldn’t be picked based on what team he’s on, but i wouldn’t hurt Soria if the Royals could increase their win total. Certainly things appear heading in that direction. One issue that is a minor concern is the finish that Aaron Crow had (8.53 in August, 5.79 in September).  

A Blogger’s TakeAfter a frustrating — and certainly unexpected — performance in 2011, Royals closer Joakim Soria enters what could be his most intriguing year since 2007, when he was acquired in the Rule 5 draft before the season.

From the day he took over the closer role in Kansas City in 2007 to the end of 2010, Soria was almost exclusively dominant.

He saved 132 games in 145 opportunities, and opposing hitters never batted better than .219 against him. He didn’t blow people away, but his four-pitch, finesse mix baffled hitters — and he still had more strikeouts than innings pitched in every year except 2008, when he struck out 66 in 67 1/3 innings.

His demeanor evoked Mariano Rivera — Soria often spoke fondly about the future Hall of Famer — and perhaps only Mariano was better at saving games from 2008-2010.

But then 2011 happened: A 4.03 ERA; 1.276 WHIP; seven blown saves.

Soria’s strikeout and walk rates remained about the same, but he simply got hit. Some theorized that he started throwing his new cutter too often; that it affected the mechanics on his other pitches.

Whatever happened, it wasn’t pretty.

So now the Royals have the makings of one of the best young bullpens in baseball. Aaron Crow was an All-Star before coming apart in the second half — although the club will give him an opportunity as a starter during spring training. Rookie setup man Greg Holland (0.933 WHIP, 74 Ks in 60 IP ) was one of the best kept secrets in the American League.

Soria is still playing under one of the most club-friendly contracts in baseball — he’ll make $6 million this year and the Royals hold club options in the $8-9 million range for 2013 and 2014.

The contract has made the Royals reluctant to deal Soria, and the possibility of a trade appears unlikely after Soria’s value dipped last season.

So this is the scenario facing the Royals: The idea of steady Soria vs. the history of closers with short shelf lives.

Before 2011, it would have seemed ridiculous to bet against Soria. Then again, before 2011, it didn’t seem possible that he would post a 4.03 ERA either. – Rustin Dodd, Royals Blog of the Kansas City Star

What They’re Saying:CBS Sportsline: #9 Relief Pitcher; Tristan Cockcroft of ESPN.com: #14 Relief Pitcher & #159 Overall; RotoChamp: #113 Overall 

Projection: Soria has never had a strikeouts to walk rate worse than 3.47. The AL average last season in the best for pitchers since the early 1990s was 2.27. 
32 saves 4 wins 2.52 ERA 1.09 WHIP 67 K in 65 innings