You can tell how much respect Joakim Soria gets outside of Kansas City by the fact that national sportscasters – people who are paid to be baseball experts – can’t pronounce his first name.
(For the record, it’s pronounced ‘Wah-Keem.’)
But here’s the simple truth: Joakim Soria is the best young closer in the game.
And he has never been better than he was in 2010. The Mexicutioner compiled a career-high 43 saves, struck out 71 batters in 65.2 innings, and tallied a 1.78 ERA.
Really, though, Soria has been dominant for three straight seasons. In his worst full season – 2009 – Soria had a 2.21 ERA with 30 saves. His worst season.
Joakim Soria has a career WHIP of .988. That’s extremely rare. WHIP is Walks plus Hits per Inning Pitched. The lower the WHIP, generally, the better the pitcher. Very few pitchers ever compile a single season with a WHIP below 1.
The two pitchers frequently considered the best closers of all time, Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman, have career WHIPs of 1.0035 and 1.0584, respectively. They’re also third and seventh, respectively, on the list of all-time lowest career WHIPs for pitchers with over 1,000 innings.
Even though Soria’s WHIP of .988 is extrapolated over only three and a half seasons, it’s still startling.
Soria’s WHIP numbers are bound to increase over the coming years, but if he were somehow able to maintain his blistering pace through 1,000 innings, he would be second on the all-time list, behind only Addie Joss.
For a closer, WHIP may be even more important than it is for a starting pitcher. What does it mean for Joakim Soria? It means more often than not, he can come in the game in the ninth inning and sit the opposing batters down 1-2-3.
The Royals have had three great closers in team history. Joakim Soria is one of them. The others are Dan Quisenberry and Jeff Montgomery. Not bad company for the 26-year-old. In his Royals career, Montgomery compiled 304 saves, and Quisenberry chalked 238 in Royal Blue. Soria already has 132.
(The next player on the Royals’ all-time saves list is Doug Bird, who collected 58 saves for the Royals through the mid-seventies.)
We all know Soria’s backstory by now. The Mexico native was a Padres farmhand who had shown promise in Winter League ball as a starter, even throwing a perfect game in Mexico. He was left unprotected by the Padres in the 2006 Rule 5 Draft, and the Royals scooped him up. It’s one of the biggest Rule 5 coups in recent memory, along with Johan Santana, Dan Uggla and Josh Hamilton, who was also taken in the 2006 draft.
Finally, Soria is starting to receive national respect. He is now a two-time All-Star selection, and just this week we found out he received a fourth-place vote for the AL Cy Young Award, making him the ninth-place finisher for the award.
Of course, the vote was probably from a Kansas City sportswriter.
But Soria’s stock should continue to rise. And here’s the best news for Royals fans: he’s under team control through 2014.
RUNNER UP: BRUCE CHEN
Although Soria was the clear winner for the I-70 Baseball Pitcher of the Year award, Bruce Chen came out of nowhere to finish a respectable second.
Chen was the definition of a “journeyman” when he came to the Royals in 2009, having played for eight teams previously. He showed flashes of brilliance early in his career with Atlanta and Philadelphia, but he was a surprise success in Baltimore in 2005, with a 13-10 record and a 3.83 ERA.
Chen latched onto the Royals with a minor-league contract in 2009, after missing all of 2008, and he struggled through the season. But Chen found his form in ’10, pitching 33 games total including 23 starts. His 4.17 ERA helped him become the team leader in wins, compiling a 12-7 record.
It looks as though Chen’s days in Royal blue may be numbered; reports indicate the free agent is seeking a two-year contract, and the Royals are probably only willing to offer one.
Matt Kelsey is a Royals writer and the content editor for I-70 Baseball. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.