Before Greg Holland and Wade Davis came along, Joakim Soria was one of the best closers the Royals ever had. However, he was hitting his prime a few years too early. In 2010, Soria recorded 43 saves out of the 46 opportunities, achieving his best season ever by that particular statistic. That same year, he also put up a fantastic 1.78 ERA. Two years prior in 2008, Soria recorded his lowest ERA in his career at 1.60, with 42 saves out of 45 chances.
So what happened to him? In 2011, he recorded 28 saves out of the 35 opportunities he had, along with a 5-5 win-loss record, and a 4.03 ERA. After the 2011 season, Soria had to undergo his second Tommy John surgery, causing him to miss the entire 2012 season. Due to Soria having a not-so-good year in 2011, and missing the entire 2012 season, the Royals decided to decline his contract option in 2013, making him a free agent.
Before the 2013 season, he signed a two year contract with the Texas Rangers worth $8 million with a club option for 2015. In 2013, Soria had no save opportunities, and a 3.80 ERA. After the 2013 season, Soria became the Rangers closer for the 2014 season. That year, Soria recorded 17 saves out of 19 opportunities with a 1-3 record and a 2.70 ERA with the Texas Rangers before being traded to the Detroit Tigers. Soria spent the rest of the 2014 season and part of the 2015 season with the Detroit Tigers before being traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates towards the end of the 2015 season. Soria had a 4.91 ERA in 2014 with the Tigers. In 2015, Soria put up some impressive numbers. With the Tigers, Soria had 23 saves out of 26 opportunities with a 3-1 record and 2.81 ERA. Soria added another save with a 2.03 ERA with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2015.
After the 2015 season, Soria signed a 3 year $25 million contract to return to the Royals. In 2016, Soria pitched in 70 games and had one save with a 5-8 record and a 4.05 ERA. The issue in 2016 was Soria’s tendency to blow close games. Once known for being a shutdown closer, Soria struggled in the 7th and 8th inning roles with KC this year. The following are two key games Soria blew:
August 30 vs Yankees:
The Royals were in a must win situation. They had clawed back to tie the game at 4 in the 8th inning, which then lead them into extra innings. Royals manager Ned Yost decided to bring in Soria for the 10th. He started by giving up two singles before striking out the next two hitters. However, he would then walk the next batter, forcing the bases loaded. Then Soria caused Ellsbury to hit a sharp grounder back to him, but Soria ended up mishandling the ball, causing a run to score. That run ended up being the difference in the game.
September 13 vs Athletics:
With the Royals up 3-2 and two outs in the 8th, Yost decided to bring in Soria to try and get the Royals out of the inning with the lead. Soria entered the 8th only needing to get one out, however, there were runners on first and second. The second pitch Soria threw after coming in was doubled to deep center, scoring the two runs, and causing the A’s to take a 4-3 lead. Granted, those two runs were not his, but he only needed to get one out to escape with the lead intact. And the inning wasn’t even over yet. The next batter would single in the runner on second, causing the A’s to increase their lead to 5-3. Soria would finally get the one out he needed in the next at bat. As Soria walked off the field, fans booed him, and the season was basically over.
Even though his ERA was lowered to 2.53 by 2015, he still wasn’t pitching up to the caliber that he was when he was with the Royals the first time. Overall, it was a risky move signing a bullpen arm to a large contract, something the Royals don’t normally do, especially one that has declined in production and had some major surgeries. This is not to say that Joakim Soria was the sole reason that the Royals did not make the playoffs, but he certainly did not help. Since he is signed with KC for two more years, hopefully 2017 and 2018 will be much better than the disappointing season he just had.
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Feature photo courtesy of Arturo Pardavilla III.