There was a pretty good story about a baseball player. It began in Monclova, Mexico and wound its way through the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Mexican Baseball League, San Diego, and Kansas City. It involved a perfect game followed by a Rule 5 draft, two All-Star appearances, and some down ballot Cy Young consideration while collecting 115 saves over three seasons. There was a story about injury and recovery, about perseverance and, ultimately, returning to where it began.
Everything was set for Joakim Soria to trip the light fantastic on the waning half of a pretty good Royals team. 2016 was a replacement-level effort on a .500 team. Next year will be a curtain call for one of the best relievers in Royals history on a team with low expectations.
For 2017, Joakim Soria is the best relief pitcher that the Royals have, and that is, apparently, not good enough for some people.
Facts are sticky things. They don’t brush off easily, which is why they usually have to be shouted down by a lot of appeals to emotion. It certainly doesn’t feel like Joakim Soria has been the best reliever on this team. And if it doesn’t feel that way, we certainly don’t want it to be true.
But it is.
It really is.
Joakim Soria has been the Royals best reliever this year.
You probably want facts? Okay.
Joakim Soria has the best strikeout rate among relievers (min. 25 innings). He has the second-most innings pitched behind Mike Minor. He has the best FIP. The highest Wins Above Replacement (and is fourth among all pitchers). Third in walks per nine. He has given up one home run, which ties him for best on the team with Scott Alexander.
Among qualified relievers in the major leagues, he is 11th in WAR. 8th in FIP. 3rd in home run rate.
He is the Royals best reliever this year. Full. Stop.
There are two other categories that Joakim Soria leads relievers in. The first of which is blown saves. Joakim Soria has seven of them. The rest of the team combined has six. Seven is more than six, so you can imagine what people must think.
In high leverage situations, Joakim Soria has a .590 OPS against. Which is to say that hitters in high leverage moments are basically Alcides Escobar when they face Soria.
So what’s the deal? Well, that brings us around to our second category. Joakim Soria leads Royals relievers in BABIP. Including last night’s singles, Soria has a .350 batting average against on balls in play. That is good enough (bad enough?) for tenth among all qualified relievers in baseball. The MLB average for reliever BABIP is .296.
So he’s good, but unlucky. But also he’s good. And he’s been very good this year. Last year he wasn’t, but this year he is. But, blown saves. Because BABIP. So, people think he is not good, even though he is the best.
So when he gives up three singles in a 2-1 loss to the Baltimore Orioles, people will ignore the fact that Royals hitters made the calcified remains of Ubaldo Jimenez’s right shoulder look like the pre-calcified bulk of Ubaldo Jimenez’s right shoulder. Or that they ground into three double plays. Or that they went 1-for-6 with runners in scoring position.
Again, against Ubaldo Jimenez.
But Joakim Soria is no Wade Davis, and that is probably what this is really about. Wade Davis was a cyborg who mowed down hitters with aplomb. He was flawless, ruthless, and efficient.
And the Royals traded him for Jorge Soler, a presumably major league ready outfielder who was injured, bad, demoted, promoted, bad, and demoted. Meanwhile, Wade Davis is busy being a machine following a brief spell where people thought his hydraulics were going to fail soon.
Meanwhile, Kansas City could use a dominant reliever in a season where they find themselves in the middle of a playoff hunt, where they have received welcome and unexpected production from Jorge Bonifacio, which presumably could have made the Davis trade unnecessary and a few of those blown saves by Soria may not have happened.
So yes. Joakim Soria is not Wade Davis. And if you want to be upset about the fact that Wade Davis was traded for a AAA outfielder, be mad about that.
But stop blaming Soria. Because he’s the best reliever you’ve got.