This must feel like déjà vu all over again for Joakim Soria. Back in April of 2003, Soria had his first Tommy John surgery and didn’t pitch for two full seasons. He scratched and clawed his way back to form and by the end of 2007, he was one of the better closers in baseball. Fast forward to 2012, he had his second Tommy John in March and scratched and clawed his way back to form, actually appearing in 26 games in 2013, although he played second fiddle to Joe Nathan at the back of the bullpen.
Soria was good in 2013, but I’m not sure we should really put too much stock in his stats since he was still likely shaking some proverbial cobwebs off. His 3.80 ERA (3.68 FIP) and 27.7% strikeout rate were both solid but he also had real trouble with his walks with a career high 14% walk rate. Then again, all of this is really in the realm of small sample sizes, so perhaps the most encouraging thing about Soria was this:
Soria’s fastball was starting to trend towards where he’d been in the past — up towards 92-93 miles per hour, which should suggest that surgically repaired arm of his is feeling pretty loose. But even despite a small set of data, what’s particularly notable was the change in his repertoire.
In 2011, his last “full” season, Soria was throwing about 1/3 cut fastballs and mixed in a change, curve, and slider about 7-8% of the time. The rest (45%) were four seam fastballs. This was no doubt a recipe that worked well. Upon his return, however, the cut fastball use was cut in half, and he relied much more heavily on his slider, throwing it almost 20% of the time. He also used a curveball more than in the past, and all but abandoned the change. Speculating, we could say this had something to do with his surgery, or perhaps speculating a little more, that the Rangers medical staff advocated less reliance on the cutter. A visual for those inclined to that sort of learning:
Whatever the reason relative to repertoire, Soria actually wound up producing more swings outside the strike zone in 2013 than in his entire career (according to BIS). After just 23.2 innings pitched, it’s difficult to know if this repertoire is here to stay, but given the results, I’m not sure that it matters too much. Aside from the issue of walks, which ought to be able to be chalked up to rust, this “new” Soria was still pretty effective.
As far as your fantasy baseball team is concerned, and that’s really what this is all about, you need to check a couple boxes off in standard leagues. Is he healthy? I’d pencil in a check. Pencil, because let’s face it — no pitcher is healthy. It’s hell on an arm to throw a baseball. Second, does he have the closer role? Who knows.
The obvious competition is Neftali Feliz, and perhaps to a lesser degree Tanner Scheppers. There’s Alexi Ogando too, but given the competition I’d be surprised to see Ogando closing. There’s also the issue of Derek Holland being on the shelf for half a season, so perhaps the Rangers want to give Scheppers a look there, although at the date of this post, that hasn’t really been discussed all that seriously. Feliz and Soria are the two obvious choices with closing experience and a background of shutdown-stuff, and right now, Soria is the one with more innings under his belt post-TJ.
Depending on your format, this is one of the battles that’s going to take some monitoring. In holds leagues, Soria could still hold a pile of value even if he loses out on the closing gig. But in standard formats, the competition for ninth inning duties obviously has serious implications for your draft preparations. If Soria can nail down the closer gig, he ought to an ERA around three (with potential for something considerably lower given his career of outperforming the predictors) but the value added will be his strikeouts, which could be in the 65-75 range — a nice shot in the arm in another 5×5 category if you can get it.
Michael was born in Massachusetts and grew up in the Seattle area but had nothing to do with the Heathcliff Slocumb trade although Boston fans are welcome to thank him. You can find him on twitter at @michaelcbarr.