Stats & Info: Rafael Soriano

Top stats to know: Washington Nationals

March, 5, 2013

Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post/Getty ImagesDespite starting 2012 as a teenager, Bryce Harper improved dramatically by the end of his rookie season.
Baseball Tonight will be at Washington Nationals camp on Tuesday afternoon. The Nationals are the consensus National League favorite, returning much of their team from a 98-win season.

Let’s look at some stats to know on this team.

90 has been tough to duplicate
The Expos/Nationals franchise has won 90 or more games in consecutive seasons only once -- the 1979 and 1980 seasons.

The Nationals haven't even strung together consecutive winning seasons since 2002 and 2003.

The Elias Sports Bureau tells us that the Nationals are the fourth team since 2002 to be eliminated from the postseason by losing a game in which they led in the ninth inning or later. The previous three teams -- 2005 Atlanta Braves, 2009 Boston Red Sox and 2009 Colorado Rockies -- declined by an average of nine games in win-loss record the following season. None of the three made the postseason.

Harper no longer a teen
Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper had a historic season by teenager standards, netting 5.0 Wins Above Replacement.

That’s the highest total by any player in an age-19-or-younger season (age as of June 30) in baseball’s modern era (since 1900).

Harper, who turned 20 last October, ended the 2012 regular season on a tear.

Over his last 34 games, Harper hit .341 with 10 home runs in 126 at-bats and increased his average fly-ball distance from 281 feet (prior to that) to 304 feet (the rest of the season).

Harper’s 1.098 OPS in that span ranked best in the National League.

He also showed an ability to make adjustments. On breaking balls on the outer half of the plate, Harper hit .225 in the first four months of the season with just three home runs and a strikeout rate of 27.1 percent. In August and September, Harper hit .313 with a .914 OPS, four home runs and a strikeout rate of 17 percent.

Strasburg unleashed
Stephen Strasburg should have the freedom to go deeper into the season after being shut down last September with 159⅓ innings pitched.

Strasburg allowed 10 runs in 14 innings in his last three starts, but was brilliant throughout the season, posting a 3.16 ERA and averaging 11.1 strikeouts per nine innings.

Strasburg’s overpowering fastball was complemented by nasty off-speed stuff, getting a 46 percent miss rate on his curve, slider and changeup. That was the second best of any starting pitcher in the majors, trailing only Cole Hamels of the Phillies.

Notable acquisition: Denard Span
The Nationals made a trade with the Minnesota Twins for center fielder Denard Span, whose 4.8 Wins Above Replacement ranked ninth-best among AL position players last season.

Much of Span’s value last season came from his defensive play, ranking third among major-league outfielders with 20 Defensive Runs Saved.

Notable acquisition: Rafael Soriano
The Nationals added to an area that was already a team strength by signing Rafael Soriano. Last season, Washington’s bullpen ranked eighth in ERA and seventh in opponents’ batting average.

However, Washington’s bullpen was taxed quite a bit last season. Nationals relievers threw 515⅓ innings last season, second-most in the National League.

Soriano excelled at escaping trouble as the New York Yankees' closer for much of last season. Opponents were 4-for-50 (with nine walks) with two outs and men on base against him.

That .080 batting average rated best in baseball.

Soriano survives, nets big money deal

January, 15, 2013
The Washington Nationals emerged as the surprise landing point for Rafael Soriano on Tuesday night, inking the pitcher to a two-year, $28 million contract.

Let’s take a look at some of the notes, stats, and trends surrounding this acquisition.

The basics
Soriano had 45 saves in 2010 with the Tampa Bay Rays and 42 saves as Mariano Rivera’s fill-in replacement in 2012.

Soriano is one of three relievers with a pair of 40-save seasons in the last three seasons, the other two being Heath Bell (2010 and 2011) and Craig Kimbrel (2011 and 2012).

Soriano did so last season despite not being at his most effective in his home ballpark.

In fact, in two years in the Bronx, Soriano had a 4.31 ERA and 1.40 WHIP in Yankee Stadium, and a 1.54 ERA and 1.03 WHIP on the road.

What made Soriano so good in 2012?
Soriano dominated in the Yankeec closer role despite peripheral numbers that might indicate otherwise. His strikeout rate, walk rate, and home-run rate produced an FIP (a stat scaled to what a pitcher’s ERA should be based on those numbers) of 3.32.

