Tag Archive | "Slump"

The Royals get knocked out of the Wild Card chase

It was fun while it lasted, but the Kansas City Royals playoff hopes came to an end with Wednesday night’s 6-0 loss to the Seattle Mariners. Once again, the Royals offense went into a slump, not scoring a run since the 12th inning of Monday night’s 6-5 win.

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The last few weeks, the Royals were one of five contenders vying for a Wild Card spot. They caught and passed the New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles, but they couldn’t gain ground on the Tampa Rays, Cleveland Indians and Texas Rangers.

But the Royals didn’t give up. After they lost last Saturday’s game against the Rangers, they bounced back the next day with Justin Maxwell’s ninth inning grand slam off of former Royal All-Star Joakim Soria, giving the Royals a 4-0 victory. Then a four hour, 12 inning win the next day against the Mariners kept the Royals slim playoff hopes alive. But Tuesday’s 4-0 loss to the Mariners and an Indians walk-off home run win by Jason Giambi a few hours earlier hurt their playoff chances. Then Wednesday night’s loss and wins by Cleveland, Tampa and Texas put an end to the Royals playoff hopes.

It’s disappointing the Royals didn’t make the playoffs. But for the first time in almost a generation, the Royals looked like a credible Major League Baseball team. Finishing with a record above .500 for the first time since 2003 and being in the Wild Card hunt, the Royals gave hope to a long-suffering fan base that the team has turned a corner.

But there’s room for improvement. The offense is still weak and despite having five of six winning months, May’s dismal 8-20 record put the Royals in a hole they couldn’t get out of. With last month’s seven game losing streak and their recent critical losses to the Detroit Tigers and the Indians, the Royals doomed their chances of making the playoffs. Look at it this way: if the Royals went .500 in May with a 14-14 record, they would have an 89-69 record and be tied with the Rays in the Wild Card standings.

With an 83-75 record, the Royals have four games left against the Chicago White Sox. They need to win the series and finish with their best record since 1993, when they went 84-78. Their offseason focus will be improving the offense and rebuilding their starting rotation around James Shields and Jeremy Guthrie. They also need to maintain their good defense and bullpen.

Will this happen? With the Royals, it’s hard to say. In the past they’ve shown promise and then crashed and burned. If any team can mess it up, it’s the Royals. But they’re a better team than they were a couple of years ago. They were on their way to another losing season, but after the All-Star break they turned it around and for a while they made themselves into Wild Card contenders. They bounced back from many games and situations that would have doomed them in years past. The Royals have a ways to go, but their experience playing through the highs and the lows of 2013 should help them contend in 2014.

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St. Louis Cardinals have terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week

The St. Louis Cardinals landed Friday in Atlanta ready to begin an 11-game, 10-day road trip against three of the best teams in the National League with the best record in Major League Baseball. They had a lead in the NL Central and the best hitter in the league.


A week later, the Cardinals have yet to win another game, the Pittsburgh Pirates have passed them for the division lead, and catcher Yadier Molina is on the disabled list with a knee injury.

The Cardinals haven’t had many bad weeks in 2013, but this past week has been about as bad of a week as anyone could imagine.

The Atlanta Braves swept the Cardinals in a three-game series through the weekend, and the Pirates won four games in three days to take a 2.5-game lead in the division heading into play Wednesday. Now the Cardinals get the joy of facing the Cincinnati Reds for three games in Cincinnati.

Much of the problem has been the shutdown of the most productive offense in the game.

The Cardinals still lead the National League with a .271 team batting average and continue to lead baseball by an incredibly large .040 margin with a team batting average of .334 with runners in scoring position.

However, they have not scored more than two runs in six of their last seven games to go with a .158 batting average in the last week. Plus, they will be without Molina and his .330 batting average for at least the next 15 days.

Granted, those are terrible, horrible, no good, very bad numbers, but the Cardinals do have a legitimate excuse based on the pitchers they have faced in those seven games.

Braves starters Mike Minor, Julio Teheran and Kris Medlen have a combined earned-run average of 3.23, while the first four starters the Pirates threw against the Cardinals have a combined 2.49 ERA.

