Stats & Info: Joakim Soria

Broxton could be right at home in KC 'pen

November, 30, 2011
As the saying goes, a team can never have enough pitching. Specific to the Kansas City Royals, it’s relief pitching. The team came to an agreement with former Los Angeles Dodgers closer Jonathan Broxton on a 1-year, $4 million deal earlier this week. No team in baseball has the collection of power arms in the bullpen that the Royals have assembled and if Broxton can return to the form that made him arguably the best reliever in the game, the team could be looking at its best bullpen in 20 years.

In 2009, Broxton established himself as quite possibly the best reliever in the National League. He posted a 2.61 ERA that actually belied how effective he was, as his Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) mark was 1.97, the best in the National League among relievers with at least 50 innings pitched. His 2.8 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) also ranked 1st among relievers. From 2006 to 2009, working both as a middle reliever and closer, Broxton compiled 398 strikeouts in 303 1/3 innings pitched, culminating in 114 strikeouts in 76 innings in 2009.

His performance has rapidly deteriorated since that point, however. Everything about Broxton’s performance has been headed in the wrong direction – his strikeout rate has dropped from 30.1 percent to 23.2 to 18.2 from 2009 to 2011, while his walk rate has jumped from 14.0 percent to 18.2 over the same span. The rate at which he was surrendering line drives also spiked, going from 16.1 percent in 2009 to more than double that in 2011 – 32.6. In fact, among pitchers with at least 10 innings pitched, that line drive rate was the 3rd-worst in baseball.

Clearly, the Royals are buying low on Broxton in hopes he’ll return to his dominant form of 2009. Part of what made Broxton so effective was his average fastball velocity, which sat at 97.6 in 2009 before dropping to 95.3 and 94.0 the last two seasons. If he can regain his previous form, he’ll fit right in with a Royals bullpen that featured some of the hardest-throwing arms in the big leagues. Among AL relievers who threw at least 200 pitches in 2011, the Royals had 4 of the top 18 according to average fastball velocity – Jeremy Jeffress (3rd, 96.8), Blake Wood (8th, 95.5), Aaron Crow (17th, 94.9) and Greg Holland (18th, 94.9).

That group does not even include established closer Joakim Soria or diminutive lefty Tim Collins, who ranked 5th among AL left-handed relivers in average fastball velocity in 2011 at 92.3. A vast majority of these arms have been acquired under the regime of GM Dayton Moore – Holland in the 2007 draft, Crow in the 2009 draft, Jeffress in the Zack Greinke trade with the Milwaukee Brewers and Collins in a 2010 trade with the Atlanta Braves.

It is this collection of high-upside, hard-throwing bullpen arms that helped the Royals to post its best relief season – by ERA – in the Wild Card era. The team’s 3.74 bullpen ERA was its best since 1992 and only the 5th time since 1990 that it’s been under 4.00. While Broxton may never return to his previously dominant form, it’s yet another example of the Royals front office adding a low-cost, high-upside, high-velocity reliever a move that, if it works, could lead the Royals to their first consecutive seasons with bullpen ERAs below 4.00 since they did so three consecutive seasons from 1988-90 and could lead Broxton to a significantly larger payday after 2012.
Cleveland Indians starter Fausto Carmona allowed 10 runs to the Chicago White Sox on Opening Day, then gave up eight runs against them on May 19.
Fausto Carmona
His start on Wednesday was far removed from both of those efforts.

Carmona used his sinker to net ground ball after ground ball in the most effective manner possible, coming within two outs of his first complete game of the season in a win that pulled the Indians to within a game of the Detroit Tigers for first place.

Over the last three seasons, Carmona had not had a start in which he induced more than 13 ground balls that were turned into outs. Wednesday, he turned 15 of the 16 grounders he coaxed into White Sox outs.

White Sox right-handed hitters were 12-for-22 against Carmona in his first two starts against them this season. On Wednesday, they were 1-for-17 with all six of his strikeouts. The only ball to leave the infield was Alexei Ramirez’s home run.

