Joakim Soria no longer a sure thing

What’s Wrong with Soria?

Joakim Soria

SoriaEarlier this week Joakim Soria lost his role as Kansas City Royals closer. He’s blown each of his past three save opportunities and posted a 13.50 ERA in his past five games. The man with the seventh-most saves between 2007 and 2010 has been anything but dependable this season.

Soria has failed to finish hitters off -- only 60 percent of his two-strike at-bats have become outs, considerably below the league average of 73 percent. Last season he turned 83 percent of those at-bats into outs.

His fastball is not fooling many batters. His chase percentage on that pitch is 10.4 percent, down from 25 percent last season. The difference could be explained through velocity. Soria's average fastball velocity has decreased by more than one MPH from 2010.

Last season, after his first appearance in June, he had 20 innings pitched in 20 appearances. His increase at this point in the season is marginal, but over the full season Soria would increase his innings pitched by 12 and make a dozen more appearances.

Saving the Best for Last

Leo Nunez With 2 Strikes in 2011

Florida Marlins closer Leo Nunez is quietly having a phenomenal season. He leads the league with 19 saves, and has not walked a batter in his past eight appearances. Over that span, he’s been throwing more strikes with both his changeup and fastball.

Nunez is throwing 54 percent fastballs this season, but his changeup has been his out pitch.

Nunez throws 49 percent changeups with two strikes -- in those situations, opponents have an OPS of just .290 against his changeup compared to .874 vs the heater.

Armando Benitez holds the single-season club record for saves with 47, set in 2004. Nunez is on pace to break that mark relatively easily (projected to earn approximately 57 saves).

Turnaround in the desert

David Hernandez has been a key reason the Arizona Diamondbacks bullpen has gone from being the worst in baseball in 2010 -- 5.74 ERA, more than a run worse than any other team -- to being an important reason that Arizona is in the middle of the NL West race.

David Hernandez' Slider

Hernandez spent the first two seasons of his career in Baltimore, making 27 starts and posting an ERA of 4.93 before being one of the pieces the Diamondbacks acquired when they traded Mark Reynolds.

Reynolds continues to strike out at an alarming rate with a .188 batting average but Hernandez has been a revelation in the desert.

In 26 ⅓ innings pitched Hernandez has given up just 18 hits and five earned runs, and has struck out nearly twice as many batters as he has walked (29-16).

Why the difference? Hernandez is throwing his slider more in 2011 (21 percent) than in the previous two seasons (15 percent). Hitters have struggled to make contact with it; Hernandez has 13 strikeouts and just one walk in at-bats ending with his slider this season.

-- By Zack Singer