Those pitchers are going to shut down just about any team more often than not, and they put Cardinals hitters in their first slump of the season.

This won’t continue, of course. The Cardinals’ overall season numbers are some of the best in baseball for a reason. Just as the hot streak has mellowed (OK, plummeted), into a slump, the hitters will return to form before long.

If nothing else, Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati is a good hitters park, even though the Cardinals are scheduled to face Bronson Arroyo, Tony Cingrani and Mike Leake, who have a combined 23-13 record with a 2.92 ERA.

The schedule also doesn’t get easier after the road trip is complete, as the Los Angeles Dodgers come to St. Louis for a four-game series next week.

This is quite a test, especially with Molina on the disabled list, but the rough stretch could pay dividends later in the season and the playoffs.

The crowds in Atlanta and Pittsburgh were the most electric of any fan bases the Cardinals have played in front of this season outside of St. Louis, and it is important for the team’s large group of young players to play in that type of environment.

A 95-mph fastball and sharp breaking pitch are great pitches at any time, but men who throw those pitches are rarely as consistent, especially when they feel the pressure of an important game.

Right now it is easy to look at the Cardinals situation as if the proverbial glass is half empty, but the team was unlikely to succeed in the playoffs if it cruised through the entire regular season without a hiccup at some point.

Sure, the Texas Rangers and Oakland Athletics took five of six games from the Cardinals in late June, but the Braves, Pirates and Reds are the teams the Cardinals will likely face in the playoffs.

In any case, it is better to lose those games in July instead of October.

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Cardinals/Nationals: Three Things to Walk With

After a tough end to the weekend on Sunday night in Philadelphia, the Cardinals rebounded nicely a day later and haven’t let up yet. The club pulled off its first series sweep of the season against the Washington Nationals in DC, wrapping it up against their ace Stephen Strasburg on Wednesday afternoon. It was the club’s first return back to DC since the improbable end of their Division Series matchup in the city last October. All in all, the longest road trip of the season ended with an impressive 6-3 record, with one game lost to rain. And as the club returns back home a half game ahead in the NL Central, here are three things to take from tilt with the Nationals.

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1.Fear the Koz: Clearly Nationals fans have not forgotten the last time Pete Kozma made an appearance in their city. Kozma was routinely booed through the series each time he stepped to the plate, as an after effect of the two run single he plated to complete the Cardinal comeback in the decisive game of the 2012’s Division Series. Kozma, who is rather stoic even on a regular day, was also unflappable at the plate for the series. Despite the constant outpour of boos, he had four hits in nine at-bats for the series, and played his usual hard nose style on the basepaths. On the year, he’s turned in a respectable .262/.306/.675 effort thus far, and has been one of the most consistent everyday performers on the club.

2. Missing in Action: Jon Jay, who has been knees deep in a major slump, was sat down the last two games of the series. With lefty Ross Detwiler on the mound on Tuesday, it seemed to be a matchup move, yet when he sat again versus Strasberg on Wednesday, it became clear that the intention perhaps is to let him get all the way relaxed and back in Busch Stadium (where he is a career .329 hitter, yet only .250 in 2013) before putting him back in the mix again. His prolonged slump has dropped his season total at the plate to .205, which is tough to stomach out the leadoff spot. While a drop down to seventh didn’t help him much to start the series, he did manage a crucial sliding grab in the 8th inning of Monday’s victory.

3. Mujica makes a way: For now, the Chief is in charge. Edward Mujica, who was really turned to as the last reasonable resort in the bullpen for the closer position, turned in series that has (for the time being) fanned the flames on much maligned closer role. He saved each game in the series, without surrendering a hit in the process. He pitched to contact, striking out only one batter, but has maintained the impeccable control that’s made him the exception in the late inning mix all year (one walk in nine appearances). While he doesn’t have the track record or the stuff that Boggs and Rosenthal boast, there’s nobody else that’s even gotten close the effectiveness he’s shown thus far.

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St. Louis Cardinals better equipped to absorb injuries in 2013

The St. Louis Cardinals took the field June 10, 2012 against the Cleveland Indians with seven of their projected starters on the disabled list and Matt Holliday on the bench with a minor injury. Not surprisingly, the team was mired in an 11-19 slump. But the Cardinals might be better prepared to handle a similar rash of injuries in 2013.

