Detroit Tigers: Joakim Soria isn’t getting swings and misses


May 3, 2015; Kansas City, MO, USA; Detroit Tigers pitcher Joakim Soria (38) delivers a pitch against the Kansas City Royals during the ninth inning at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

Detroit Tigers closer Joakim Soria is recording outs, preventing runs, and recording saves — which is exactly what teams and fans of those same teams want their closers to do — but how Soria is going about recording those outs is very different than how he has recorded outs at any other point in his career.

Here’s a quick look at three of Soria’s component statistics for his career compare to those same components thus far in 2015.


For further context, American League relievers as a group combined to post a 8.3 K/9, 3.3 BB/9, and 0.8 HR/9 line in 2014.

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Per-nine-inning statistics are relatively crude, but we don’t need extreme precision to contrast the two lines. The home run rate is basically identical, he’s been even more stingy with free passes than usual, but the big change is in strikeout rate. Although never blessed with extreme velocity — Soria’s average fastball velocity has never topped 91.7 mph in any season — he’s always been one to maintain an above-average strikeout rate. But things have been different this year.

Entering Monday, 56 relievers in the American League had completed ten or more innings of work. Soria ranked 49th out of those 56 in strikeout rate. His low walk and average-or-better home run rate should allow him to continue being an effective enough reliever even if the strikeout rate doesn’t improve, but he probably can’t be expected to continue being a dominant reliever unless he can punch out a few more batters.

We’re still relatively early in the season — so hard strikeout numbers mean less than they otherwise would — but what’s concerning is that Soria’s swinging strike rate has also dropped precipitously, suggesting that batters aren’t being fooled.

According to Pitch f/x data, Soria has generated a 10.4% career swinging strike rate (since the pitch tracking system was implemented in 2007), and he hasn’t fallen below 9.1% in any single season. This year, however, that rate has fallen to just 4.0% — less than half any previous season’s total.

The interesting thing is that this isn’t exactly new to just this season. Last year with the Texas Rangers he was getting a swinging strike rate of 10.9%. After he was traded to Detroit it fell to 6.4% for the rest of the season (his strikeout rate dropped accordingly as well, from 11.3 K/9 to 4.9 K/9).

I have no idea if pitching coach Jeff Jones or anyone else in the Tigers organization is asking him to do something different with either his pitches or mix than he’s done in the past — or if it’s simply a coincidence — but Soria’s strikeout and swinging strike numbers look a lot different with Detroit than they did with either Texas or Kansas City before that.

Perhaps the rates will jump back in line with previous norms, we can’t say for sure, but for now it looks like a very curious development to follow.

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