KC Royals reliever Joakim Soria has suffered through an awful season. He’s given up 14 leads after coming into the game either tied or ahead. Soria has also lost eight games and blown seven saves. But, the Kansas City Royals need to find some way to extract value from the $17 million left on the last two years of his contract. Should the team try him as a starter?
MLB.com Kansas City Royals beat writer Jeffrey Flanagan addressed this issue both in a recent article and a mailbag on Monday’s off-day. An unnamed KC coach talked about Joakim Soria in the mailbag piece:
"“Giving up a couple runs here and there is acceptable as a starter.”"
That quote puts the finger on Soria’s problem in 2016. His 4.12 ERA isn’t horrible. It’s Soria’s performance in key situations that has ruined his season.
Soria To The Rotation Isn’t Just A Media Rumor
Apparently, Soria to the rotation isn’t just a rumor created by contract terms that increase Soria’s salary if he logs significant time as a starter. The KC Royals front office seems to be considering the idea if Flanagan is hearing about it. However, Flanagan noted that general manager Dayton Moore “didn’t seem all that enthusiastic” about Soria moving to the rotation.
Moore told Flanagan:
"“It’s an interesting idea,” Moore told MLB.com. “But we’re going to be very active trying to make sure our bullpen gets back to what it has been. Joakim can be a big part of it. I know it hasn’t been the type of year that he expected.”"
But, Moore didn’t entirely close off the possibility to moving Soria to the rotation:
"“We will be very committed to him in a role. But as you go into the offseason and into Spring Training, every role is evaluated. We’ll look to reshape our pitching staff to get us back where we want to be. I probably wouldn’t commit to any role right now.”"
On one hand, Joakim Soria was a starter in the minor leagues and even pitched a no-hitter in the Mexican League after the Royals acquired him in the 2007 Rule 5 draft. Soria also throws a fourseam fastball, curve, slider, and change-up. As a four-pitch pitcher, he delivers enough variety to retire hitters multiple times per game.
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Of course, his velocity would likely decline as a starter. But, Soria is actually throwing harder at 32 than in his prime seasons as a reliever. He’s touching the mid-90s with his fastball, and sitting around 93.3 mph this season. Soria hovered slightly under 92 mph during his days as the closer in KC from 2007 to 2010. Looking at his numbers, his biggest problem has been command. His 3.7 BB/9 is the highest of his career, with the exception of 2013 when he was coming back from his second Tommy John surgery.
Injury History Makes Sustained Success As A Starter Unlikley
That injury history is the rub. Only Chris Capuano has pitched even one full season of starts after coming back from his second Tommy John surgery. Capuano has started 112 games since his second elbow reconstruction. He has also only enjoyed one full season as a league-average starter in that span (2012 for the Los Angeles Dodgers).
Moving a 32-year-old reliever who has never started a game in the major-leagues to the rotation would be an odd move. However, closer C.J. Wilson successfully made such a transition at age 29 with the Texas Rangers in 2010. Wilson has even made two AL All-Star teams as a starter in 2011 (Rangers) and 2012 (Angels).
While Joakim Soria starting games for the KC Royals in 2017 isn’t an impossible outcome, I think he’d be better off solving his command problems. Perhaps his mechanics just need a tweak and he’ll get his confidence back. Something needs to change in 2017, or else the Kansas City Royals will have to eat his contract like they did with Omar Infante.