Ty Wigginton will add depth to the Cardinals bench.

Ty Wigginton will add depth to the Cardinals bench.

The 2012 Cardinals fought through much of May and June without the likes of Jon Jay, Skip Schumaker, Lance Berkman and Matt Carpenter. That stretch tested the team’s depth as players such as Shane Robinson, Daniel Descalso and Matt Adams did their best to fill the holes left in the lineup and on the field.

The Cardinals were far from a great team at that point in the season, and their record during that portion of the season is a large reason why they finished nine games behind the Cincinnati Reds in the NL Central.

Sure, the Cardinals likely wouldn’t have caught the Reds regardless, but they would’ve been five games out if they went 15-15 in the 30-game stretch in May and June, and they would’ve been in a final-week battle with the Reds had they played above .500 in that stretch.

Looking ahead to 2013, the Cardinals still have a fairly veteran lineup that will probably feature at least four players 30 years old or older. Age and health were concerns for the Cardinals heading into last season, and many of those same concerns will remain this year. Lance Berkman is the only player age 30 or older who is no longer with the team.

That means the Cardinals will need to have players ready to fill in and contribute at a high level when injuries hit.

The only free agent hitter they signed in the offseason was 35-year-old Ty Wigginton, so they didn’t bolster their bench, especially after trading Schumaker to the Los Angeles Dodgers. However, the team still has more depth on its roster and in the minor leagues.

If shortstop Rafael Furcal gets hurt, the Cardinals can call on last year’s late-season hero Pete Kozma, who showed last year he can be productive. If Carlos Beltran or Matt Holliday get hurt, Allen Craig could move from first base or Matt Carpenter could fill those spots. Plus, minor leaguers such as outfielder Oscar Taveras and second baseman Kolten Wong are nearly ready to play in the big leagues, anyway.

Realistically, the Cardinals would have to have more than five starters hurt at the same time before they would start running out of decent replacement options. But even in that case, Adams is still an option to fill in at first base from time to time, so long as he shows some improvement from his 27-game stint in the big leagues that yielded a .244 batting average with two homeruns and 13 RBIs.

In addition to depth in the field, the Cardinals found last year that they have quite a stockpile of young pitchers who now have postseason experience and can certainly fill any gaps if someone in the rotation or bullpen gets hurt. Lance Lynn, Joe Kelly, Shelby Miller and Trevor Rosenthal are all more-than-decent options should Adam Wainwright or Chris Carpenter get hurt again, or if Jaime Garcia continues to have shoulder problems.

The Cardinals haven’t done much during the offseason to fortify their bench, but they already have enough interchangeable parts on their roster to keep the team competitive should they face another year when the regular lineup struggles to stay healthy.

And with a veteran team, those replacement parts are most likely going to be vital to the team’s success in 2013.

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The rise of Moose, the struggles of Hos

Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas are good friends. They play on opposite ends of the diamond. They were both selected as first round picks in the amateur draft. They made their major league debuts last season. They dressed as the Ambiguously Gay Duo for their rookie hazing. It was supposed to be Hosmer as the superstar, the face of the Royals franchise. Moustakas was going to be an important piece of the Royals youth movement, but play second fiddle to Hosmer. But at this point in the season, Moustakas is becoming the superstar and Hosmer is just another player making his way through the major leagues, trying to live up to expectations.

The bottom line is Moustakas is performing and Hosmer is not. Moustakas has a .273/.341/.468 line compared to Hosmer’s .218/.287/.370 line. Moustakas has more runs, hits, RBI and home runs. Hosmer does draw more walks and strikes out less than Moustakas, making Hosmer the more patient hitter. Hosmer is still climbing out of an extended slump he had earlier in the season and he’s playing better. But Hosmer still has a ways to go before catching up to Moustakas.

The defensive numbers favor Moustakas as well. Moustakas has a .958 fielding percentage, which is above the league fielding percentage of .946. Hosmer’s fielding percentage is at a league average .995. Moustakas has made his share of defensive highlight reels, such as yesterday’s game against Houston where he backhanded a ground ball to third and from his knees threw out a runner going to second.

