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Why Can't Joakim Soria Miss Bats Anymore?

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SURPRISE AZ - FEBRUARY 23:  Batters have swung and missed just three times against Soria this season. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
SURPRISE AZ - FEBRUARY 23: Batters have swung and missed just three times against Soria this season. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
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When did Joakim Soria turn into Jimmy Gobble?

Yes, Soria blew the game today. That isn't what this post is about. He allowed a couple weak singles amidst the White Sox rally, and well, these things happen. No, this is about a potentially much bigger issue. Heading into today's disastrous outing Joakim Soria already had something of a minor issue developing: he wasn't getting many strikeouts. You won't believe me, but I came very close to mentioning this when I wrote about the bullpen earlier this week, but thought, "nah, I'm going to be positive here."

Heading into today's game, Joakim Soria had recorded one strikeout out of 14 batters faced. That's a strikeout rate of 7.1%. After today, that number is down to 4.5%. Ugh. Early, but ugh.

Worse still, look at the swinging strikes numbers. Heading into today's game, Soria's 2011 swinging strike percentage was 6.1%, easily the lowest of his career. (That's 3 swinging strikes if you're doing math at home.) Well, today, by my count, Soria threw 25 pitches. Swinging strikes? Zero. For the year, Soria has thrown 74 pitches and has induced three swings and misses. A swinging strike percentage, for the year, of 4%. You simply don't see hardly any pitchers around that number. At least not for very long: they either improve, or leave the Majors. For a reliever? Unbelievably low. Brian Bannister, as a starter, was usually around 6-7%.

Missing bats is a terrific proxy for stuff and, quite simply, the easiest way to put batters away. We saw this in the 9th today, when Paul Konerko fouled off three pitches, then managed a single, with the game on the line. Looking at his career numbers, this simply hasn't been the norm for Joakim Soria:

SS% K%
2007 10.7% 27.6%
2008 11.4% 25.5%
2009 13.3% 31.1%
2010 9.3% 26.3%
2011 4.0% 4.5%

 

So why has this happened? A) It's simply random bad luck/statistical noise. B) Soria is still working on his stuff/arm slot/release point/one of his pitches. C) It's a stretched out/fatigue/endurance issue. D) Something else, such as tipping his pitches.

The troubling thing is that the decline in swinging strikes and strikeouts are related. If he was still missing bats, just not getting as many strikeouts, there'd be a much greater chance that this was simply bad luck. In an incredibly small sample, Soria's performance is way off. It'll be interesting to see if anything comes out over the next few days. Onward to the Pitch f/x data, reading between the lines in managerial quotes and all the rest! Let's hope this post looks very stupid in a month or so.