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2021 Arizona Diamondbacks Reviews, #35: Joakim Soria

Arizona was the penultimate stop for the retirement train.

MLB: Pittsburgh Pirates at Arizona Diamondbacks Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports
  • Rating: 3.25
  • Age: 37
  • 2021 Stats: 31 G, 29.1 IP, 4.30 ERA, 3.75 FIP, 1.330 WHIP, 31:8 K/BB, 100 ERA+, 0.0 bWar
  • 2021 Earnings: $3,500,000 (guaranteed 1 year contract)
  • 2022 Status: announced retirement on November 11, 2021.

Introduction

What you might not know from Joakim Soria is that he is originally an international draftee of the Los Angeles Dodgers, with whom he signed back in 2002. He pitched a couple of innings for them at 18 years of age in the Rookie leagues until disaster struck and the young Mexican needed to undergo TJ surgery, in 2003.

He didn’t return to the States, apparently cut by the Dodgers, and it seems to have been quite a long way back for Soria because he doesn’t appear on the stats pages until 2005. That is when he makes his debut in the LMB, unaffiliated Triple A, for the Diablos Rojos, perhaps helped by the team deciding to play that season with only Mexican born players to honour their 65th anniversary. At 21 years of age he has an interesting debut and facing much older competition, MLB teams get sight of him again. A couple of months into the 2006 season the San Diego Padres decide to pull the trigger on the righty and he pitches 11 innings in Class A.

Because of the contract he signed back in 2002 with the Dodgers, Soria is Rule 5 eligible, but without any experience above Class A it is a big surprise that the Kansas City Royals pick Joakim Soria that off-season in the Rule 5 draft. Soria immediately becomes a valuable member of the Royals’ bullpen in 2007 and pitches himself into the closer role.

Disaster strikes again for Joakim Soria in April 2012 when he needs to undergo his second TJ surgery. He misses the entire 2012 and 2013 seasons and by the end of that final season he becomes a free agent.

He bounces back and from 2014 until 2020 becomes yet again an important member of the reliever corps of the Texas Rangers, Detroit Tigers, Pittsburgh Pirates, Kansas City Royals, Chicago White Sox, Milwaukee Brewers and, finally, Oakland A’s. He becomes a free agent end 2020.

In February 2021 the Diamondbacks sign Joakim Soria to a one-year deal. Michael McDermott and Jim McLennan write all you need to know at that moment, with the biggest take-away that it is a typical Mike Hazen move:

If there is a signature move of the Arizona front-office in the Mike Hazen era, it’s probably this. More or less, you sign a veteran reliever for one year, with closer experience, who comes relatively cheaply since they aren’t an incumbent in that role.

There is some concern:

The biggest concern for the D-backs is they are adding a 36-year-old reliever who does have some declining peripherals and could be exposed if his ability to suppress contact wanes.

A walk rate of 4.0 per nine innings was his highest since 2013, and he dipped below 10 K’s per nine for the only time in the past four seasons. His low ERA was mostly due to success keeping the ball in the park, allowing only one home-run over 22.1 innings of work.

2021 review

Coming out of Spring Training, where the player appeared in just 5 games, Soria was either part of a closer-committee or seen as set-up man for Chris Devenski, who initially seemed to have locked down the closer job. As such he made an unimpressive debut for the Diamondbacks against San Diego on April 4, walking two and striking out none. Immediately afterwards the Mexican was placed on the IL and didn’t return until May.

His return from the IL in May wasn’t a soft landing as he was immediately hit hard by the Miami Marlins in a couple of games, but after that Soria settled down and found more or less his groove. His numbers were pretty much in line with the performance he had for the Oakland A’s.

Soria had 24 scoreless appearances for the Diamondbacks, although he was hit hard in 5 of the other 7 where he gave up multiple runs. But he eventually got the closer job in Arizona and with 6 saves is actually listed by baseball reference as the Diamondbacks’ main closer. The steady though unspectacular performance made him an interesting option for any contending team and therefore it wasn’t a surprise that he was traded to the Blue Jays at the end of July with Toronto taking over the remainder of the contract.

The Diamondbacks got two prospects in return, but the Blue Jays didn’t get what they had hoped for. Soria immediately dealt with a finger injury and eventually struggled to a 7.88 ERA before being placed on the COVID-IL list from which he didn’t return.

2022 outlook

It was the 11th of November when the player’s agent announced that Soria had decided to retire from baseball. That brings an end to 14 years of relief pitching in the MLB during which he achieved a 3.11 ERA (137 ERA+), 1.132 WHIP, 831 strikeouts and 229 saves. All in all enough for an 18.7 bWAR. That won’t get him into the Hall of Fame, of course, but he ranks top 50 amongst all time save leaders: proof of a great baseball career.