But there’s more than the on-field performance. There’s Moustakas’ nickname, Moose. It’s the perfect name for a player like him. In ballparks wherever Moustakas plays, his fans will don antlers and sometimes make moose calls. Almost every time Moustakas comes up to bat or makes a play, you’ll hear fans going “Moooose!” Heck, I even heard fans in St. Louis cry “Moooose!” after Moustakas made the final out of last Friday night’s game against the Cardinals. Or maybe that was something else.

Hosmer’s nickname? It’s Hos. Not Hoss, Hos. You don’t hear many fans yelling “Hos!” when Hosmer makes a great play. And Hosmer doesn’t have fans wearing antlers on their heads, faux hawks or Amish style beards for that matter.

Lately, the Royals are making Moustakas the face of the franchise. If you go to www.kcroyals.com, you’ll see Moose towering over the Kansas City skyline where Hosmer once stood. And that’s understandable. In All-Star votes, Moustakas is fifth among American League third baseman. Moose even has a Twitter hashtag, #VoteMoose. And if there’s any Royal deserving a spot in the All-Star game, it’s Moustakas.

Meanwhile, Hosmer isn’t near the top five in votes among American League first basemen and I haven’t seen any #VoteHos Twitter hashtags either. Looks like he’ll get a few days off during the All-Star break.

It’s not as if Hosmer is a bust. Far from it. You could say Hosmer is in a sophomore slump and Moose is not. In time, Hosmer will find his stroke and become the player fans expect him to be. And baseball being what it is, Moustakas could be in a July slump while Hosmer gets hot.

Despite the 12 game losing streak earlier in the season, the countless injuries to key players, the 1,834 roster moves (rough estimate) and the up and down play of the Royals, the team is 31-36 and only 4.5 games out of first in the American League Central. Yes, the Royals are still in fourth place, but they’re only 4.5 games out. With the return of Salvador Perez, Felipe Paulino and Lorenzo Cain, the continued great play of Moose and a resurgent Hosmer, the Royals could make a run towards first in the A.L. Central.

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St. Louis Cardinals lineup better with balance and without Pujols

The St. Louis Cardinals lost a huge part of their offense when Albert Pujols signed a 10-year, $240-million deal with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, but that also forced the team to build a more balanced lineup. Now every spot in the order consistently pushes across enough runs to put the Cardinals atop the NL Central as April comes to a close.

But, the margin for error is much slimmer without Pujols. There were times during the last decade when Pujols basically won an entire game with his bat. If it was a close game late, Cardinals fans always felt like the team had a chance to win as long as Pujols got another at-bat.

That’s no longer the case. The 2012 Cardinals have to string together multiple hits to score runs in bunches, but they have done surprisingly well to start the season. From shortstop Rafeal Furcal to centerfielder Jon Jay, each part of the lineup is contributing to give the Cardinals a .278 team batting average, which is the best in the National League.

Hopefully, the increased responsibility on each spot in the order will make this team more slump-proof than previous Cardinals teams. Pujols could mask a bunch of deficiencies in a lineup, but there were times when he would be the only hitter consistently producing runs. So far this season, Cardinals hitters have done an excellent job of picking each other up and getting base hits to keep the line moving.

For example, the Cardinals smashed the Milwaukee Brewers on Friday night with 13 runs, but they didn’t particularly smash the ball. Instead, the Cardinals laced together 15 hits, and only four went for extra bases with no homeruns.

I’m not saying the Cardinals can’t hit homers. They sit second in the National League with 24 homeruns, but they also have the consistency to manufacture runs without the long ball. That, combined with the excellent starting pitching the team is getting from its starting rotation, could make the Cardinals quite a force during the course of the season in the National League.

All of those offensive topics are even sweeter considering Pujols is still searching for his first homerun as an Angel, going 21 games to start the season without a homer.

In fact, the Cardinals likely have the most complete team in the division despite preseason concerns that the Cincinnati Reds might have more firepower. The Reds’ pitching staff has some significant holes.

