Ned Yost announced today to no one’s surprise that Kelvin Herrera is his closer, taking over duties from Wade Davis, who was traded to the Cubs last winter. But Yost raised some eyebrows by saying that his eighth inning reliever would continue to be Joakim Soria, despite a troubled 2016 season.
Soria, who signed a three-year, $25 million deal before the 2016 season, struggled all season, beginning Opening Night when he gave up three runs while recording just two outs. He ended with an ERA of 4.05, the highest of his career, with an uncharacteristically high walk rate of 3.6 per-nine-innings, also a career high.
Soria is still just 32 years old and had a strong strikeout rate with 68 strikeouts in 66 2/3 innings. Some of Soria’s struggles were overblown, but perhaps exacerbated by the fact Ned Yost kept using him in high leverage, close situations. There were thirteen games last year that the Royals were either leading or tied, in which Soria gave the opponent the lead (the Royals went on to win two of those games).
With the trade of Davis, and the free agent departure of Luke Hochevar (who is still unsigned but recovering from thoracic outlet syndrome surgery), the Royals bullpen has been thinned out. Yost may be turning to Soria due to a preference for veterans. Matt Strahm would seem to be an obvious candidate for the eighth inning role, having excelled in a relief audition last year with a 1.23 ERA and 30 strikeouts in 22 innings. But he has very little big league experience, and Yost may want to ease him into high-leverage roles.
Herrera, Soria, and Strahm will be in a bullpen that also features lefty specialist Travis Wood, lefty Mike Minor, righty side-armer Peter Moylan, and long reliever Chris Young.