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Roster preview: Rafael Soriano

Feb 1, 2014, 1:31 PM EDT

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Age on Opening Day 2014: 34

How acquired: Signed as free agent, Jan. 2013

2014 salary: $11 million

2013 Stats: 68 G, 58 GF, 43 SV, 49 SVO, 66.2 IP, 65 H, 24 R, 23 ER, 7 HR, 17 BB, 51 K, 1.230 WHIP, 3-3, 3.11 ERA, 3.65 FIP, 0.5 WAR

2014 storyline: Rafael Soriano’s final numbers in 2013 were strong, his 43 saves were about what the Nationals hoped from him in the first year of his free agent deal. A closer look, however, showed Soriano was anything but reliable in the ninth inning as he blew a career-high six saves and labored through many of the games he closed.

Soriano should get a chance to show his true worth in 2014, as the Nationals expect to be back as playoff contenders. Last season presented very few high pressure games for Soriano as the Nats were never truly in the heat of a pennant race. How will Soriano fare if/when the Nationals are, say, battling the Braves late in the season for the division? He’s a proven MLB closer, but last year suggested his performance could be something to watch closely as the 2014 season unfolds. He also has a $15 million vesting option for 2015 if he finishes 62 games, so keep an eye on that.

Best-case scenario: It’s unlikely Soriano will surpass his 43-save total from 2013, but the Nationals would like to see him be a little more convincing as he closes out games. The best-case scenario would be Soriano saving around 40 while blowing three or less opportunities, all the while holding an ERA under 3.00. Ideally, Soriano is the shutdown closer the Nats envisioned when they signed him, and helps put them over the top in the playoffs. Soriano pitching clean innings as part of a Nationals’ playoff run would be the dream scenario, as signing him was a direct response to Drew Storen’s failings in 2012.

Worst-case scenario: The Nationals have a capable backup in Storen, as the right-hander also has a 43-save season under his belt. But, if Soriano gets injured, the bullpen all of a sudden looks a little thin. Storen can close and Tyler Clippard is as good a setup man as they come, but what if Storen struggles? Behind Storen would likely be Clippard and the Nationals like him just where he’s at. It’s an interesting situation, in many ways Storen is the perfect insurance policy, yet there remain questions about his reliability.

Most-likely scenario: The most likely scenario is probably the best-case I laid out above. Soriano should get plenty of opportunities this season to secure saves, and there’s no reason to think he will hold the Nats back from making the playoffs. Look for him to save around 40 games, but finish less than 62. The Nationals will likely use Storen here and there to avoid Soriano’s vesting option, as he’s owed a lot of money. It could also give Storen a chance to recapture the job for the following season.

  1. Faraz Shaikh - Feb 1, 2014 at 1:36 PM

    someone here was betting that Brown will be up with A’s before Goodwin with Nationals or something, right? well, you lost that bet sir. brown has signed with red sox.

    • Section 222 - Feb 1, 2014 at 1:40 PM

      I owe you a brew Faraz! Thankfully, the new NIDO spreadsheet is open for business.

      • Faraz Shaikh - Feb 1, 2014 at 6:05 PM

        Yay first one this year!

    • Joe Seamhead - Feb 1, 2014 at 8:19 PM

      No, it was me and I said I’d bet a beer that Billy Burns plays for the A’s before Goodwin plays for the Nats. Corey Brown was not in the conversation. The beer is still on the virtual board!

  2. Section 222 - Feb 1, 2014 at 1:37 PM

    Corey Brown to the Red Sox on a minor league deal.

  3. Theophilus T.S. - Feb 1, 2014 at 1:43 PM

    Given the Red Sox choices in CF, the “majors before Goodwin” wager might still be a good bet. Think of all the time Darnell MacDonald spent in Boston. So there’s precedent. What works against Brown is he is left-handed.

  4. Theophilus T.S. - Feb 1, 2014 at 2:01 PM

    Maybe the Nats’ pampered starters will grow up and start throwing complete games more than once a month. Otherwise, if the Nats are to make the playoffs, or come close, someone — whether it’s Soriano, Storen or Clippard — is going to have save 50 games, or more. For the Nats to win, Soriano has to exceed Mark’s “best-case” scenario. Or Storen has to spot for him on more than an occasional basis and pilfer 10-12 saves of his own. In Soriano’s defense (mild), Johnson forced him to pitch three consecutive days on several occasions, and more than one inning a couple of other times, and he was markedly more wobbly when that happened. Blevins should mean fewer occasions when Soriano needs to get more than three outs. But I hope Williams will keep him refreshed for more reasons than just the option, and won’t hesitate to sit him down for a week if he starts filling the bases with walks or allowing the opposition to crawl back into games.