Johnny Cueto has been fantastic to lead the staff with a 3-0 record and 1.39 ERA, but he is the only starter in the Reds rotation to have more than one win. Mat Latos, Mike Leake, Bronson Arroyo and Homer Bailey have a combined 3-7 record with a 4.65 ERA.

The Cardinals rotation, by contrast, has an ERA of 2.81, and that’s while carrying Adam Wainwright’s 7.32 ERA.

Cardinals fans could not have realistically expected a better first month to the season, and fortunately there is plenty to be excited about over the course of the next five months.

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The “K” Never Looked So Good

The Kansas City Royals began their season just seven days ago but it has been over two months since most of the organization has even sniffed their workplace at I-70 and Blue Ridge Cutoff. Six games in and the team is sitting at a comfortable 3-3, while taking the opening weekend series against the highly touted Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim then one out of three from the Oakland Athletics, a town that the Royals have never found much success in.  But as most fans would agree, a mark of .500 baseball is  exactly where the Royals want to be coming into Kauffman Stadium.  Yes everyone’s season started a week ago but now it is close to home and the early jitters are out of the way just in time for Kansas City to finally get to see their hometown team in person.

One thing both the fans and the organization can agree on is the lack of support from the bullpen in the first road trip of the season.  Known as being the strength of the team coming into the 2012 year, the pitchers in the bullpen showed a little anxiety and maybe were over throwing some in excitement for the season but over time they will settle down and get back into.  The problem with people evaluating the first six games of the season is that it is such a small sample size.  For example, left fielder, Alex Gordon, is not going to continue this beginning of the season slump he is in now.  If he was doing this in mid-June no one would be even talking about it.  Before his ninth inning single on Wednesday, Eric Hosmer was in an 0-11 struggle yet it was not given air time like the struggles of Gordon because Hosmer hit fine in Anaheim.  The sample size is just too small to begin to make assumptions about what will happen for the rest of the season.  By my math, the Royals still have 156 baseball games to play so assumptions truly will not matter once the bulk of the season is gone in late June into early July.

Staying on the same subject, the starting pitching so far has been a surprise to say the least.  Through six starts the Royals starters have a 1.85 ERA which is way under what was expected of them.  While they have thrown out there six quality starts just like the struggles of the bullpen, the success of the starting staff is such a small sample size that conclusions simply cannot be made.

I am not saying to not get excited about the Royals or to get to high on the team.  I am just simply saying let everything play out on the field.  All fans can do is wait and see what the results of the season will be.  But the fact that all us fans now get to watch it in person is so much sweeter.  Watching through the television or listening on the radio is almost like a tease to the season. For Kansas City the season starts tomorrow. Kauffman Stadium will be in rare form tomorrow afternoon as the excitement for the Royals is higher than it has been in years.  As much as fans are excited to see the Royals they are as excited to be able to show us all why this team is in it to win.  Never have I seen a fan base so excited for a team playing at the Truman Complex, or a team that is so excited to be in front of their hometown.  This year we have both and putting these two together could make for one heck of a summer.  Kansas City our team is home.

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Molina deal done, Cardinals fans can exhale

A man who wears a mask the majority of the time we see him may have just become the new face of the St. Louis Cardinals franchise.

Yadier Molina, who broke into the big leagues with the Cardinals back in 2004, will keep the bird on the bat logo across his chest through the 2017 season, with an option for 2018, at which time Molina would be 36 years old. The five-year extension is expected to pay the game’s best defensive catcher $75 million dollars, with a $15 million option for a 6th year.

And with that, Cardinals fans, you can drop your guards. You will not have to spend the next 10 months fretting over whether or not another one of St. Louis’ baseball icons will leave the team at the altar.

In the wake of Albert Pujols’ abrupt move to the Los Angeles Angels, Cardinals general manager, John Mozeliak, insists he didn’t feel any added pressure to get a deal done for Molina. If he really didn’t, he probably should have. Molina is the single most admired, appreciated, and beloved member of the Cardinals organization right now. Cardinals fans in minor league cities from Palm Beach to Memphis watched him grow up. Fans in St. Louis watched him persevere at the plate, where he started his first season as the Cardinals’ starter in an 0 for 25 slump before eventually breaking through. His confidence at the plate continued to rise, and eventually Molina turned himself from an offensive liability into one of the best hitting catchers in the game today. In 2011, he hit .305 with a career high 14 HRs and 65 RBI.

