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The Return of Joakim Soria

If nothing else, Joakim Soria‘s 2011 season has proven the true volatility of the closer position. After some early struggles; which led to five blown saves and a brief demotion, Soria appears to have returned to form. While it’s difficult to evaluate his performance due to his tiny innings sample, there appears to be some evidence that suggests Soria may have truly returned to his former level of dominance. Still, if Soria slips up again, Aaron Crow is still waiting in the wings to reclaim the closer job. Does Soria have what it takes to permanently keep the job this time?

A little less than a month ago, David Golebiewski chronicled Soria’s struggles as they were unfolding. David pointed out two main issues plaguing Soria — his lack of velocity, and his increased usage of a cutter. It’s very likely that those two problems were strongly related as well. These issues may have have explained Soria’s poor season, but it was unclear how (or if) he would recover.

It only took five innings for Ned Yost to decide Soria had figured everything out. There was nothing particularly special about those five innings — Soria didn’t allow any hits, but he only struck out one batter over that period. Even though Aaron Crow pitched effectively over that time period, Soria reclaimed his job. Since then, Soria has been lights out. Even though it’s only been seven innings, it looks like there are some legitimate reasons to believe Soria has returned to form.

A look a Soria’s Pitch FX game logs reveals that he may be an avid FanGraphs reader. Soria appears to have scrapped his cutter since returning to the closer role — relying far more on his normal fastball. As a result, his overall fastball velocity has increased as well. This could be a result of Soria regaining his velocity as the season progresses, it could be a mechanical change, or it could be the fact that he’s throwing fewer cutters — which are sometime wrongly classified by Pitch FX.

Soria’s performance over that period has been nothing short of dominant. In seven innings, Soria has given up only four hits while striking out eleven batters. He’s also racked up five saves over that period — with zero blown saves. Soria’s new approach seems to have unleashed vintage Soria once again. Owners who held Soria throughout his demotion have been greatly rewarded for their patience at this point — however brief it may have been.

Soria’s struggles seem to have been based on introducing a new pitch this season. While we’ve seen other pitchers learn a cutter and experience a rebirth, Soria had no reason to tinker with his approach. Based on his past performance, Soria was viewed as one of the top — if not the top — closers in fantasy baseball. His demotion once again proved the true volatility of the closer position, but his rebirth also proves that talent will often overcome struggles. It may have only taken a handful of innings, but it appears the old Joakim Soria is back. Now it’s time for him to play himself back up to his draft position.