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What to Expect: Joakim Soria’s Role with the Brewers

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Figuring out where the Brewers’ newest impact reliever fits into the bullpen

MLB: Chicago White Sox at Seattle Mariners
What will Joakim Soria’s role be in Milwaukee?
Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

The price to acquire righty reliever Joakim Soria wasn’t too high — a true lottery ticket in Wilber Perez and a former first round pick whose potential has been more intriguing than his results. Milwaukee has an experienced, effective relief pitcher with very good control and closing chops, adding depth to an already deep pen that is also getting back Matt Albers.

The timing is good. Two of Milwaukee’s ‘A’ relievers have looked a bit more human lately; over the past month, Jeremy Jeffress hasn’t been bad, just a step or two below his performance to start to the season. His WHIP is up to 1.36 after a first half number of below one.

Corey Knebel has been even iffier over the last month. with a WHIP of 1.64 over the same timeframe . He has only blown one save, but each outing has felt like an adventure. Craig Counsell tells us that Soria will be “another out-getter”, of course, but the depth of another potential closer is very welcome.

Soria’s WHIP over the last 10 games has been 1.45, with five walks in 9.2 innings, but he only has 10 walks on the entire year and has 49 strikeouts in 38.2 innings. Before the break his WHIP was at 1.17, and opponents were hitting .232 against him.

There are a few numbers that could be concern for Soria as he moves to Miller Park, though: his groundball % has fallen to 32.4% from a career 44.2%, while line drives/flyballs are up to 67.5%.

The good news is so far those balls in the air aren’t carrying out of the park. His HR/FB rate is down to 4.4% (career 8.4%), and soft hit balls are up to 28.8% (career 20.2%). All of this comes with the caveat of a small sample size, but at least on the surface it looks like Milwaukee has added another good arm to a good bullpen, and one that’s produced a lot of clean innings this year.

So, will Soria end up closing games? There will hopefully be occasions where Knebel has successfully closed a couple of games in a row and Jeffress and Hader were used as well, so the ‘B’ group (now including Soria, Dan Jennings, Albers, and Corbin Burnes) will be needed. Soria looks like the obvious choice to close in those situations. And if Knebel, Jeffress or Hader falter at all going forward, another reliever with extensive closing experience is a very welcome addition.

Soria could be a part of the bullpen next year, too, with a mutual option of $10 million or a buyout of $1 million. If forced, I’d guess the Brewers would use the buy-out rather than pay a 35 year old relief pitcher $10 million, but if he is effective and healthy over the next three months (and hopefully into the post season), he could be back.

The bullpen seems set, other than the very back end shuffle between the Springs (AAA Colorado Springs) and the big club. A decreased workload for Jacob Barnes seems likely, and Taylor Williams hasn’t been sharp since the break, so his usage in higher leverage situations may decrease. Barnes might even go back to AAA to get regular work.

Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs and mlb.com