Along the way, Molina provided Cardinal fans with exhilarating moments, from game-changing pickoff throws to his game-winning home run in the 9th inning of Game 7 in the 2006 NLCS. Molina has been a key part of two World Series Championship teams, and is a four-time Gold Glove.

With Tony La Russa and Albert Pujols out of the picture, this is now Molina’s team. He and Chris Carpenter share the title as longest tenured Cardinal, both joining the team in 2004. But Carpenter is in the twilight of his career, and his current 2-year deal may very well be his last.

So yes, he wears a mask, but Yadi is the new face of the franchise.

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Seedlings To The Stars: Cuthbert and Herrera

Old friend of I-70, Wally Fish (of Kings Of Kauffman fame), has a site known as Seedlings To The Stars. They are currently in the process of counting down their top 100 prospects and we thought our readers might like to drop by there for some insight. Below are I-70 players that are currently profiled. Drop by the site and read up on the future of your favorite franchise.

Kelvin Herrera - Photo Courtesy Of Minda Haas

Top 100 Prospects, #68: Cheslor Cuthbert, Royals
Nathan Stoltz of Seedlings To The Stars says:

At the tender age of 18, Cuthbert held his own in full-season ball, displaying a good approach at the plate and a bit of pop. He was hitting .328/.381/.500 through the end of July, dominating the level, until a late-season slump slowed him, so he looks even better than the numbers suggest.

A Nicaragua native, Cuthbert is a projectable hitter who should grow into well-above-average power as he matures, and many have projected him to be an annual 25-HR hitter if not better. His selective approach at the plate should allow him to see lots of good pitches to hit.

Defensively, he’s not as raw as most third basemen his age, and projects to hold the position down. There’s some question as to what sort of athleticism he’ll have once he fills out, but such a loss of athleticism would probably render him a merely playable third baseman rather than a player who must move across the diamond.

Read Cuthbert’s full profile by clicking here.

The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of: Kelvin Herrera, Royals
Nathan Stoltz of Seedlings To The Stars says:

Many popular opinions of pitching prospects are formed from general scouting reports. While these reports are invaluable resources, they can’t always be trusted. Hundreds of minor league hurlers are credited with “mid-90′s velocity,” but very few MLB starters actually have that grade of heat, for example. It’s incredibly frustrating to hear about a pitcher with “a mid-90′s heater and plus curve,” only to have him come up to the big leagues and show a fastball that averages 90.5 mph and a slider.

When a pitcher come up to the majors, we can finally get a foolproof reading on what exactly his arsenal is comprised of, thanks to the great Pitch F/X system. In this series, I analyze just that–the “stuff” of recently-promoted MLB pitchers. Now that they’ve achieved their big league dreams and thus factor directly into the MLB picture, it’s high time that we know exactly what these guys are providing.

This time, I’m taking a look at Royals reliever Kelvin Herrera.

Touted by several different outlets as “the best relief prospect in baseball” following the 2011 season, Kelvin Herrera opened the season as an afterthought in A-ball before blowing through three levels with a 70/15 K/BB ratio in 67 2/3 innings with a 1.60 ERA. He turns just 22 on New Year’s Eve, so he’s quite young, and he’s just about ready for the majors after absolutely dominating Double-A hitters and holding his own in the Pacific Coast League.

Herrera certainly doesn’t look the part of an intimidating closer, as he’s generously listed at 5’10″, but that impression goes out the window the second you see his fastball. In his very brief (two-inning) MLB exposure this September, Herrera fired the pitch at 94-98 mph, averaging a shade over 96.


Check out Stoltz’ full profile on Herrera by clicking here.

If prospects are what you are looking for and you want the most in-depth analysis available, all of us here at I-70 would suggest you drop by Seedlings To The Stars often. I know it is sitting at the top of my bookmarks currently.

Bill Ivie is the editor here at I-70 Baseball as well as the Assignment Editor for BaseballDigest.com.
He is the host of I-70 Radio, hosted every week on BlogTalkRadio.com.
Follow him on Twitter here.

