Name: Rafael Soriano
Nickname(s): El Silencioso, MFIKY (Note, the MF stands for something not very nice), He’s also know for the #Untuck and Having his own intro music like a wrassler. Also…”Bro, why?”
DOB: December 19, 1979
From: San Jose De Ocoa, Dominican Republic
Position: Relief Pitcher BullPen Role:
Closer I really just do saves, if that’s okay with you
With the Nats Since: Signed as Free Agent in 2013
Just Who Is This Guy?: On the one hand, Rafael Soriano is a big burst of energy for the crowd if you’re willing to get into it. The tuck, the Untuck when you get the save, the impeding feeling he’s going to crap the bed at just about any moment.
On the other hand, while I’m the first to say you can’t read a player’s mind from the stands, I’ve decided you can never trust a closer who changes his entire approach (stance, shirt tucking policy) based on if he is being brought in for the save or not.
A far cry from the optimism I had in 2013, I’m sort of ready for Washington’s $14m man to take a short “picha” off a long “poncha,” if you catch my drift.
What Happened in 2013: After an absolutely electric performance on Opening Day against the Miami Marlins (11 pitches, two strikeouts, 1 Save), Rafael Soriano had all of Natstown fooled. Turned out, that was not going to be the pattern. Of his 65 appearances, only 27 would have 14 pitches or fewer (generally to face 3 batters). 19 of those games featured 20 or more pitches, including a staggering 28 pitches to 6 batters and blown a save against San Fran.
The Nats will (in their promotional materials) be quick to point out he finished 6th in total saves. And he sure did. That counts for something alright. Bully for him.
Here’s what happens when you go to Fangraphs and sort by all relief pitchers who appeared in at least 60 innings (Sori pitched in just over 66). There are 91 pitchers that fit that criteria for 2013. Here are some of the other places he ranks as well as the leader in the category and the other Nationals (Clippard, Storen or Stammen) who finished the best in that category (Rank – (Stat)) :
STAT LEADER (STAT) SORIANO BEST OTHER NAT
K %: A. Chapman (43.4%) 51st (18.4%) Clip- 24th (26.3%)
BB %: E. Mujica (2.0%) 23rd (6.1%) Storen- 35th (7.1%)
WHIP: K. Uehara (0.57) 60th (1.23) Clip- 3rd (0.86)
ERA: K Uehara (1.09) 57th (3.11) Clip 25th (2.41)
FIP: G. Holland (1.36) 72nd (3.65) Stammen 18th (2.82)
HR/9: M. Melancon (.13) 73rd (.95) Stammen 19th (.44)
RE24: K Uehara (23.7) 50th (7.05) Clip- 29th (11.36)
Nothing here suggests that Soriano was anything but a little lucky with regards to his save success. His .287 BABIP doesn’t seem to indicate he was particularly unlucky, anyway, with regards to getting hit. The fact that the Nats highest payed bullpen player is in the bottom third statistically for a bunch of these highly “indicative of what happened” statistics is not promising for Sori.
Now of course stats only tell you what happened, not necessarily why they happened. Here is why they happened.
This is Soriano’s pitch selection and the average velocity of those pitches. With the Yankees Soriano was 60% fastball and 40% slider. With the Nationals, Soriano was 30% fastball (at 0.8 MPH slower on average) 15.5% Slider (slightly faster) and 54.4% Cutter (at roughly the same speed as his regular fastball).
He is essentially a completely different kind of pitcher than he was from the year before. He didn’t just “add a pitch” he went back to a cutter he hadn’t used in more than a year and completely retooled what had worked so well for him in New York. The Baseball Prospectus team speculates he may be trying to extend his pitching life here, given he has a history of innings, and that may be true-but if he’s not closing games out, I don’t know who will want him after this year. (Especially since he doesn’t seem to like to do things that aren’t closing.)
What’s expected?: A whole lot more than last year, that’s for sure. I have a feeling that, despite his big contract, the Nats may end up moving him and agree to eat part of his contract. While you can never have enough good arms in the bullpen, if the younger and more flexible (w/r/t where he pitches) Drew Storen can pull it together, the hot mess that was Rafael Soriano 2013 can figure out his new pitching style elsewhere, thank you very much.
Assuming that is not the case, he needs to get people out in the 9th inning. I don’t know if that means even less slider, or more fastball/cutter combo, or what. I do think it means a little more time throwing the damn ball over the damn plate and a little less time figuring out if your shirt is in your pants or not.
Sorry. He’s frustrating to watch. I really give relievers a long leash and a lot more leeway than others. Go read just about anything I’ve ever written about H-Rod, Drew Storen, etc. Soriano needs to pull it together.
If It All Goes Right: The slightly less fat Rafael Soriano either goes back to what he was doing in New York, or he figures out what new thing he’s trying to do, and he closes some games already. He’s either closing with the Nats come the end of the year, or he’s on another team and the Nats get a little something back (and aren’t paying as much of the contract as if it doesn’t go well).
If It All Goes Wrong: Rafael Soriano is playing for Houston, which is about what he deserves IMO, and the Nats are eating his part of that salary cutting losses on what was an unsuccessful gamble.