One difference for Carmona was in the location of his sinker. He threw nearly half of his sinkers to right-handers on the inner-third of the plate in those first two meetings. On Wednesday, he threw only 10 of his 53 sinkers to righties on the inner-third, choosing to work on the outer-third instead.

Carmona also got three strikeouts with his changeup, giving him seven whiffs with that pitch in his last two starts. He only had six strikeouts with his changeup in his 16 starts prior to that. Carmona threw 20 of 25 changeups for strikes in Wednesday's win.

Carmona’s counterpart, Mark Buehrle, had a rare bad night, with his streak of 18 straight starts of three runs or fewer allowed snapped. Buehrle hadn't allowed more than three runs in a start since April 22.

Elsewhere around the majors

Good Brew
The Elias Sports Bureau reports that the Milwaukee Brewers, with their 3-1 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers, became the sixth team since 1900 to win five straight games, scoring three runs or fewer in each one. The last team to do that—the 1972 California Angels (six straight).

Kansas City Kings
The Kansas City Royals edged the New York Yankees, 5-4, despite Curtis Granderson hitting his major-league leading 12th home run against a left-handed pitcher. Royals closer Joakim Soria survived a dicey ninth inning. A check of showed him to be the first pitcher to earn a save of an inning or less, throwing 40 pitches since Ryan Dempster in 2005.

Cliff Jumping
Cliff Lee used an effective changeup to beat the Arizona Diamondbacks. Our pitch-performance data showed Lee registering five outs with the changeup, despite throwing it only 13 times.

Diamondbacks hitters missed on six of their eight swings against Lee's changeup, matching the most misses Lee has gotten with his changeup in a start in the last two seasons.

Ricky not so fine
Ricky Nolasco set a Florida Marlins record for most runs allowed, giving up 11 in his start on Wednesday night. He broke a mark of 10 previously set six times, including the last such occurrence, by Nolasco in 2009.

Nolasco’s teammate, Mike Stanton, tried to make up for it with a 466-foot home run. It was his fourth home run of at least 450 feet, matching Justin Upton for the most such home runs in the majors.

Joakim Soria no longer a sure thing

June, 4, 2011
What’s Wrong with Soria?
Joakim Soria
Earlier 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
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.

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

1st pitch: Crazy ratios after three weeks

April, 26, 2010
Today’s Trivia: On Sunday, Joakim Soria became the all-time saves leader among pitchers born in Mexico? Whose record did Soria break?

Quick Hits: Let’s take a look at some of the more stunning ratios as we hit the three-week point of the young season.

* Brian McCann has 16 walks and only four strikeouts. Rather amazing for a player who has never had more walks than strikeouts, and had only 49 walks compared to 83 strikeouts last season.

* David Eckstein only has fanned once in 63 plate appearances. No qualifying player last decade had a PA per K greater than 30.0. In fact, the last to do so was Tony Gwynn in 1995.

* A ridiculous 79 percent of Kelly Johnson’s hits have been for extra bases. His career high is just 46 percent. Meanwhile, all 16 of Juan Pierre’s hits have been singles.

* According to, 33 percent of the fly balls hit by Travis Snider have been infield flies.

* With a 4.33 groundout to air out ratio, Derek Jeter is on track to lead the majors in that category for the second straight year.

* Ryan Rowland-Smith has allowed more home runs (six) than he has strikeouts (five), and has the worst strikeout percentage in the majors.

* Of all the fly balls to the outfield against Cole Hamels, 20.6 percent have been home runs, easily the highest percentage in the majors.

* Carlos Silva has a 0.63 WHIP. Last season, he allowed 0.73 extra-base hits per inning pitched.

* Carl Pavano has a 17-to-1 K-BB ratio. Last season, he had three walks in his first recorded inning of work.

* The Astros pitching staff surprisingly leads the majors with a 2.62 K-BB ratio.

* The Giants, Padres, and White Sox have more strikeouts than hits allowed.

