After Joakim Soria blew seemingly his five millionth game this season, last Wednesday, Ned Yost defended him, per Rustin Dodd and the Kansas City Star:
Moments later, Yost pushed back against the idea that the Royals will need to re-evaluate Soria’s role moving forward, especially his use in high-leverage situations. When a reporter suggested that it had been a season-long theme with Soria, Yost responded:
"You’re wrong. That’s not right."
Yost continued: "You’re trying to copy it into every high-leverage situation. That’s not the case. There’s high-leverage situations here where he’s given up runs. That was a high-leverage situation (and) Kelvin (Herrera) gave up a run tonight. It happens. So to insinuate that he’s giving up runs in every high-leverage situation, is wrong."
While Ned is correct, Soria hasn’t given up runs in every high leverage situation, he has still been very bad when it has counted. Dodd goes on to point out that in Fangraphs.com-defined high leverage situation Soria has an ERA over 9.00. Here are some other stats for you. Soria is tied for fifth in blown saves with six. He is second in losses for a reliever at eight . He is tied for the major league lead in melt downs, a FanGraphs counting stat where one is accrued every time a reliever allows a adds -6% win probability or worse in an appearance; he has fifteen of those.
Want more? baseball-reference.com has splits for you:
|in Sv Situ||4.56||25.2||27||3||13||17||1.55||6.0||1.31|
A team can probably survive a melt down in a non-save situation, but often cannot in a save situation. Meanwhile, Soria has been significantly better in non-save situations. Forget the ERA, just look at the strike-out/walk ratios. The difference is absurd really.
Later Ned argued that Soria’s problems came from pitching in back to back nights, an idea noted Royals blogger Rany Jazayerli took issue with:
Soria's ERA this year on no days of rest: 4.26.— Rany Jazayerli (@jazayerli) September 9, 2016
Soria's ERA on one day of rest: 4.57. https://t.co/EqAzqFg0XY
While Rany has a point, Ned isn’t completely off-base, here. Presented, for your viewing pleasure, another splits table courtesy of baseball-reference.com:
Ned also defended his usage of Soria in last Wednesday’s game thusly:The ideal there actually seems to be two days rest. You can get away with three days rest, but in an even smaller sample size than most of what you have to accept when splitting a single season of a reliever his strikeouts nose dive again. He is apparently too tired on one or fewer days’ rest and too rusty on four or more.
Ned Yost on using Soria in the seventh: "That order, right there, screamed right-hander."— Rustin Dodd (@rustindodd) September 8, 2016
The top of the Twins order was due up: Right, Switch, Right, Switch, Switch. So Ned’s not entirely wrong about that, either. Though I’d argue it actually screams more for an ambidextrous reliever, Ned doesn’t have one of those and all those guys do better against lefties than righties.
The problem is, again, which right-handed pitcher Ned chose. Remember the infamous Daniel Nava game? At the time, Ned said - correctly, mind you - that he needed a strike out in that situation. Unfortunately, he brought in one of the least strike out-prone relievers he had. Ned learned from that, plus the earlier Gomes v. Downs game, that handed match-ups matter. However, the lesson of using the correct tool for the job appears to have escaped him; here’s what Soria has done this year against right handed and left handed hitters:
Soria has been destroyed by right handed hitters, this year. On the other hand, he’s completely contained lefties. These splits hold, though less dramatically, over his entire career. Why this may be so is beyond the purview of this article, but the ultimate result is still there for anyone and everyone to see.
So, finally, we have enough information to answer the question this article asks. When should Joakim Soria pitch? Joakim Soria should pitch mostly or even exclusively to left-handed hitters, when the Royals have a large lead, and after 2-3 days of rest. There. That wasn’t so hard, was it? Of course, this information is probably too little, too late at this point. But maybe Ned can use it next year.