Tuesday, July 23, 2024
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Arizona inks Joakim Soria

The disappointing shortened season for the Diamondbacks forced general manager Mike Hazen to twiddle his thumbs as top-tier players welcomed themselves onto the Dodgers and Padres rosters this offseason. Following months of minimal action in the market, Arizona stuck their neck out and nabbed reliever Joakim Soria on a one-year deal. The right hander will earn $3.5 million and incentives worth $500K based on a number of appearances. Entering his 14th season in the bigs, Soria provides much-needed depth to a bullpen ranking dead last on Fangraphs Depth Chart prior to the acquisition.

After a tumultuous first half (and second half too), the Snakes shipped veterans Archie Bradley and Andrew Chafin to Cincinnati and the North Side of Chicago respectively at the August 31st trade deadline in exchange for mid-tier prospects. Arizona also chose not to re-sign the two remaining veteran relievers on their roster, Junior Guerra and Hector Rondon after their subpar seasons. This left Arizona’s bullpen in a volatile condition, mainly composed of younger arms with more to prove, such as Jon Duplantier, Kevin Ginkel, and Taylor Widener. 

Recognized as one of the most consistent relievers in his long career, Soria found ways to remain valuable at 36 years old. Soria’s payday comes after a productive 2020 campaign with Oakland, boasting a 148 ERA+, a best in five seasons. Soria remains a versatile reliever, nailing down 223 career saves. His fastball velocity placed in the 43rd percentile at 92.4 mph in 2020, hardly an anomaly from any other season. He’s never thrown hard, identified by a peak velocity at a mere 93.1 mph in 2016, and has remained around that number since. For the majority of his career, Soria’s pitching profile didn’t classify him as groundball nor a flyball pitcher. From his debut in ’07 through 2017, the righty posted an average of 1.27 GB/ FB. But since 2018, he’s used fastballs to generate contact in the air. Although the adjustment drastically suppressed his whiff and strikeout numbers, he’s been effective through the batted-ball approach.

Joakim Soria Fastball Stats 2017-2020, per Baseball Savant

In his four-pitch arsenal, the slider appears as the most emphasized secondary-pitch going forward. Over the last three seasons, the Mexico native altered his secondaries in his pitch arsenal. His slider usage reached a career-high 20% in the shortened season, used exclusively against RHB’s. Meanwhile, his curveball dwindled down to its lowest usage in his career, along with the smallest vertical difference between his curve and slider. Given his pitch usage and the command issues with his hook in 2020, he seems inclined to rely more on his slider in this upcoming season. Although, I believe Soria and the Diamondbacks will change the approach on his available secondary pitches.

SliderV- Mov vs. Avg (inches)H- Mov vs. Avg (inches)Velocity (mph)Pitch%xBAwOBAO-Swing%Whiff%
Joakim Soria Slider Stats 2018-2020, per Baseball Savant

The shape of his slider has shifted drastically, and its location changed in correspondence the last three seasons. Its shape in 2018 resembled a classic slider- a powerful break steering away from a righty. Its horizontal movement ranked in the top 20 amongst over 300 qualified pitchers, enabling wicked deception. Batters swung at 40% of sliders outside the strike zone, providing a deceptive secondary to his fastball-oriented repertoire. This netted a .173 xBA (expected batting average), 47.3 Whiff%, and a devastating 49% K rate. Its wild break faded the following season, along with the charming whiff numbers.

However, it remained a dynamite pitch, as hitters posted a .150 xBA and .089 wOBA. The success can be attributed to a substantial uptick in velocity, as it gained a whopping 3 mph, averaging 81.5 mph- the highest in a decade. His rousing success assured his confidence entering the 2020 season and he threw more sliders than ever. Things didn’t go as expected in the 60-game season, averaging a velocity of 77.4 mph- an absolute career low. Soria is approaching his age-37 season and a career-low velocity is concerning, especially after logging over 700 innings in the majors.

Although this may not paint a positive picture about his secondaries versus righties, Soria may dust his curveball off the shelf after only using it 5% off the time this past season. His curveball brings consistent above-average spin and solid whiff rates throughout his career. In the rare event a curveball was thrown, he had little idea where it was heading, throwing 42% (8-19) inside the strike zone, and a quarter of them even classified as “waste pitches”. Despite subpar command, the curve itself produced a spin-rate in the 79th percentile in 2020- the highest spinning curve in his entire career. The loopy curve drops a lot more than it breaks. Of 280 qualified pitchers, only 15 exceeded the drop of Soria, and only eight threw slower than Soria.

His curve may be a unique one, but any 71 mph pitch gets hammered if not thrown in the right spot. Since 2017, Soria’s curve generated healthy swings and misses but occasionally gets thrown up in the zone. His breaking pitches no longer have their exceptional sideways movement and now lean towards downwards movement. Regardless of which secondary is emphasized in 2021, he must focus on aiming down instead of away in the zone. If not, the lack of horizontal movement will leave pitches within arms reach for hitters to obliterate. His slider deception has faded to a point where dotting them away in the zone won’t be as deceiving as it once was for batters. He’ll need to refine his pitch mix for the upcoming season. Given his track record in the majors, I trust his ability to do so.

Paul Beckman

Arizona Diamondbacks Writer