It's almost the end of June. You probably know that, as you are reading this on either a phone or a computer, and either of those devices will readily provide the date, and also because you are a human person who has been alive for most or all of this year, and can gauge how much of the year has gone. But it is a handy little intro to what I want to say next, so I think it was worth pointing out what I did - it's almost the end of June.
At this point in the season, even the most laggardly of leagues has settled into something of a routine. Save for streaming pitchers, injury replacements, and the occasional Wil Myers-es of the world, rosters are reasonably static. Sure, maybe Eric Young Jr. will have a hot week or something, and his ownership numbers will shift, but by and large, rosters have reached a sort of stasis.
This is especially true for the handcuffs. Where earlier in the season you might not know if Luke Gregerson or Dale Thayer would back up Huston Street, or if Kyuji Fujikawa or James Russell would take over for Carlos Marmol (surprise! Neither one), by now, almost the end of June, you know the guys who have the jobs, and you know the guys who are the odds-on favorites to get the jobs if the guys who have the jobs lose the jobs.
I came into this week thinking it was high time to talk about a good, under-the-radar handcuff for a closer. The only problem is, like I said, who's under the radar? Jason Grilli has struggled a bit of late, but Mark Melancon is already owned in any league where he might be useful. Drew Storen or Tyler Clippard? Heck, even Ryan Madson is still owned in 16% of leagues, and he's had more hang-ups than a telemarketer (zing! I'm on fire) this year.
No, I could only find one potential closer handcuff who has a track record while also being seriously unowned. I will grant that this guy is a heck of a long shot, but this time of year, you want to turn your eyes to the long shots, you know? Sometimes it's the long shots that win leagues for you, and this guy, with 1% ownership in Yahoo, is a long shot.
Anyway, I'm talking about Joakim Soria.
From 2007 to 2010, Soria was a heck of a pitcher for the Royals, with 132 saves in 145 opportunities, better than 4 strikeouts per walk, and a four-year WHIP under 1.0. While his FIP and xFIP were always higher than his ERA, nothing in his stats suggested he was getting particularly lucky.
No, if you want a season that seems to indicate luck playing a role in Soria's results, it would be 2011, which - not coincidentally - is his worst season. His ERA rose to 4.03 (it had never before been above 3), and he blew more saves than the preceding two years combined. But that year, his BABIP was .312, which was a career high, his HR/FB rate rose above 10% for the first time. Soria's FIP and xFIP, while at career highs, were lower than his ERA. I will concede that it was his worst season if you will concede that it wasn't quite so obviously his worst season as it might have looked at first blush.
And then Soria vanished. He had Tommy John surgery last April, knocking his 2012 season away, the Royals declined his option amid a sea of Greg Holland and Tim Collins and Aaron Crow, and Soria signed a two-year deal with the Rangers. He has had some setbacks of his own as he works his way back into pitching shape, but has finally gone out on a rehab assignment, and is approaching his return. But I mean "disappeared," as in "there aren't any action shots of him in a Rangers uniform, so I had to use a picture of him and his wife at the All-Star Game."
Joe Nathan is a good closer. Heck, if you want guys who are "real," "established," "proven" closers, Mariano Rivera might be the only guy more closer-y than Nathan. Sure, Jonathan Papelbon, Craig Kimbrel, whatever. I just mean guys who have done it a while, and it's not an important point anyway. I own David Robertson in some leagues, just in case something happens to Rivera. At this point in his career, Nathan isn't going to regularly pitch several days in a row. Also, we've all seen Papelbon's struggles lately. None of these guys is immune to a tough time.
If Nathan struggles or gets hurt, Soria is the likely replacement. Tanner Scheppers and Robbie Ross have had the best results in the Texas bullpen, but neither is a prototypical closer, and Ron Washington is nothing if not unimaginative. If he needs a new closer, he'll use the guy who has been a closer before.
Odds are Soria returns, and he's decent, and he gets some holds and only the occasional "Nathan's tired" save. In a shallow league, he's likely worth ignoring altogether. But if you are in a super-deep and/or holds league, your league's roster moves might have leveled off by now. There aren't necessarily a bunch of guys out there to go grab. Soria is out there, and there's a chance he can make a difference later on. Give him a look.
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