On Sunday, I looked at the struggles of Kansas City closer Joakim Soria after he blew his fourth save chance of the season.
On Monday, Soria blew up again, giving up three runs in the ninth inning as Anaheim came back to beat the Royals 9-8. And now, at least in the short-term, he will no longer be the man Kansas City calls upon to seal the deal in the ninth inning.
Following Monday’s loss, Royal manager Ned Yost said that he would give Soria a break while the two-time All-Star finds his groove, and in the interim rookie Aaron Crow would assume the closing duties.
After his junior season at the University of Missouri, Crow was selected by the Washington Nationals with the ninth overall pick in the 2008 amateur draft, but did not sign and instead signed with the Fort Worth Cats, an independent league team. Crow went back into the draft the next year, where he was taken in the first round again, this time with the 12th overall pick, by the Royals.
Crow was a starting pitcher in college and all 29 of his appearances last season were as a starter. He did not pitch well in his time split between the Royals High-A and Double-A affiliates, finishing with a 5.73 earned-run average in 163.1 innings of work.
That’s why it was so surprising when Crow made the Royals’ opening-day roster as a reliever. But so far it’s been a great move, as the 24-year-old right-hander has given up just four earned runs in 22 innings of work, good for a 1.33 ERA. He is also striking out nearly one batter per inning.
But the underlying statistics tell a different tale. Opponents only have a .246 batting average on balls in play (BABIP), whereas the average BABIP is usually between .290-.300. Now, BABIP can be a tricky statistic that fluctuates greatly from season to season, especially for pitchers since they have much less control over the statistic than hitters. But a regression to the mean is more likely than not for Crow.
Crow also is likely to see his strand rate decrease. Strand rate, also known as left on base percentage, is the percentage of batters that reach base against a pitcher who don’t score. The average strand rate is about 72 percent. Crow currently has a strand rate over 95 percent.
My guess of how this plays out: Crow gets a few opportunities in the closer role as Soria gets mop-up duty to get his stuff back. Crow struggles in the role and within two weeks Soria is closing again.
And truthfully I think that’s what the Royals want, since Soria at his best is a better pitcher than Crow. In fact, Soria at his best is a better pitcher than almost every closer in the game.
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Written by Ryan Riordan