Wednesday, April 22, 2009

What a Let Down!

The man has a 2.25 ERA. The man has a 7:1 K:BB. So the natural question is obvious: What is wrong with Joakim Soria?

Usage, usage, usage...

Is it fair to consider a game lost by three runs or less a close game? I'm going to try to divide up a couple of games into several different categories to determine various game types that can be considered a close game. The games will have to be decided in the sixth inning or later, therefore certain games that are decided by 3 runs or less wouldn't count because a bullpen ace in the third inning isn't reasonable (not that it shouldn't be done or that it has never been done) I also went with the sixth inning because a starter SHOULD be able to get you into the sixth (Sidenote: I once read a quote that 90 pitches should get you into the seventh inning. I believe it was Mike Arbuckle that said that, but no promises.)

I'm going to play a game of cherry-picking because it's really going to illustrate my point. The time that we really need a bullpen ace, which is much more important than a closer because they are not synonymns and games are often lost before the ninth frame, is when the team is at its very worst yet somehow is close in a game. The most obvious examples from Soria's 2008 are May and August.

In 27 August 2008 games, the Royals won seven of them. Joakim Soria pitched in seven games (in an entire month!) and was the final reliever in five of them. He managed 8.0 innings pitched and had a 4.5 ERA, 1 loss, 3 saves and 1 blown save. The loss and blown save and Soria's only HRA of the month were all in the same game, which was at Jacobs Field. In the other six games, he was Typical Soria. Out of 20 August losses:

1 was lost by the starter against the lower half (6-9) in the sixth inning (example)
1 was lost by the starter against the top half in the sixth inning
1 was lost by the starter against the lower half in the eighth inning
1 was lost by Fulchino in extra innings against the lower half (with losing months, this is a must win)
1 was lost by the man himself against the top half in the eighth
1 was lost by R. Ramirez in the eighth inning against the top half
1 was tied in the sixth off the starter (top half) and lost by Ramirez in the eighth against the top half

That's seven close games, six of them lost by pitchers inferior to Joakim Soria.

In May of 2008, the Royals decided to treat their fans to another extended losing streak, this one "only" 12 games. There were seven losses decided by three runs or less and only 2 of them featured Soria pitching. Two of these 12 games were decided in extra innings on back to back nights against a team that was 1.5 games out of first place!! Manager Trey Hillman was waiting for his offense to get a lead so he could in turn get Soria the save. Playing not to lose and playing to win are not the same thing. The first game was lost by Nunez, the second by Peralta.

Getting back to the format, the Royals played a total of 29 May games and lost 19 of them, 12 of them in a row. Soria pitched in 11 games and had an ERA of 2.19 with six saves and one home run allowed. His worst game was in Miami where he earned the save in the 6-5 win and gave up two ER to the one and tw0 hitters and then struck out the three and four hitters. The game didn't really get tense until after Soria made a mistake but it was a save situation when he got in the game. And that's the problem with save situations. They're most often not times when the game is on the line. It wasn't truly on the line until the relief ace gave up his first two runs of the season!

1 was lost by the starter against the top half in the sixth inning
1 was lost by the starter and Peralta against the lower half in the sixth inning (each P gave up a run)
1 was lost by the starter and Gobble against the lower half in sixth inning (9 batters batted)
1 was lost by Nunez in extra innings against the upper half
1 was lost by Peralta in extra innings against the heart of the order
1 was lost by the starter against the lower half

That is a grand total of 13 close games in two months fitting the above parameters. If the Royals go 6-6 in these games (excluding the game Soria faltered), they finish their season at 81-81. And this is a look at only a third of a season long method. If the relief ace is managed differently, is it so outlandish to suggest that maybe last year's Royals would have been even better than 81-81?

There are some obvious flaws when identifying the relief pitcher losing the game but not the starter losing the game. Obviously, losing a game in the sixth with Meche/Greinke pitching is a lot better than losing a game in the sixth with Bannister/Tomko pitching because going with the former means you're less likely to give up the runs, so it's not necessarily a wrong decision. Also, what isn't incorporated into this data is how much rest Soria had leading up to these thirteen games, which is important especially in the case of the Boston and Baltimore series that had several games that were close. Identifying the reliever shows the methods the manager uses in utilizing his bullpen. There should be no game ever on the line with pitchers like Fulchino and Peralta and Tomko and now Farnsworth in the game.

Games are not strictly won or lost in the ninth inning. When you have an offense that collectively hits .269/.320/.397, you cannot let a game get away in the 5-8th innings simply because your best pitcher wouldn't be able to get a save in those situations. The oddest thing that comes to my mind now is that a lot of people that back the "9th inning is for the closer" mantra are often the people who abhorr a stat-based account of the game. When looking at the entire Royals dynamic, where you have 2 good starters, one starter coming into his own and two cringe-worthy starters added to a below average line-up and a strong bullpen with several good options, it becomes even more important to use your best reliever in this situation because you can back him up if you need your best for innings 6 and 7. I wrote about the ideal usage situation from my point of view a few days ago on Royalboard.

In one-third of the season, the Royals completely blew away any faint chance they had to have a really good season by going 17-39, which is a .304 winning percentage. When the team was in its most dire need, it pitched its greatest relief pitcher in at least a decade a grand total of 18 times for 20.1 innings. Please, please re-read that sentence.


  1. We used to have a guy in KC who would pitch multiple innings several times a week. What was his name, Quisensomething?

    Curse whoever invented the 3 out closer.