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Where Does Soria Go From Here?

Joakim Soria has been the Royals lone, rock-solid, star presence over the past three seasons, and no one had any doubt he would continue dominating from the mound in save situations this season. The closer role was about the only thing on this year’s Royals team that did not have a question mark by it. Unfortunately, Soria has been downright awful through the first third of the season, and has lost the closer role to Aaron Crow for the time being. Now the crucial question becomes if this is a temporary slump or injury that Soria will come back from, or if he is done as an elite reliever. In the hopes of shedding some light on the answer, I will take a look at other closers in history who have racked up a large amount of saves at a young age. The following list shows all 11 players with over 100 saves before their age 27 season (which Soria is in now):

Rk Player SV From To Age G IP ERA+
1 Francisco Rodriguez 208 2002 2008 20-26 408 451.2 190
2 Gregg Olson 160 1988 1993 21-26 320 350.1 176
3 Huston Street 149 2005 2010 21-26 355 378.0 148
4 Bobby Thigpen 148 1986 1990 22-26 277 382.1 148
5 Joakim Soria 132 2007 2010 23-26 238 255.0 219
6 Chad Cordero 128 2003 2008 21-26 305 320.2 155
7 Rod Beck 127 1991 1995 22-26 280 331.0 134
8 Mitch Williams 114 1986 1991 21-26 436 511.0 123
9 Ugueth Urbina 110 1995 2000 21-26 251 360.0 127
10 Matt Capps 109 2005 2010 21-26 345 344.2 127
11 Bruce Sutter 105 1976 1979 23-26 240 390.2 177

photo by Minda Haas

Rodriguez, Street and Capps are all still young and active, so the second part of their careers are still unfolding just like Soria’s is. I will take a brief look at the careers of the remaining seven pitchers from the list to see how some closers who racked up saves at an early age fared from age 27 on. The first number after their name is number of saves before age 27 season, and the second number is saves from age 27 to the end of their career.

Gregg Olson: 160 • 57
Olson suffered a torn elbow ligament at the age of 26 and was never the same. He bounced around in 10 transactions between 1994-2000, including two stops with the Royals. He managed one more big year as a closer after the injury, racking up 30 saves for Arizona in 1998.
Bobby Thigpen: 148 • 53
Thigpen started battling injuries at 26 also. After recording 30 and 22 saves at ages 27 and 28, he only posted one more save and was out of the majors at 30.
Chad Cordero: 128 • 0
Here is the worst case. Cordero posted all of his career saves before his age 26 season, then suffered a labrum tear. He has had a couple of failed comeback attempts but has been unable to stick in the majors since.
Rod Beck: 127 • 159
Here is a better looking career path. Beck continued to be a dominant closer at 28 and 29, and had a one year renaissance at age 34 when he converted all 20 of his save opportunities.
Mitch Williams: 114 • 78
Wild Thing stayed fantastic at 27 and 28 but was done after that, throwing less than 40 innings the rest of his career (including 6.2 with the 1997 Royals).
Ugueth Urbina: 110 • 127
Urbina remained fantastically effective until his career ended at age 31 with an arrest (and subsequent conviction and 14 year prison sentence) for a machete attack/gasoline dousing incident. Hopefully Soria can avoid that.
Bruce Sutter: 105 • 195
This I suppose would be the best case scenario, particularly with that Hall of Fame induction capping things off.

So we have four pitchers who recorded fewer saves after age 26 and three pitchers who piled up a greater number after that age. It is almost like we cannot predict the future. But this graph of the average number of saves the above pitchers posted by age does show how difficult it is to continue the level of performance Soria has held up in the last three years:

That looks pretty dramatic, but that is not surprising since I cherry picked guys who all were fantastic before turning 27. Some of them are going to flame out and tank the averages. In Beck, Urbina and Sutter, there are precedents for Soria carrying on as an elite closer. Only one of the above examples completely disappeared after turning 27 (Cordero). With a little time and luck, hopefully the Royals can fix whatever is ailing Soria, and he can get back to locking down Royals wins again soon.

Aaron Stilley also writes about Kansas City baseball at his blog here and on the tweeties.

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