After a long hiatus caused primarily by some WordPress issues that have since been resolved, I had to get my thoughts out into the ether regarding Rafael Soriano and the closer role (especially after his blow up last night).
When considering altering the roles in your bullpen, there are a lot of factors that need to be taken into account. First, look at who is currently in the role. Soriano is 11th in the Bigs in saves with 29. He maintains a WHIP better than five of the top ten at 1.05, and an ERA better than four of the top 10 at 2.59. On the other side of it, he’s blown 5 saves now, more than all closers in the top ten.
With Soriano’s seasonal statistics so impressive and towards the top of the League in most areas, we then have to look at the ‘what have you done for me lately?’ factor. This is a much uglier picture of what is happening with the Nationals’ closer. You have the pre-All Star game Soriano, and the post-All Star game Soriano.
Pre-All Star game:
Was not taken out in the middle of an inning once.
Post-All Star game:
Has been taken out after recording one out or less twice.
There is also a somewhat subjective test you have to use on Soriano. This is ‘the eyeball test’ (also known as ‘the sniff test’). For any seam-head that has been watching the Nationals all year, they can see an obvious change in their 9th inning pitching. Soriano is getting behind in counts more often and his pitches are staying up. This is lengthening innings and giving fans an extreme amount of stress (another contribution to stress is the fact that Soriano takes about 37 minutes between pitches, walking around the mound and looking into his hat). They are seeing a fastball that went from topping at 95 to a fastball topping at around 91-92. These are all common symptoms of arm fatigue. How does one fix arm fatigue? You stop throwing..
The last factor is the ‘alternative options’ factor. This is another factor that does not work in Soriano’s favor. Since the All Star break, Clippard has a 0.00 ERA, a 0.36 WHIP, and 1.07 strikeouts per inning. He has been arguably the most dominant relief pitcher in the League since the break. Clippard has closed for the Nats before, saving 32 games in 2012 during their playoff run. Storen has been good as well since the break (2.89 ERA, but a 1.50 WHIP), but not near the level of Clippard. The difficult decision for Matt Williams will be if he should make a change, not who will be the guy if he does make a change.