Just like some baseball fans that I know, I was skeptical when a young prospect was selected to become the Royals’ closer during the 2007 season. Part of the reason was because I have followed the Royals since the late eighties and saw closers come and go in the organization. Some were crafty veterans who, if brought into the game, would almost guarantee a Royals victory (Jeff Montgomery and Dan Quisenberry). However, I still had a bad taste in my mouth from one of the Royals’ most recent young closers to get the boot, Mike MacDougal. He had one pitch that was effective, for a while. In fact, he actually earned an All-Star nomination. However, inconsistency after that nomination did MacDougal in rather quickly, and he was soon traded away.
Joakim Soria, like many other closers, has one or two pitches that he primarily relies upon. He does have more than that in his arsenal but every good pitcher has a “punch-out” pitch he has worked at for years, trying to make it perfect every time he throws it. His fastball is not as fast as a Nolan Ryan’s, but had some bite to it. In just his second full-season in the majors, Soria was mentioned in conversations with Brad Lidge and Mariano Rivera in terms of stat comparisons and effectiveness to end the game for his team.
If you are a fantasy baseball advocate and you were not able to grab those two in the past few seasons, you should have grabbed Soria. Not just for the saves, for his ability to strike people out too. In every single season, including his rookie year, he averaged at least one strikeout per inning pitched. This means every time he makes an appearance (usually one or two innings at most), he strikes someone out.
Soria is fifteen years younger than Rivera, but comparisons of these two closers have already been made. The biggest difference is the four World Series rings Rivera has. I am hesitant to put Soria on the same level as Rivera, just because he is still early on his career. Yes, he is showing striking similarities to the most intimidating pitcher the Yankees have on their roster. The Royals’ coaching staff and front office recognized this by giving him pay raises in each of the past three seasons.
The Royals need to keep him. He has provided leadership, composure and consistency in a bullpen that has been anything but. He is someone you can build a bullpen to support. He has filled a role that the Royals asked him to do and has done so better than any Royal in the past ten years.
After four seasons in the majors, he is averaging 33 saves per season. Rivera has an average of 37.27 in his fifteen years with the Yankees. Dennis Eckersley averaged 32.5 saves/season in his twelve years as a relief pitcher. Trevor Hoffman, the all-time saves leader, has an average of 33.9 in his eighteen seasons as a closer. What these three great relievers have in common are three things: opportunity, longevity, and consistency. It is too early to tell, in my opinion, if the Royals have another hall-of-famer in their bullpen. They have had one in their 41-year history.
I want Soria to stay a Royal his entire career. I cannot think of any Royals fan, coach or current player who does not want this.
I want him to become mentionable in hall-of-fame related conversations. Being mentioned in the same breath as the all-time greats is great for a team that has had so many sub-par things going for them in recent memory.
I think that he has what it takes to last as long and still be just as effective as a Rivera, Lidge or Hoffman. As long as he sticks to the regiment that has made him this way. I do not want to see another MacDougal or Jose Rosado.
The Royals have let too many quality young players go since the strike in 1994. They need to keep this one. He is lights out.