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Roster review: Rafael Soriano

Oct 20, 2013, 6:00 AM EDT

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Age on Opening Day 2014: 34

How acquired: Free agent, signed Jan. 2013

MLB service time: 11 years, 57 days

2013 salary+bonuses: $14 million ($7 million is deferred)

Contract status: Signed for $14 million in 2014 ($7 million deferred), $14 million club option for 2015 (guaranteed if Soriano finishes 120 games in 2013-14)

2013 Stats: 68 G, 66.2 IP, 65 H, 24 R, 23 ER, 7 HR, 17 BB, 51 K, 1.230 WHIP, 43 SV, 6 BS, 3-3, 3.11 ERA, 3.65 FIP, 0.5 WAR

Quotable: “This is all about improving the ballclub. This move wasn’t to slight Drew Storen or Tyler Clippard. It was to bring in another quality back-end reliever to make us that much stronger. But the move, I thought, was a good move at the time. And because of the way the contract was structured, it worked for us and we felt good about it.” — GM Mike Rizzo, to 106.7 FM

2013 analysis: A surprise (and quite expensive) offseason addition, Soriano was signed with the premise of fortifying what already was a deep and talented bullpen. On the surface, he did exactly what the Nationals wanted. Soriano recorded 43 saves and put Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard in position to pitch the seventh and eighth innings.

But dig a bit deeper into the numbers, and it becomes clear Soriano wasn’t quite as effective as it appeared upon first glance. He surrendered more hits per nine innings than any other season in his career. He struck out fewer batters per nine innings than any other season in his career. He blew six saves, a career-high. He retired the side in only 20 of his 68 appearances.

Whether Soriano’s addition also had a negative effect on the overall chemistry of the Nationals bullpen remains up for debate. Clippard, though, certainly suggested that was the case after Storen was demoted to Class AAA Syracuse in July, claiming the Soriano signing represented a vote of no confidence in the club’s former closer.

2014 outlook: The Nationals signed Soriano for two years, so he’s back again as closer, hoping to be a bit more consistently effective this time around. To do that, he’s going to have to find a way to miss more bats.

For whatever reason, Soriano recorded far fewer swinging strikes (14 percent) than he had in any previous season since he was a rookie in 2002. He also gave up far more contact (81 percent of all swings) than he had since that rookie campaign. Those aren’t trends you want from a closer.

Is it a matter of location or movement? Soriano did seem to miss up in the zone an awful lot, but he also threw offspeed pitches only 15 percent of the time this year. More variety might be the answer.

  1. davecydell - Oct 20, 2013 at 1:12 PM

    When Sore-y-anus’ shirt tail only comes out when he gets an official MLB save, not a “save” of a tie game or four run lead, this, along with the stats cited by Mark, make it clear Rizzo did not get his money’s worth.

  2. Sonny G 10 - Oct 20, 2013 at 9:59 PM

    i’m not happy with Soriano as our closer, but I guess we’re stuck with him for next year. It’s not good if you have to cringe when your closer comes in. I hope he does better next season, but I’m afraid Rizzo did not get our money’s worth.

  3. dgourds - Oct 21, 2013 at 1:37 AM

    I just don’t buy that he has to be our closer next year. Yes he’s expensive. But the bullpen is THE major weakness of this club. Yes, the bench was bad, but the the bp cost us more games. It will be the difference how far we go. Just ask Deytroit. Rizzo must fix it if we want to achieve our goal–the World Series.

  4. snerdblurter - Oct 21, 2013 at 11:11 AM

    I second the whole save vs. non-save issue with Soriano. That bugged the crap out of me all year. It was like he didnt take being out there seriously unless he had a chance to add another notch to his save column. I gotta imagine I’m not the only one inside or outside of the locker room that felt this way.

    Also, calling out Bryce in SF? Not cool at all. Along with the Storen mess, this guy has really created much more trouble than he’s been worth. Would 100% take it back if we could…

  5. scbilly - Oct 21, 2013 at 1:05 PM

    His 2015 option is tied to the odd metric of finished games (as opposed to saves). How many did he finish in 2013. i.e. how is he progressing toward locking in another $15m payday the season after next?

  6. Section 222 - Oct 21, 2013 at 2:45 PM

    Soriano finished 58 games last year, the most he’s ever finished in a season. I’ll bet Rizzo will instruct the new manager, when the time comes, to make sure he doesn’t finish 62 this year.

    I’d be willing to bet that the whole Untuck thing in save vs. non-save situations is one of those weird baseball superstitions, and the team understands that. Maybe a beat writer can ask that question at some point.

    • snerdblurter - Oct 21, 2013 at 3:28 PM

      222 – agreed that the team would be fine with a superstition like that…. i think my issue was more with his general demeanor in save vs. non-save situations, the fact that he changes his pitching style (stretch vs. windup) and has a remarkably bad track record in non-save situations (though I dont have specific stats to back this up).

      Soriano has even admitted that he doesnt like pitching in non-save spots and doesnt do well:

      http://bronxbaseballdaily.com/2011/04/soriano-says-he-cant-perform-in-non-save-situation/

      Not exactly the confidence level you want to hear coming from your $14M closer. It seems kinda obvious, but maybe if he took the same approach for non-save situations as he did with saves, there would less of a disparity in performance…

      • Section 222 - Oct 21, 2013 at 4:35 PM

        You’re right you don’t have specific stats to back that up. And I don’t think it’s correct. I did this analysis manually, so feel free to check it.

        http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/gl.cgi?id=soriara01&t=p&year=2013

        Soriano appeared in 68 games last year. He had 43 saves and 6 blown saves, so he came into 19 games that were not save situations because the Nats were ahead by more than 3 runs, behind, or tied. In 15 of those 19 games he pitched a scoreless inning (he got the win in 2 of those 15 games.) In only 4 of those games, did he give up one or more runs. (He ended up losing 2 of those games.) So I don’t know if he still thinks he can’t pitch in a non-save situation,but if he does, he’s not correct.

        I completely agree that 6 blown saves is too many. It should be noted, however, that in 3 of the games where he blew a save, the Nats ended up winning the game (Apr. 6, May 17, Aug. 17). In all Soriano had 43 saves plus 15 scoreless appearances that weren’t saves. That contrasts with 6 blown saves and 4 other appearances in which he gave up runs. And the Nats won 5 of those 10 games.

        Just to summarize, I can find only five games out his 68 appearances where Soriano bore responsibility for the loss (May 12, May 21, July 13, July 19, and Aug. 15).

        Just for fun, I did a similar analysis for Craig Kimbrell. He had 68 appearances too, with 50 saves and 4 blown saves, all of which resulted in losses for the Braves. In his 14 non-save situation appearances, he pitched scoreless innings in 13, getting two wins. But he gave up a run in one of those games, and got the loss. So Kimbrel’s failed outings also resulted in 5 Braves losses.

        Sori-haters have at it if you like.

Archives

NL EAST STANDINGS

W L GB
WASHINGTON 77 56 --
ATLANTA 72 65 6.0
MIAMI 68 69 11.0
NEW YORK 64 73 14.0
PHILADELPHIA 62 74 15.5
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FRI: Phillies at Nats, 7:05 p.m.
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