Friday, June 3, 2011

A Modest Proposition.

Let me preface this post by stating I don't expect the Royals to take the route that I am about to suggest. I myself am not totally convinced that it would be the wisest move, but I have thought about it a bit and I want to throw my thoughts out there for Royals fans. It would be a bold move and the potential reward would be great.

The fact is that for whatever reason Joakim Soria isn't the pitcher that we have grown to love. There are no obvious signs mechanically for why this is the case, but looking at his numbers it is blatantly obvious that he has lost his command. But if it isn't a mechanical issue why has he lost the ability to feel his pitches? We'll get back to this in a second.

But what Soria's shakiness and demotion could be for the Royals is opportunity. When Soria took over as closer for the Royals in 2007, he quickly established himself as one of the premier closers in the game. He never had your typical closer's stuff, and many considered his array of pitches more in line with what you would expect from a starter. What Soria did have was the "closer mentality." Joakim was Mr. Cool. Even when a team would get a rally going or when Joakim would enter the game in a tight spot it was obvious that he wasn't concerned.

This season, however, he hasn't gave off that same vibe of confidence. He has gotten behind in the count early and often and because of this hasn't had the benefit of getting hitters off balance. His walk rate is 3.8 which is by far the highest of his career. I believe that the reason Soria has fallen off is that his mentality is gone.

I have no idea why Soria has lost his killer instinct, or what has caused this but at this point it is nowhere to be found. Just look at this quotation from Soria in today's KC Star:

“I felt I had better command today,” Soria said. “I didn’t change anything in my mechanics. I just go ahead and try to change my mentality a little bit.”

This statement strikes me as a guy that is just trying to get his mound presence back. So if his stuff is still sharp... and if his command is still there when he is composed (he threw five of six first pitch strikes yesterday)... then maybe now is the prime opportunity for the Royals to move him to the rotation. This would be especially easy at this point, because there is no longer of the fear of breaking something that didn't need fixing.

Obviously if the Royals attempt this there is the possibility that something could go wrong. It is natural to think that if he can't hack it as a reliever then why would he hack it as a starter? But like I said stuff doesn't seem to be the concern, and it was always his mentality that really put him into that closer role.

You could make the point that Soria could be prone to injury should the Royals attempt to stretch him out? That is a valid fear, but it wouldn't be the first time a reliever has been given the opportunity and when Soria has been injured in the past the cause was believed to be lack of consistent innings, not because he was logging to many innings.

Even when Soria has been effective as a reliever his WAR has been on average 2.0 according to fangraphs. Don't get me wrong this is about as high as one could expect from a relief pitcher. However, in 2010 there were ninety-four pitchers that posted a stronger total. Meaning Soria was considered as valuable as starters like Paul Maholm, Carlos Silva, Barry Zito and oh yeah, Kyle Davies posted a WAR of 2.0 in 2010.

What this means is that even though Soria had the ninth best WAR among relievers in 2010, his value didn't lead to anymore Royals wins then Kyle Davies. Let that sink in. Now the value of a closer will not cease to be a hot topic among traditionalists and sabermetricians anytime soon. It seems that using this argument we are seeing at least a somewhat undervaluation. However, even if that is the case Soria would be much more valuable to the team in the rotation than in the bullpen.

What we see in this illustration is that even if Soria transitioned to the rotation and he didn't become the ace or frontline guy that many would expect, he would still be vastly more valuable as a 3 or 4 starter than he would be as a closer. This is definitely something that should not be overlooked.

Value is something that the Royals will need to maximize, especially with the rotation in the short run if they truly want to contend in 2012. Right now there pessimism brewing regarding the farm system particularly the young arms up at the top. Danny Duffy has performed well, but Mike Montgomery has struggled more than anticipated, John Lamb is out for the season, and Chris Dwyer has been dreadful. What this means is that the Royals may not have the arms to contend as early as next season, unless they either think creatively, look outside the organization or both.

By moving Soria to the rotation you could be potentially be adding a frontline arm without shelling out the cash on the free agent market that it would take to acquire one. At this point the rotation options for opening day next year are: Danny Duffy, Luke Hochevar, Sean O'Sullivan, Vin Mazzaro, and Mike Montgomery if he is able to right the ship. Not exactly an awe-inspiring bunch.

Duffy will be a strength and Hochevar seems to warrant a spot, but I don't believe that O'Sullivan and Mazzaro have done anything to show they are more than AAAA guys and even if Montgomery becomes the ace that we are hoping for by next season, the Royals still have two gaping holes. Soria, could be the answer that we are looking for.

If the Royals believe that Soria's struggles are due to command issues, perhaps they should take the same route they did with Jeremy Jeffress. Let him start, give him the greatest opportunity to improve or get back his command. The most critical thing is that Soria is able to regain his value and if a move to the rotation does that it will be the best thing for all of us.

But if Soria's struggles are rooted purely in mentality as I am suggesting, the opportunity is there for the Royals to improve on an area of great weakness. Crow moves into the closer role and does his thing, with Joakim Soria becoming the frontline guy that Kansas City is lacking right now. If that turns out to be the case then we can really start to gear up for contention in 2012.

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