2015 Player Previews: RHP Joakim Soria

The Tigers paid a premium to get right-hander Joakim Soria from the Rangers, hoping he’d help solve their bullpen problem last season. But instead, he battled injuries and ineffectiveness as he became just another struggling reliever in the Tigers’ relief corp. With an option picked up and an off-season to recuperate, is Soria ready to be the lock down reliever the Tigers envisioned?

2014 In Review – Joakim Soria

2014 Stats
Tex/Det 44.1 48 2-4 1.4 2.73 2.09 3.25 .290 9.7 1.2 43% 4.5%

Judging by his season aggregate numbers, you’d have no idea that Soria had any struggles whatsoever last season – he was good for a win and a half in just over 44 innings, had an FIP and xFIP under three, with nearly 10 strikeouts per nine and only one walk per nine. It looks like an outstanding season.

But it really was a tale of two halves for Soria, who was actually worth 1.6 fWAR with Texas (in just 33 innings), while he actually had negative value with the Tigers; a -0.2 fWAR in Detroit. His strikeout rate plummeted (from over 11 K/9 in Texas to under 5 K/9 in Detroit), and he missed a few weeks in August with an oblique strain that undoubtedly played a role in his struggles.

When you look at his prior performance, the most recent years don’t provide a ton of insight – his 2013 season was abbreviated as he was still recovering from Tommy John surgery, that had caused him to miss all of 2012. But prior to that, he was excellent for the Royals, averaging over 1.5 wins per season as the team’s closer from 2007 to 2011. So, while there isn’t much recent history due to the injury, there’s plenty in his track record to suggest he’s a highly effective reliever.

Overall, Soria still had a very good 2014 – it’s just that his success predominantly came in Texas, prior to him becoming a Tiger. Could it be a case of Soria tiring over the course of the season, and losing effectiveness? Maybe a bit, but not to the extremes we saw in 2014. For his career, his FIP has increased half a run from the first half to the second half (2.63 to 3.12) and his K:BB ratio drops from 4.3 to 3.4. His HR/9 rate also goes up, from 0.60 to 0.73.

So the Tigers got the short end of the stick in a number of ways. They got a reliever that traditionally has not pitched as well in the second half as he does in the first half, he had a little bit of good fortune in the first half that was bound to regress to the mean (despite pitching in a hitter-friendly park, he didn’t allow a single home run with Texas), and then suffered an oblique strain.

Luckily, all those things shouldn’t impact things moving forward into 2015.

2015 Player Projections

2014 Advanced Projections
Service G IP WAR ERA FIP BAbip K/9 BB/9
ZiPS 41 36.2 0.5 3.43 3.11 .321 9.3 2.5
Steamer 65 65.0 0.5 3.42 3.56 .289 8.3 2.7

The projections definitely see a return to success for Soria, but not nearly as much as some Tigers fans are hoping, or possibly even expecting. Both projections expect him to be worth about half a win over the course of the season, still good for a reliever, but not quite the 1.5 wins he’s traditionally been worth. This is likely being influenced by a combination of him turning 31 soon and getting up there in age, along with his second half struggles, which could foretell a decline coming, as far as performance is concerned.

The two system do differ on his strikeout rates, with ZiPS seeing him striking out a full batter more per nine than Steamer. Conversely, Steamer has his average on balls in play at .289, just slightly above his .272 career average, while ZiPS forecasts a .321 average – which would be the highest of his career in a single season, by far.

Either way, the projections forecast him to be a very good reliever, something the Tigers desperately need in the back end of their bullpen.

The TigsTown Take

Soria has looked outstanding so far this spring. He was pitching really well last year until the trade came, he had a couple of hiccups, and then the injury plus a lack of a role derailed him. The role isn’t a concern at this point, as he’s locked in to be the Tigers setup man, unless of course the club parts ways with embattled closer Joe Nathan, in which case, he’d almost assuredly step up into that slot.

With free agency on the horizon, an off-season to recover, a set role, an excellent repertoire, and a track record of success, Soria is poised to have an excellent year. It’s hard to feel comfortable with the Tigers entire bullpen, but it seems very reasonable to feel comfortable with what the Tigers are going to get out of Soria – and that’s a very good, late inning reliever.

2015 Projections come from two different sources; ZiPS, and Steamer, both publicly available via FanGraphs.com and presented for information purposes only. ZiPS projections come from Dan Szymborski, and Steamer from Steamer Projections, a trio of independent academic researchers.

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