Soriano was able to escape james at an above-average rate. Opponents hit .155 with a .457 OPS with men on base last season.

The latter number ranked second-best in baseball among those who faced at least 100 batters with men on.

Opponents were 4-for-50 (with nine walks) with two outs and men on base, that .080 batting average rating best in baseball.

The contract
Soriano did well, relatively speaking, to get the deal that he got.

The last five relievers to hit free agency coming off a 40-save season (Soriano twice, Bell, Francisco Rodriguez, and Francisco Cordero) have gotten multi-year deals worth at least $9 million per season.

This will be the third-biggest contract for a free-agent reliever in terms of average annual value.

Rivera signed contracts with an average value of $15 million twice-- once in the 2007-08 offseason (three years), once in the 2010-11 offseason (two years).

It is also the second-largest free-agent contract in terms of average annual value signed by a Nationals/Expos player.

The only one larger is Jayson Werth's 7-year, $126 million contract (average value: $18 million) signed in the 2010-11 offseason.

The Nationals have signed three free agents to contracts with an average value of $12 million or more this offseason (also: Dan Haren, Adam LaRoche).

Prior to this season, Werth was the only free agent they signed to a deal worth $12 million or more per year.

The Nationals have committed more than $220 million to free agents in the past three offseasons. Only six teams (Los Angeles Angels, Detroit Tigers, Boston Red Sox, Florida Marlins, Philadelphia Phillies, and Los Angeles Dodgers) have committed more.

The Nationals bullpen
The Nationals added to an area that was already a team strength. Washington’s bullpen ranked eighth in ERA and seventh in opponents batting average last season.

Washington’s bullpen was taxed quite a bit last season. Nationals relievers threw 515 1/3 innings last season, second-most in the National League.

The Nationals will have a seventh-inning/eighth-inning/ninth-inning combo of Tyler Clippard, Drew Storen and Soriano.

The three combined for a 2.90 ERA and 9.3 strikeouts per nine innings last season.

Playoffs still realistic, even without Rivera

May, 4, 2012

Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesMariano Rivera has more saves than three teams since 1995.
Whether it’s a freak injury or a demotion, the New York Yankees are the latest team in 2012 in search of a new closer.

With Mariano Rivera suffering a torn ACL in his right knee on Thursday, the question now becomes who pitches the ninth inning for the Yankees.

Among Yankees not named Mariano Rivera, Rafael Soriano has the most career saves with 90. But, David Robertson has been one the top relievers since the start of last season.

Among active pitchers who have thrown at least 200 innings, Robertson has the highest rate of strikeouts per nine innings at 12.17. Since last season, Robertson’s K per 9 is 13.7, compared to 8.2 for Soriano.

Robertson also led all relievers in 2011 with 3.9 wins above replacement (WAR).

Since recording his first save in 1995, Rivera’s 608 saves – in addition to being the most in major-league history – are more than the Kansas City Royals (587), Arizona Diamondbacks (571) and Tampa Bay Rays (521). (Arizona and Tampa Bay’s first seasons were 1998.)

Rivera’s 2.21 ERA is the lowest in the Live Ball Era (since 1920) among pitchers with at least 1,000 innings. His 1.00 WHIP is second only to Addie Jones’ 0.97 in major-league history, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

As good as Rivera has been in the regular season (14 30-save seasons, 15 consecutive 20-save seasons), he took things to the next level in the postseason.

Rivera is the all-time postseason leader in appearances (96), saves (42) and ERA (0.70).

In those 96 postseason appearances, only two players hit home runs off Rivera. Sandy Alomar of the Cleveland Indians in Game 4 of the 1997 ALDS, and Jay Payton of the New York Mets in Game 2 of the 2000 World Series.

Whether Robertson or Soriano take over for Rivera, the impact on the Yankees' playoff chances will be minimal, according to Accuscore.

With Rivera, the Yankees chances of making the postseason were 64.5 percent. With Robertson or Soriano, New York's postseason chances do decrease, but only a little more than a percentage point (63.3 with Robertson, 63.2 with Soriano).

