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Thursday, January 13, 2011
Soriano's numbers make major impact

Rafael Soriano
The New York Yankees filled a weakness, so to speak, with the acquisition of Rafael Soriano, with whom they agreed on a three-year, $35 million contract Thursday night.

Last season, the Yankees were 80-7 when leading after seven innings. Their .920 win percentage sounds pretty good until you see that it rated seventh-best among the eight postseason teams.

Soriano should solve any eighth-inning woes in a big way. Consider the numbers when you combine them with Mariano Rivera’s totals last season -- a 1.77 ERA, a .173 opponents' batting average (122 ⅓ innings, 75 hits), along with 102 strikeouts and 25 walks.

Consider the pitchers who have the best opponents' on-base percentage since 2007 (minimum 500 batters faced). The Yankees don’t have the best pitcher -- Oakland Athletics closer Andrew Bailey -- but they have the next two names on the list, Rivera (.242) and Soriano (.244).

Soriano’s specific strength is getting right-handed hitters out. Among active pitchers, no one has a better opponents' batting average (.162), on-base percentage (.225), or OPS (.506) against right-handers than Soriano. Over the last three seasons, he's been even better, holding right-handed batters to a .132 batting average.

Soriano throws a fastball that averages around 93 miles-per-hour. His breaking ball is very tough. He threw it for a strike 73 percent of the time in 2010, the best rate in the majors according to our Inside Edge video tracking. Hitters chased 41 percent of the breaking balls Soriano threw out of the strike zone, well above the major league average of 29 percent.

The one warning sign that comes with Soriano is this: Some of his peripheral numbers weren't as good as they have been in the past, such as his strikeouts per nine innings rate, which dropped from 12.1 in 2009 to 8.2 in 2010.

The Rays also did a particularly good job at turning his batted balls into outs. Opponents hit .212 when putting the ball into play last season, an 85-point drop from 2009. It's rare for a pitcher to be able to pitch to a number that low, though Soriano also did it previously with the Atlanta Braves in 2007.

Soriano's status as a fly ball pitcher may cause a little concern with his coming to Yankee Stadium -- 67 percent of the balls in play against him were hit in the air. He allowed six home runs in 2010 (four in the regular season), though three of them cleared the fence by less than 10 vertical feet or landed less than one fence-height beyond the fence, according to work done for HittrackerOnline.

Soriano’s contract is the second-largest given to a free agent reliever not named Rivera, in terms of average annual value. Rivera has netted a pair of $15 million per year deals. The only other pitcher to get a bigger contract will be pitching across the river from Soriano -- Mets closer Francisco Rodriguez (three years, $12.33 million per).

Soriano was the first American League pitcher since Rodriguez to record 45 saves, with a sub-1.80 ERA in the same season. Those two are the only AL pitchers to hit those plateaus in the last 13 seasons. He won’t be hitting that number in 2011, but he could have quite a significant impact in his new role.