I often find myself having a hard time evaluating relief pitchers, whose production can significantly vary from year to year. They’re not like starters, who you can get 150-plus innings of data from, or hitters who can give you 600-plus plate appearances. Instead, GM’s and managers often have just 60 innings to base offseason/roster decisions on when it comes to relievers, and these decisions can easily backfire due to small sample sizes. It’s tough to find relievers you can completely trust.
Enter Joakim Soria, the most consistent reliever on the free agent market. Soria’s been dominant since 2007, racking up 223 saves while pitching to the tune of a 3.01 ERA and 3.06 FIP. His consistency shows in his FIP, which has eclipsed 4.00 just once, and his strikeouts per nine innings, which has never dipped below 8.5. The veteran also has experience in multiple roles within a bullpen, closing games frequently earlier in his career, and working as a set-up man more recently. He’s definitely proven able to perform no matter when his number is called.
At the same time, Soria does not come without red flags. Age is always a potential concern, and he turns 37 this season. For a pitcher who throws his fastball more than 60% of the time, wear and tear starting to affect velocity can be a disaster. In addition, this past year, Soria’s walk rate and fly-ball rate were the second highest and highest rates of his career, respectively. Free passes and fly-balls are the opposite of what you want out of the bullpen, particularly late in games in American League East parks.
However, despite these red flags, Soria was awesome in 2020. He threw just 22 1⁄3 innings due to the shortened season, but still accumulated 0.5 fWAR and a 2.97 FIP. In fact, his FIP was better than that of guys like Kenley Jansen and Pete Fairbanks. Statcast backs up Soria’s impressive year with an expected ERA of 2.76, landing him in the top 8% of the league. Soria potentially losing steam on his fastball does not concern me either. Since 2015, his fastball velocity has never fallen below 92.8 mph or reached above 93.3 mph. His four-seamer has been as reliable as they come, despite the worries about age. Outside of an unforeseen circumstance, I’d expect this trend to continue.
With Soria’s solid showing in 2020 and his unique consistency, he makes for a perfect back-of-the-bullpen veteran arm. He’s a low ceiling, high floor kind of guy, and can provide stability in a usually volatile Red Sox ‘pen. FanGraphs estimates Soria will sign for 1-year, $7-million, which is exactly the kind of low-risk deal the Sox should be looking for.