Ramirez, Madson primed to be overpaid

November, 10, 2011
While this offseason’s free agency class is headlined by the likes of Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder and Jose Reyes, there are a number of secondary options who stand to receive lucrative contracts in their own right. Two of them – third baseman Aramis Ramirez and reliever Ryan Madson – are likely to be a bit overvalued by suitors, but for entirely different reasons.

Aramis Ramirez
Aramis Ramirez
While Ramirez rebounded from a replacement level 2010 campaign to post a .306/.361/.510 line with 26 home runs and 93 RBI, there were indicators across-the-board that point towards a potentially quick decline for Ramirez, a concern relevant to any team interested in signing him.

Ramirez is becoming increasingly less patient as the years go by, both in the form of chasing pitches outside of the strike zone and in generating walks. In 2010 and 2011, Ramirez has posted walk rates of 6.7 and 6.9 percent, respectively, representing a clear decline from his 11.2 percent mark in 2008 and 8.2 in 2009. Perhaps more telling, the rate at which Ramirez is swinging at pitches outside of the strike zone is rapidly increasing since 2008.

In addition to the steady increase, Ramirez’s 2011 mark was the 5th-worst in the NL in 2011, behind only Alfonso Soriano, Alex Gonzalez, Yuniesky Betancourt and Michael Morse. Coupled with the decline in his plate discipline is the idea that he is not long for third base defensively. After posting a +11 mark at the hot corner according to Defensive Runs Saved in 2008, Ramirez has been below-average in each season since – and there’s a pattern; Ramirez graded out at -4 in 2009, -10 in 2010 and -12 in 2011. The 2011 mark ranked 2nd-to-last among NL third basemen.

Ryan Madson
This offseason, Madson is one of the most coveted free agent relievers in baseball. That was to be expected, fresh off his first full season as the Philadelphia Phillies closer, complete with 32 saves and a 2.37 ERA in 60 2/3 innings. Whether or not the reported lucrative deal with the Phillies materializes, someone will pay Madson. The reason he stands to make $40 million or more this offseason has little to do with a significant jump in his skills, however, and more to do with the fact he now has the official ‘closer’ label.

In 2010, Madson posted five saves. In 2011, he registered 32. That would seem to indicate a noticeable jump in value or performance from Madson. In reality, he was nearly identical, with some actual decline in key spots.

The difference was largely in an unsustainable home run rate – Madson allowed home runs on 0.9 percent of plate appearances, which was the 16th-best mark out of the 339 pitchers who registered at least 200 plate appearances this season. Had Madson entered the market after 2010 – when he demonstrated much the same skill set he did in 2011 – he would likely not have been offered anything approaching $40 million.

Whether or not offering a reliever that sort of money is a wise proposition is a different question entirely. In the history of the game, six relievers have received contracts of three or more years at an average annual value of at least $9 million – B.J. Ryan, Billy Wagner, Francisco Cordero, Mariano Rivera, Francisco Rodriguez and Rafael Soriano. It would be fair to say that only Rivera returned the sort of performance expected.

Rafael Soriano: signed after 2010 season; posted highest ERA (min 30 IP) since 2002 and missed much of the season due to injury.

Francisco Rodriguez: signed after 2008; 62 saves in final year with Los Angeles Angels, never saved more than 35 with New York Mets. Suspended in 2010, traded in 2011 to avoid vesting option.

Mariano Rivera: signed after 2007; posted ERA below 2.00 in each season of contract.

Francisco Cordero: signed after 2007; strikeout rate dropped from 10.0 to 7.8 to 7.3 to 5.4 over life of deal. Posted an Expected Fielding Independent Pitching (xFIP) below 4.00 once during contract (2008).

Billy Wagner: signed after 2005; innings pitched and saves both declined each season he was with Mets.

B.J. Ryan: signed after 2005; Just 155 1/3 innings pitched in 5 seasons; missed majority of three different seasons (2007, 2009, 2010).

Clearly, the Phillies, or any other team, may give pause to signing Madson, or any other reliever, to such a lucrative contract given the history of performance for those who have received such a contract in the past.

Rays attendance leading to financial issues

October, 6, 2011

AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack
Despite making the playoffs 3 of the last 4 years and advancing to the World Series in 2008, Tampa Bay's attendance has been at or near the bottom in the majors.

