I love the movie “Rookie of the Year.”
It’s one of my favorite movies, mostly because it tells the story of the amazing (fictional) ride of an awful (but loveable) Chicago Cubs team that suddenly finds itself in the midst of a playoff race all because they signed a prepubescent boy who accidentally fell on his arm giving him the ability to throw fire from the mound.
I know, I know. If you haven’t seen this movie, it’s likely that you’re already rolling your eyes, writing it off. I’m just saying that you should give it a chance. It’s funny. Trust me when I say that it is REALLY funny. Also John Candy is in it. And Gary Busey.
That’s right. THE Gary Busey. Before he was all crazy and stuff.
In the movie, Busey plays a broken down veteran named Chet “The Rocket” Steadman. Steadman has just come back after surgery and is struggling to throw with the same velocity that he once had. Henry Rowengartner (the rookie from whence we get the title listed above) is a huge fan of Steadman’s. Once Rowengartner starts pitching for the team, Steadman is asked (against his will at first) to become a sort of mentor for the young rook.
At one point early in Henry’s career, he gets into some trouble on the mound. Steadman is ordered to go out and calm the rookie down. He doesn’t really want to do so and ends up saying a bunch of things that don’t make sense.
Or do they?
I’ve always loved the speech he gives. He talks about pitching from your “have-to.” He tells Henry that there are two sides to a player. The winning side and the side that’s afraid. The “have-to” is where the fear lives. If a player pitches from his “have-to” he can make his winning side triumph over his fearful side.
I’ll admit that it’s a confusing speech that may seem like gibberish to some, but to me it makes sense, especially from the pitching perspective.
Especially from the relief perspective.
Especially from the closing perspective.
Everyone knows it. Joakim Soria has not been himself. Questions and theories and snap decisions have been voiced by Royals fans for most of the season and particularly in these last two weeks as Soria has blown saves at a time when the Royals could really have used some wins. I mean we could have REALLY used some wins.
I don’t really know what to say to defend him. I’ll try to briefly attack this issue on the fronts of both Soria and Royals fans.
1. The fans have a right to be a little miffed. Soria has not peformed at his typical level. His K/9 and BB/9 between last year has jumped from 9.73/2.19 to 7.13/3.75 respectively. He hasn’t had quite the velocity this season that he’s had in seasons past. His E.R.A. stands at 6.00, which is not typical of him. He hasn’t been dominant on the mound. He’s been vulnerable and the Royals have paid for it.
2. It’s easy to hate or love the closer. In my mind, a closer has to have one of the tougher mentalities in baseball. It’s one of the easiest positions in baseball for a player to become the hero or the goat. And the unfortunate part is that no player is perfect. Every closer has to play the part of the goat every once in awhile. Sometimes, they even play the part multiple times in one week.* To be a good closer, you have to have a short memory. You have to be able to bounce back from hardship and be confident in yourself almost to a fault. You have to come back the night after a blown save thinking, “No one can touch me.” Now, I’ll agree that Soria’s poor pitching period has been somewhat elongated. It’s lasting longer than anyone wants it to. But has he really lost his edge or is he simply working through some problems. Who says pitchers can’t have slumps too? Even long ones?
I don’t know about you, but I’m willing to give Soria some more time to work through his issues and try to regain his ice-cold status as a dominant 9th inning force once again. I think that his past performance has earned him at least a little more time. There are a few other factors that help me to feel at peace with this decision. One is that it’s we can’t trade him at this point because it’s pretty unlikely that his performance this year would guarantee that we get the value I’d want for him. The other is the fact that I have solid, unwavering, and possibly even slightly ridiculous faith in our bullpen and the young arms there. In my opinion, it’s possible to construct a closer. We’ve got some good-looking arms in the bullpen that could fill that void if it were necessary. But only if it were necessary.
As for now, I just hope that Soria will take a page out of Busey’s book and pitch from his “have-to.” He needs to hit the mound at each opportunity thinking that he is going to dominate. Forget the doubters. Forget the mockers.
Short-term memory Soria…..short-term memory.
Make the opposition fear you again.