Soria should keep celebrating with Perez in 2012. (Photo Credit: Kyle Terada-US PRESSWIRE)

Soria's 2011 Problem: Cut Fastball

Bob Dutton, as he’s prone to do day in and day out, keeps writing great articles to keep us fans updated on Royals camp in Arizona. There’s always some good stuff to pick up. Yesterday, Dutton posted an article about Joakim Soria that said the Royals had figured out what was up with Soria last season, allowing him to improve as the season went on. New coach Dave Eiland also had some ideas about what was happening with Soria’s delivery.

Basically, it amounted to a concern about Soria’s cutter. As a guy that idolizes Mariano Rivera, as most relievers likely do, that may be hard to solve. But when a cut fastball doesn’t “cut,” there’ll be problems. They suggested that Soria’s cutter was a problem for essentially the first full two months of the season, which eventually led to him losing the closer role after May 30 (for a short time). Eiland also suggested that Soria was rushing his delivery a bit, but I don’t have the numbers (or time) to confirm that one. I just wanted to take a brief look at his cutter in that time compared with 2010 and the rest of 2011 to get an idea of what happened.

In 2010, Soria had a 1.78 ERA in 65.2 innings, compiling 43 saves, 71 strikeouts, 16 walks, and both Cy Young and MVP votes. So, this is an extreme case. Still, though, we can expect his style to be similar to that to find success. In April of 2011, Soria threw 11.2 innings with a 4.63 ERA, five strikeouts, and six walks. In May, 10.1 innings with an 8.71 ERA, 14 strikeouts, and four walks. For the rest of 2011, Soria tossed 38.1 innings with a 2.58 ERA, 41 strikeouts, and seven walks. Wondering about that ridiculous ERA in May? Well, the BABIPs for the four times I listed above were .282, .243, .500, and .294. Hopefully, that makes that May a bit clearer.

Okay, so now that we’ve dispensed with those stats, what can we learn about his cutter in each of those times? Here’s how his cutter fared over each of those spans, the average velocity, and the frequency with which Soria threw cutters:

I think that paints the image that Dutton’s article reveals. Soria’s cutter just dropped in effectiveness, dropping speed slightly and inducing fewer swings. It actually rebounded fairly well, but they didn’t want to return to it since he was successful for the rest of 2011. I don’t know if he lost some confidence in it and started missing the zone in May, but look at the Whiff rates as 2011 went on. They’re actually better than his stellar 2010. And the In Play rates are on par with or better than his 2010. It seems like he just lost it a bit coming out of Spring Training and wasn’t able to right the ship before they shifted him to a different role.

Just to look at the specific movements of the cutter, I want to take a look at the Pitch F/X data for cutter movement in the same time:

This paints a similar picture, to a degree. The vertical and horizontal measurements are in inches, spin angle is in degrees, and the spin rate is RPM. Soria’s cutter just wasn’t cutting as much, essentially. It didn’t have as much spin or as extreme of a spin and basically stopped moving as much as it used to. And the change in movement might also have resulted in fewer strikes, as the above chart showed. It’s interesting that he adapted and rebounded for the rest of 2011 even though his cutter stayed basically the same, but part of that probably has to do with using it less often to the point where batters don’t know when they’ll see it. All I can tell is that Soria’s cutter wasn’t the cutter it used to be, which was likely much of the problem.

Now, whether Eiland’s theory of rushing pitches and “dragging his arm” is correct is hard to examine. But at least this shows that there was some mechanical problem with the pitch itself. It wasn’t moving how Soria likely expected it to or wanted it to, and he therefore used the pitch less. Eiland seems to want to keep Soria doing what he wants to do rather than forcing a plan on him as ex-pitching coach McClure apparently tried to do, so we can all watch to see if that changes anything.

I expect Soria to be back to normal and both Soria and manager Ned Yost seem to feel that way. Whether they get back to the cutter will be an interesting facet to follow this season. I’m sure I’ll have an update once we get a couple months into the season.

Thanks to TexasLeaguers.com for all the Pitch F/X data.

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Tags: AL Central Baseball Joakim Soria Kansas City Royals KC KC Royals MLB Royals

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