  5. Eugene in Oregon - Feb 1, 2014 at 2:05 PM

    If I’m not mistaken, the MLB record for saves in a season is 62. I’m not predicting this, but if Rafael Soriano tied that record (and you’d assume there would be a few blown opportunities in there, as well), would folks be okay with his contract vesting? Just a little hypothetical on a pleasant Saturday morning…

    • zmunchkin - Feb 1, 2014 at 3:24 PM

      Eugene, the vesting option is finishing 62 games, not 62 saves.

      • Eugene in Oregon - Feb 1, 2014 at 4:14 PM

        Right. But, by definition, to get a save you have to finish the game.

  6. Section 222 - Feb 1, 2014 at 3:27 PM

    Theo, you post on this topic a lot, and I agree that the Nats’ pitchers need to go deeper into games for the team to be successful. But if your usual hobby horse is about wanting them to pitch complete games, as opposed to consistently go 7 innings, you’re living in a past that will never return. No one has starters who are consistently pitching complete games any more. Clayton Kershaw, the consensus best pitcher in the game pitched 236 innins last year. Guess how many CGs he had?

    Three.

    In addition, the number of saves that a team has (or needs) has nothing to do with how deep their pitchers go into games. Everyone goes to their bullpen at some point, whether it’s the 6th, 7th, 8th, or 9th. The number of saves that a team has is completely dependent on how good their offense is — i.e., are they ahead by more than 3 runs going into the 9th. So there is no reason that Nats will need over 50 saves next year, if their offense improves. The Red Sox won 97 games last year, and had only 33 saves. The Tigers had 93 wins, and only 39 saves.

    Soriano is well tread ground here. I’m more of a supporter than most. I like his demeanor, his workmanlike attitude, and his quirks. He didn’t have a good season last year, but it wasn’t horrible either. He was a middle of the road closer I’d say. MLB Network did its Top Ten Relievers show recently, and not surprisingly he didn’t make anyone’s list. But there are several guys on the lists that I’d prefer Soriano too, any day of the week — Papelbon and Jim Johnson, to start.

    I’ve always thought it was unfair to portray Soriano as “often laboring through innings,” as Mark puts it, and as some here often said during the season. I think we’d all agree that giving up one hit or walk in an inning is not “laboring.” That would be a WHIP of 1.00 if you could do it all the time. No one is going to be perfect, not even Kimbrell or Chapman or Uehara. Last year, Soriano appeared in save situations 49 times. In 32 of those games he pitched to only 3 or 4 batters. In 12 more, he pitched to 5 batters and got the save. I guess that’s laboring, but it could be worse.

    • Theophilus T.S. - Feb 1, 2014 at 4:08 PM

      When a guy leaves after six — which seems typical around here — three more guys have to pitch to get to the end of the game and one other guy probably has to get up and throw. Two days of that and the best part of your BP is burned and after three days probably all of the good parts are cooked. By September everybody’s getting wobbly (e.g., Clippard in 2012). Under those circumstances is it to much to ask for a CG more than once in a blue moon? The Nats got 2 CG last year from guys with fewer than two Ns in their name. Just because a CG is rare doesn’t mean it isn’t a good thing — or that ptichers are incapable of it. Zimmermann did it four times. Does that mean he’s a freak? And that the other starters are less capable? Or that all those innings the others didn’t pitch weren’t important?

      Johnson’s vaunted “A” and “B” bullpens never materialized. The overuse of key members of the BP takes a toll. Cripes, Storen had 68 appearances last year even without pitching well for most of and spending half a month in Syracuse.

      • Section 222 - Feb 1, 2014 at 4:37 PM

        I agree on the A and B bullpens. It’s great idea, but you need everyone on the staff to be good enough to be relied on when we’re ahead. We didn’t have that last year, and it hurt.

        I also agree that our starters need to be able to go more than 6 innings. Doing that would really help the bullpen, especially since every now and then a starter is going to have a bad day and leave after 3 or 4 innings. But the antidote to overworking the bullpen is starters consistently going 7 innings, not hoping for more complete games. In this era of pitch counts no manager worth his salt is going to keep our still young starters out there for more than 120 pitches.

