Home > Joakim Soria, Kansas City Royals, MLB > Hillman’s use of Soria Reeks of Fear

Hillman’s use of Soria Reeks of Fear

The Kansas City Royals are, pending today’s result, 0-5 against the Tampa Bay Rays this season.  That’s not all that surprising, in itself.  But what if I told you that, the Royals led three of those games at the end of seven innings?

The Royals have taken one run leads into each of the last three matchups with the reigning AL Champs, and they’ve blown saves all three times.  Most significantly, they haven’t been able to get the game to closer Joakim Soria, who was available to pitch in all three games.

Let’s assume that Soriawould have started the ninth inning in any situation where the team had a lead.  That might have been a stretch in the first game (June 3), becuase he would have pitched back to back days after coming off the DL.  It’s reasonable to expect that from the highest payed player in the bullpen, two consecutive pitching days, but you could make an argument that it’s not worth the potential risk.

Anyway, how often should a team be expected to get to the ninthinning witha lead when taking a one run lead into the eighth?  At least two out of three times is reasonable, no, the status quo.  It’s expected that most games that get that far should be converted into saves by the closer.  But you could argue that the Royals should actually be better than the status quo given the tool of Joakim Soria in the bullpen.

Blame for the failures of the team in this situation falls on both the players who are actually blowing the save (Jamey Wright, Juan Cruz, John Bale), but also on gross bullpen mismanagement by Royals manager Trey Hillman.  In defense of Hillman, he’s really got only three types of setup men to rely on: those who are posting out of character high home run rates, and those who are posting high home run rates that are perfectly in character, and those who walk so many batters that they can’t possibly be considered in these setup situations.

So, we’ve established that Hillman has his hands tied.  But we also know that if the problem is getting the game to Soria, the manager can choose to stretch his best reliever up to two innings to convert these close losses into wins.  It’s at least the logical conclusion for trying to convert those close games into wins.

Possible reasons that would prevent the manager from stretching his closer to a multi-inning role include the fact that it could limit options for pitching him in consecutive days, the need the establish a trust in the other members of his bullpen, and the decision to mitigate the risk of injury, choosing instead to pitch the player in a very standard role.  The motif that connects all these reasons: fear.

Fear of losing one’s job, of mortgaging the future for a win here or there, of losing the trust of the rest of the bullpen, of potentially limiting his options tomorrow.  Fear of failure, even if the right decision is made.

All those are legitimate reasons to avoid stretching your best reliever to his limits in order to convert those blown saves into saves.  But, in my opinion, they are also fears that are ignored by the best managers.  The best realize that their actions may have long term consequences, and make the decision in the best interest of the team anyway.  Trey Hillman may very well be treating 2009 as a lost season for his Royals, but if in a meaningless season, he’s too fearful of potential consequences to make the right decision, why would he be more likely to make the best decision in a situation with more scrutiny?

Instead of three potential wins, the Royals lost three games, and more embarrassingly, Soria did not pitch in any of them.  Not even in mop up.  Revisionist history might be screwing the Royals over here, and there’s nothing to suggest that if they once again fail to make the right decision, that the much-maligned bullpen won’t get it to Soria this time.  Anything can happen in baseball.

As I write this, the Royals currently lead the Rays by a score of 3-2 in the middle of the 7th inning.  It’s likely that the team, once again, will take a one-run lead into the eighth inning against the Rays for a 4th straight game.  And it’s probable that if they don’t learn from their past mistakes, they will once again lose to the Rays.  Ironically, it’s a different kind of fear that might save them: the fear of making the same mistake three days in a row.

But the damage has already been done.  The Royals play every game on the margins, and can not afford to blow as many saves as they do.  They need to treat every late inning lead like they are protecting it in the World Series, and only then will the team be properly managed.

UPDATED:  0-6.  Still no Soria.  What a crappy team.

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  1. August 17, 2009 at 3:34 pm

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