Shortly after the team’s loss to the Texas Rangers in the American League Division Series -- which saw only 28,299 fans show -- Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg launched into the troubling financial situation of his franchise:

"The rubber has got to hit the road at some point. We're four years into winning. We're getting to the point where we don't control our own destiny. This is untenable as a model…When I came in here in '05 and '06, I saw the stars, and I was confident that we could put a winning product on the field -- and I was told by you guys and others that all we needed was a winning team. Well, we won. We won. We won. And we won. And it didn't do it."

Sternberg acquired control of the franchise in 2005. Since that point, the Rays have arguably developed into the model organization in the sport, allowing them to compete year after year over the last four years despite a limited payroll.

The team’s success has not translated to sufficient attendance. One would have expected at least a noticeable uptick in attendance with the team routinely winning 30 more games per season than it used to, but that has simply not been the case.

It appears the preseason warnings of a down season and the huge departures via free agency may have kept the fans away.

The Rays have two AL East titles, a World Series appearance and three postseason appearances in four seasons, but have averaged exactly 1,748 more fans per game than they did in 2007, when they lost 96 games.

Unfortunately, the lack of attendance has a direct effect on the Rays’ ability to spend money. After attendance issues last year both in the regular season and postseason, the Rays slashed payroll by around $30 million.

While at first glance it might appear as though the Rays’ 2011 spending situation is actually a non-trivial improvement over the spending from 2005-07, it is actually just a case of context. The team ranked 29th in 2011 and ranked 30th, 29th, 30th, 29th from 2005-08. Payrolls across baseball have risen since 2005 as a whole, so in reality the Rays are still spending at the same fractional amount of competitors. For example, in 2005 the Rays payroll accounted for 24 percent of the Boston Red Sox payroll. In 2011, the Rays payroll increased 38 percent over its 2005 payroll -- was barely more than 25 percent of the Red Sox 2011 payroll, essentially no difference from 2005.

Over the years the team has lost Carl Crawford, Matt Garza, Carlos Pena, Joaquin Benoit, Scott Kazmir, Rafael Soriano, either due to unmatchable free agent offers or trades made necessary by salary obligations. It’s entirely possible that the team could once again leak talent this offseason, with James Shields getting more expensive and B.J. Upton due a raise from the nearly $5 million he made in 2011 in the arbitration process.

An organization can only churn out Matt Moores and Jeremy Hellicksons and Desmond Jennings for so long in an effort to paper over holes created from departures. At some point, perhaps the Rays can find themselves a better situation, allowing their on-field success to overshadow their off-field issues.

Getty Images, AP Photo
CC Sabathia (left) and Justin Verlander (right) oppose each other for the 2nd time this season.

The Detroit Tigers are back in the postseason for the first time since losing to the St. Louis Cardinals in the 2006 World Series. The Tigers began that postseason run by beating the New York Yankees (3 to 1) in the ALDS. The Yankees, on the other hand, are making their 50th postseason appearance, the most all-time and almost double the second-most (Los Angeles Dodgers, 26).

Inside the Series
Detroit has won three straight against New York, but is only 2-8 in the new Yankee Stadium (since 2009).

The Tigers are 77-0 when leading entering the eighth inning and 83-0 when leading entering the ninth inning. They are the only AL team that is undefeated when leading after entering the ninth inning. The Yankees bullpen was also one of the best in the AL. They led the league in ERA (3.12), ranked second in save percentage (74.6) and were third in opponent batting average (.239).

On the Mound
Justin Verlander and CC Sabathia will face off, a rematch of Opening Day when both pitchers went six innings and allowed three runs each. New York scored three runs off Detroit’s bullpen, while Joba Chamberlain, Rafael Soriano and Mariano Rivera held the Tigers scoreless. On the year, Verlander went 0-0 with a 4.50 ERA in two starts against New York. Sabathia went 0-1 with a 4.15 ERA in two starts against Detroit.

Verlander and Sabathia ranked first and second respectively in the American League in wins and strikeouts in the regular season. Verlander won 24 games (Sabathia 19) and struck out 250 batters (Sabathia 230).