        In JZnn’s four complete games, he threw 103, 91, 85, and 107 pitches. When Gio and Stras have the kind of command JZnn has, they’ll pitch more CGs too. But right now, they don’t. JZnn averaged 96 pitches in his 32 starts last year and went 216 innings. Stras averaged 95 pitches in his 30 starts but only pitched a total of 183 innings. Gio averaged 107 pitches in 32 starts and pitched 195 innings. That’s the difference.

      • unkyd59 - Feb 1, 2014 at 6:24 PM

        Once again, Dueces makes my point, this time, concerning offense. Two things happen when we put 5-6 runs, without waiting until the late innings to do it. The pitchers should throw more strikes, staying aggressive, resisting the temptation to nibble, ulitimatly throwing fewer pitches, and more innings. This leads to the second thing… Fewer save opportunities.

  7. wfostrum - Feb 1, 2014 at 3:59 PM

    Does anyone know if Soriano’s vesting option includes playoff games? Obviously, at that point, no one would be too worried about it, but even one long playoff series would be very likely to put him over 62 games finished.

  8. Theophilus T.S. - Feb 1, 2014 at 4:26 PM

    About Soriano’s “laboring,” I’m not concerned with one base runner per IP, and probably not w/ 1.230. I spent a lot of games watching Randy Myers and was sort of numbed to the numbers of runners he put on. There are subtle differences w/ Soriano, including that in save situations — which by definition are “unsafe” innings — there were too many runners OB w/ less than two outs, Soriano throws a lot of pitches that turn into line drives, and he had a tendency to give up runs in bunches. I still hold to the theory that Johnson didn’t spell him enough (or thought he didn’t have anyone to spell him with) but — without being an upper echelon closer — he’s still the most logical choice to close this season.

  9. peewilly - Feb 2, 2014 at 1:11 PM

    I’d just like to see more consistency out of Soriano in non-save situations. His attitude was completely different, even down to his un-tuck ending. For $11m at least five an honest effort every time out.

    • peewilly - Feb 2, 2014 at 1:13 PM

      Sorry….should be “give” an honest effort.

  10. senators5 - Feb 2, 2014 at 4:23 PM

    Effort aside, the good closer..no the great closer either throws 100 or plus (Chapman)or keeps it on the corners and down (Rivera).. It is and always will be, LOCATION-LOCATION and that most certainly is not a strength of Soriano’s. He clearly throws way too many pitches up and often in and I can’t recall him ever throwing one in the dirt to a lead off hitter in the ninth. Excellent closers often toy with the lead off hitter to cast worry on the on deck hitters. I judge him to be above average but to win it all, I don’t believe above average will do it, especially when you consider how well the NL at large has improved since last season. One example is the Mets who have made some excellent moves and their young pitchers will certainly improve them. That having been said, GO NATS!!

Archives

NL EAST STANDINGS

W L GB
WASHINGTON 55 44 --
ATLANTA 55 47 1.5
MIAMI 48 52 8.0
NEW YORK 48 54 8.5
PHILADELPHIA 44 58 12.5
Through Thursday's games

UPCOMING SCHEDULE
FRI: Nats at Reds, 7:10 p.m.
SAT: Nats at Reds, 4:05 p.m.
SUN: Nats at Reds, 1:10 p.m.
MON: Nats at Marlins, 7:10 p.m.
TUE: Nats at Marlins, 7:10 p.m.
WED: Nats at Marlins, 12:40 p.m.
THU: Phillies at Nats, 7:05 p.m.
Full season schedule

Mark joins Rob Carlin and Joe Orsulak every Thursday at 4 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet for a half-hour show on the Nats, Orioles and rest of MLB. Re-airs Thursdays at 11:30 p.m., Saturdays at 9 a.m. and Sundays at 11:30 a.m.

ON THE RADIO

As ESPN-980 AM's Nats Insider, Mark makes daily appearances on the station's various shows. Here's the 2014 schedule (subject to change)...

MON: 12:45 p.m.
TUE: 2:30 p.m.
WED: 4:30 p.m.
THU: 2:30 p.m.
FRI: 1:30 p.m., 5:30 p.m.
SAT: 10:30 a.m.

*All times Eastern. You can also listen to the station on 94.3 FM, 92.7 FM and online at ESPN980.com. Click here for past audio clips.

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