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just-how-good-has-rafael-soriano-been | July | 2009 Articles

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Just how good has Rafael Soriano been?

Written by Joe Lucia on .

The answer of course, is "stupendiferously good". But how good is that compared to recent Braves relief pitching? I threw on the way back machine, and did a little analysis of all of the Braves relief pitchers from 1990 to 2009. Thats 20 seasons worth of data. The only criteria is that each pitcher I looked at threw a minimum of 30 innings of relief in the season I look at. Thats it. I am looking at their relief appearances ONLY, not something like Greg Maddux getting one relief appearance in 1995, and looking at his entire season as a result. Only the relief outings. Keep in mind, the data I'm presenting for Soriano is only a half season of work...things could obviously get a little out of whack once (if?) he gets a couple more bad outings under his belt. Now...lets take a look at some sexy numbers. BRAVES RELIEVERS WITH A FIP UNDER 2.00 John Smoltz, 2003: 1.54 Rafael Soriano, 2009: 1.78 Mark Wohlers, 1995: 1.88 Thats the list. Those 3 guys, and thats it. In fact, over the past 5 years, only Soriano's 2009 season and Chris Reitsma (of all people, Chris Reitsma!) in 2005 had a FIP under 3 (Reitsma's 2005 mark was 2.98, getting in just under the radar). For those of you not in the know, FIP is like ERA, except its calculated by using the number of homers, walks, and strikeouts a pitcher has, because those are really the only thing a pitcher can control. Any hits or outs on balls in play...yeah, those are up to the fielders behind you. If you have an outfield of Adam Dunn, Vernon Wells, and Jose Guillen, you're going to allow a lot more hits than if you have an outfield of Matt Kemp, Nyjer Morgan & Franklin Gutierrez. This is why its a lot more effective to look at FIP than ERA when attempting to determine how well a pitcher is pitching. For those wondering, the formula for FIP is (HRs * 13 + BB *3 - K * 2) / IP + a league constant, which is usually somewhere in the range of 3.20 or so. BRAVES RELIEVERS WITH A K/9 ABOVE 12.00 John Rocker, 2000: 13.08 John Rocker, 1999: 12.94 Mark Wohlers, 1995: 12.53 Rudy Seanez, 1998: 12.50 Rafael Soriano, 2009: 12.23 Pretty elite company, right? Soriano, 2 of the most effective (short-term) closers in team history, and a guy in Rudy Seanez who was firmly attached to the Leo Mazzone rejuvenation machine. Pretty good company. A few guys just missed the list, like Mike Gonzalez (11.76 and 11.79 in 2008 & 2009), but I don't want the list to be too long. Seanez & Rocker aren't very good comparisons for Soriano in this regard, because they both walked more guys than Soriano did (a lot more in the case of Rocker), and allowed a lot more home runs. So that Wohlers guy comes up again...his 1995 season seems like a great comparison for Soriano's 2009 season, so lets take a more in depth look. Mark Wohlers, 1995: 7-3, 2.09, 25 saves, 12.53 K/9, 3.34 BB/9, 3.75 K:BB. 0.28 HR rate, .219 BAA Rafael Soriano, 2009: 1-1, 1.48, 12 saves, 12.23 K/9, 3.16 BB/9, 3.87 K:BB, 0.21 HR rate, .160 BAA Thats some striking similarity right there. The only real discrepancy is the record, which in the long run really doesn't matter worth a damn, and the BAA, which I can't really get an analysis on since advanced defensive metrics weren't in use back in the mid-90s. Thats some crazy stuff. There are people out there advocating trading Soriano, or letting him walk as a free agent and collecting the draft picks we'd attain from letting him leave. I say that something like that is completely laughable. Soriano is one of the 3 best relievers the Braves have had over the past 20 years (along with Smoltz, in the 4 seasons that he was a member of the pen, and Wohlers, before his mental meltdown). Letting him walk away would be a complete lapse in judgment by Frank Wren, as the strength in the back of the bullpen (Gonzalez's recent struggles aside) has been an absolute rock for the team this season. There is no one in the Braves farm system, or that will be available as a free agent this coming offseason (except for possibly Mike Gonzalez, who needs a clean bill of health first), who can dominate the end of the game quite like Rafael Soriano. Tell me this Braves fans, how great did you feel back in the mid-90s and mid-00s when you had Mark Wohlers and John Smoltz coming into the game to close things out? Compare that to the feeling you had when John Rocker, or Bob Wickman, or Chris Reitsma would come trotting in for the 9th. That first feeling is something that every competitive team in baseball has. When a pitcher comes along that gives us that feeling, you can't let him walk away for a draft pick or two. It is absolutely critical that Soriano remain a Brave for the next few seasons, and I really hope Frank Wren manages his budget properly enough to let that happen, instead of handing the 9th inning over to someone like Luis Valdez, who is just not capable of performing at the level Soriano has proven time and again that he can.
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