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Hillman Pushes the "Getting Him Work" Approach to a New, Even Stupider, Extreme

You know what? We all deserved that. After everyone even vaguely interested in the Royals made their six millionth joke, comment, or blog post about how terrible the National League was, the Royals went out and played awful for 18 straight innings, losing back to back games to the woebegone Diamondbacks 12-5. Both games were not that close either.

This is what happens when we get cocky.

I don't really want to write too much more about the game, which was essentially just another unremarkable Royals loss. Instead, I think it's time that we have a full post on the strange season of Joakim Soria. Yet again, tonight Soria appeared in an absurdly low-leverage situation, pitching the top of the 9th in a 12-2 game. Of course, I'm certain we'll hear about how he needed work,  a desire which I've never quite understood the urgency of, considering it is baseball and there's still over 100 games left, with about six off-days mixed in.

By the way things are going, I'd say that in a month we'll have gone all the way: with Soria just pitching every third day in Omaha.

It's particularly interesting that all this bizarre bullpen management -- and Hillman is not necessarily the worst guy out there or even atypical -- alongside a somewhat humbugish counter-revolution regarding pitch counts.

Here's a quick summary of Soria's appearances this season:

Game # Situation
2 2-run lead
3 2-run lead
6 2-run lead
7 2-run lead
14 2-run lead
24 tie game (extra innings)
25 3-run lead
29 3-run lead
52 9-run deficit
55 4-run lead
59 1-run lead
61 4-run lead
64 10-run deficit


The team's best reliever, by a mile, has been nearly irrelevant this season. Soria has appeared in one tie game, which was in extra innings, on the road, and is thus an "approved situation" and one one-run game this season.

Here's another chart:

Relief Appearances in 1-run & Tie Games
Cruz 12
Wright 8
Ho-Ram 7
Mahay 6
Farnsworth 4
Bale 4
Tejeda 4
Soria 2
Ponson 1


Now, surely, part of this has been a bit of a fluke. The Royals were funnelling save situations to Soria during the first 10 days of the season that evoked warm roto-memories of K-Rod last season. Surely, had some of those two-run games, of which there were legion, been one-run affairs, Soria would have pitched as well. Point conceded.

Still, I think the chart above speaks volumes about just how broken bullpen management is these days. John Bale has barely even been on the team, and he's appeared in more legitimately close games than Soria has. Kyle Farnsworth spent over a month in garbage time only roles, and he's still doubled Soria's total. To say nothing of the fact that guys like Jamey Wright and Ho-Ram have left Soria in the dust.

Then there's Cruz's total. Fast forward to next season. Imagine a storyline developing that Soria works better as the setup man (which would never happen because he's already earned his mythical closer label, but just go with it). Now, if Soria was named the setup man, and Cruz slid into the closer role, despite going against baseball logic, I think it's immistakable that the Royal bullpen would suddenly get much better, which proves how wrong the current orthodoxy is.

Imagine another scenario: there was no such thing as a "save" or, if you prefer, the save statistic only included 1-2 run games. In both scenarios, bullpen management would improve.

Yes, the Royals/Soria/Hillman have had some bad luck in the timing of "closer approved" games. They've also seen multiple games flitter away, before Soria had a chance to impact them. Without looking at the numbers, I'd say that Soria has only been the fourth or fifth most impactful reliever on the staff this season. If you take away that week of glory in April, he's been John Bale with intro music.

But at least he's gotten work.