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Soria Hurt? Potential New Royals Closer

Yesterday afternoon, Royals closer Joakim Soria left the game with a sore right elbow. But this doesn’t sound like any sore elbow as a result of just shaking off some spring training rust and he’ll be fine in a couple of days. This appears more ominous. His performance this spring certainly backs up the fact that he has been pitching injured, as he has now allowed 7 runs and 10 hits in just 3 1/3 innings. Of course, it’s a tiny sample size and typically should be ignored. But when elbow soreness is involved, we have to take that performance more seriously.

Check out Soria’s quotes:

“Oh, yeah, I’m worried,” he admitted. “Since I’ve had my Tommy John surgery (in 2003), I’ve never had anything like that. I don’t feel it’s that bad because before the Tommy John surgery, all of my strength went away. This time, it hasn’t.

“So I don’t feel like it’s that.”

The team said he would be reevaluated within the next couple of days, at which point we should have a more definitive diagnosis. Of course, by then it is likely that every potential replacement has already been scooped up in your fantasy league. So let’s run through them and try to figure out who is the likeliest to take over the job if Soria is out for an extended period of time.

Greg Holland

Holland was utterly dominant last season during his first full year in the majors. Though he seemed to enjoy great fortune in all three luck metrics, his SIERA of 2.22 still suggests he was fantastic. That strikeout rate of over 11 per nine innings was backed up by a ridiculous 16.6% SwStk% and he posted an identical K/9 in a small sample in 2010. His control has been an issue in the past, but his F-Strike% was right at the league average, so he may not see that much regression. Assuming he can keep up that strikeout rate, and all the evidence points to this being likely, than he should be more than capable of holding down the closer role. Also, he posted the highest non-Soria gmLI of all the bullpenners last year, so Yost trusted him most, which is important.

Jonathan Broxton

He’s baaaack! Since undergoing elbow surgery of his own last year, Broxton has pitched two innings so far, striking out three and walking one. I haven’t found any reports about his velocity, aside from this unhelpful quote from Yost from the same article linked to above:

“I like what I see,” Yost said. “He’s a guy who has tremendous stuff, and he commands the ball down. You can see how he was an All-Star closer in years past. He’s a power pitcher with command.”

I guess that’s better than something negative, but it just sounds like fluff to me, so it is tough to get too excited about Broxton’s health and potential to rebound. We know he was great when healthy, never posting a SIERA mark above 3.00 in a full season. I think it would be a surprise if he’s handed the closing role out of the gate. If anything, I would guess the Royals ease him back into relief work and if he shows that he is healthy again and his stuff and command have returned, consider moving him into the closer role.

Aaron Crow

Crow was supposed to move into the rotation and make the transition during the spring. However, Danny Duffy has learned a cutter and got rave reviews after his spring debut, so he may now be the favorite to land the fifth slot in the rotation. That would presumably push Crow back into the bullpen, where he was right behind Holland in gmLI last season. Crow posted an excellent strikeout rate last year to go along with a ground ball rate above 50%, but struggled with his control. All told though, he posted a solid 3.27 SIERA, suggesting he does have good enough skills to hold onto the closer job.

If I were a Soria owner, I’d be supremely worried at the moment. Last season’s first half suggested he was hurt and would have made this elbow injury no surprise, but his skills rebounded in the second half making it more likely that this is a new injury. Either way, it’s time to speculate on replacements, though it may be too late by the time you read this article! I think Holland should be the favorite, while Crow is the dark horse. I truly don’t think they will throw Broxton right into the closer role after just returning from surgery. The good news is that while Holland may already be picked up by teams, Crow is a less obvious candidate and may still be available.