* Of the hits allowed by the Pirates, 45 percent have gone for extra bases. Meanwhile, it’s just 25 percent for the Tigers, according to

Today’s Leaderboard: The Indians have struck out only 90 batters in 18 games, but have walked 77. That is just 1.17 strikeouts for every walk. Over the last 20 years, the worst K-BB ratio belonged to the 1995 Brewers at 1.16. Last decade, only the 2000 Angels (1.27) had a K-BB ratio below 1.3.

Key Matchups: One way to know if Vernon Wells is really back? If he hits Josh Beckett like it is 2006. That was the last year Wells made an All-Star team, and that honor was largely courtesy of Josh Beckett and the Red Sox. In his first 10 games of 2006 against Boston, Wells hit eight home runs. Four of those came off Beckett. However, Wells is just 3-for-18 off of the right-hander since.

Zach Duke is 0-5 with a 7.38 ERA at Miller Park, as the Pirates have lost 21 straight there. That’s the longest road losing streak against a single opponent in Pirates history. Duke’s head-to-head matchups with Corey Hart are the complete opposite of what you’d expect. Hart is a .444 career hitter in Pittsburgh against Duke, but just .150 at home.

Trivia Answer: Aurelio Lopez had 93 saves over an 11-year career that ended in 1987. Considering there have been 68 Mexico-born pitchers in MLB history, Soria’s total is rather small for a “save king.” Countries that can boast a pitcher born there with more saves: Germany (Craig Lefferts, 101), Vietnam (Danny Graves, 182), and Japan (Kazuhiro Sasaki, 129).

The case against ERA & introducing RPA

March, 31, 2010
Picture this: Top of the 9th inning, two out, men on second and third and the home team is up three. With the setup man unable to finish the game, the manager calls on the closer who he was trying to rest. The crowd goes wild as the bullpen doors open, but the noise quickly turns to silence as the closer gives up a two-run double. With the lead down to one run, the crowd rallies to the aid of the closer who induces a harmless ground ball. Game over.

Final stat line for the closer: (Save) 1/3 IP, 0 R, 0 ER, H, 0 BB, 0 K.

ERA: 0.00

Situations similar to this occur somewhat frequently in baseball. For years pitchers have been judged on ERA, wins, losses, saves and strikeouts. While this formula may work for starters, it leaves a lot to be desired for relievers. Relievers can’t be evaluated by ERA. ERA is based on 9 innings and most relievers rarely pitch more than an inning or two per game. Runs, and even more importantly, inherited runs scored are far more important in measuring a reliever’s success.

Now, you may be wondering how unearned runs can be counted against a reliever. It doesn’t seem fair does it? Well, the reality is relievers have one job to do: Come into the game, and get out of jams. Whether a reliever comes in with the bases loaded or no one on base, his job remains the same. That job, again, is to come into the game and leave the game with the score the same way as when they entered.

So, with this in mind I set out to create a stat that took into account the two most important stats for a reliever: runs allowed, and inherited runs scored. Rather than divide this number by innings, I chose to divide by appearances.

The result is the following formula that I dubbed “Runs Per Appearance” (RPA): Runs allowed plus inherited runs scored divided by pitching appearances.

The results are simple, like the formula. Good pitchers had solid RPA averages while pitchers who were helped by errors and inherited runs scoring and not their own, were exposed. Check out the results below.

Here's another way to illustrate it. While both Jamey Wright (4.33 ERA last season) and Manny Acosta (4.34 ERA) had similar ERAs, their RPAs (1.123 and .639 respectively) differed greatly. The league average among all relievers last season was .935. That takes into account all long relievers, closers, setup men, and specialists. So Wright had a below-average performance in terms of RPA while Acosta actually had an above-average season in terms of RPA. His .639 RPA is far from Mariano Rivera or Joe Nathan status, but it was most certainly above average for a reliever.

Is (R)uns (P)er (A)ppearance (RPA) a perfect stat? Absolutely not. However, RPA does tell a much more accurate story for relievers than ERA. If nothing else, this should be something interesting to track in 2010.