Verlander, who finished second in the majors with 26 starts of at least seven IP this season, has failed to exceed six IP in any of his four career postseason starts. Sabathia is 5-1 in his last eight postseason starts, with the Yankees winning seven of those eight starts.

Getting Defensive
The Yankees ranked 12th in Defensive Runs Saved (-15) in the AL. They were hurt by their shortstop play, with -31 DRS at that position, the worst among AL teams.

The Tigers were tied for 14th in Defensive Runs Saved (-18) in the AL. Each of the four infield positions had a negative DRS, the only team in the AL to do that.

Stat of the Game
Miguel Cabrera
Miguel Cabrera is hitting .563 (9-for-16) with two HR and 11 RBI in his career against Sabathia. That’s his ninth-best batting average against any pitcher (min. 10 plate appearances). However, Cabrera doesn’t have a hit in 12 at-bats against lefties in his postseason career. He is hitting .321 (18-for-56) with four HR and 12 RBI against righties.

Evan Longoria's amazing season continues

September, 29, 2011

AP Photo/Chris O'Meara
Evan Longoria celebrates with teammates after hitting the game-winning HR (his second of the night) as the Tampa Bay Rays won the American League Wild Card berth.

Evan Longoria had a heck of a season for a guy who finished the year with a .244 batting average for the Tampa Bay Rays. The Boston Red Sox may have collapsed, but Longoria was as responsible for carrying his team as any player has been all season.

Longoria’s second home run of the game Wednesday night – a walk-off with one out in the 12th inning against the New York Yankees that gave Tampa an 8-7 win and the AL Wild Card berth – was his fourth career walk-off HR and second of this season. Longoria's HR is the sixth game-ending HR in MLB history which clinched a postseason berth, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Here’s a closer look Longoria’s 2011 season:

• All 31 of his HR hit came with the score tied, or within four runs, one way or the other.

• The last 10 home runs he hit during the regular season either tied a game, gave the Rays a lead, extended a lead of one or two runs, or cut a deficit to a run.

• Longoria had four home runs in the eighth inning or later that either tied a game or put the Rays ahead. Only two players in MLB had more -- Jose Bautista with six, and Jay Bruce with five.

• In the two-week stretch from September 15 to the end of the season, Longoria faced a two-strike situation 32 times. He reached nine times via hit and seven times via walk, giving him a two-strike on-base percentage of .500 (MLB average for the season was .247). He also reached base via error once.

• Despite missing 29 games, Longoria entered the final day of the season fifth in the major leagues in Defensive Runs Saved among third basemen with 12.

A chronology of some of Longoria's biggest moments down the stretch:

September 15-18 - Longoria was 6-for-15 with two home runs and seven RBI as the Rays won three of four games in Fenway Park from the Red Sox. In the game the Rays lost, Longoria homered, singled, walked twice, and made an amazing catch on a Dustin Pedroia line drive that turned into a double play in the seventh inning, with the Rays down a run.

September 27 - With the Rays down 3-2 in the sixth inning against the Yankees, and the bases loaded with nobody out, Longoria starts a 5-4-3 triple play to get the Rays out of a jam.

Then, in the seventh inning, facing an 0-2 count, Longoria fouls off three pitches (including two well out of the strike zone) and works out a walk from Rafael Soriano. The next batter, Matt Joyce, hits a home run that propels the Rays to a 5-3 win.

September 28 - Longoria helps the Rays rally from a 7-0 deficit. He hits a three-run home run to cut the lead to 7-6 in the eighth inning. Then, he hits a walk-off home run to win the game and clinch the wild card in the 12th inning.
The New York Yankees took the first game of their series with the Boston Red Sox Friday night at Fenway Park – and they also took over first place by themselves in the AL East for the first time since July 6.

The Yanks’ 3-2 win also snapped their seven-game losing streak against the Red Sox, while increasing their current overall winning streak to eight games.

The Yankees-Sox matchup has been a tale of two halves over the past three seasons. With Friday’s win, the Bronx Bombers are 14-7 against Boston after the All-Star break and 6-19 before the ASB.

The unsung hero for the Yankees in the win was their bullpen, which has not walked a batter since July 27 (nine straight walk-less games).

Starter Bartolo Colon was lifted after throwing 94 pitches and recording 14 outs. Here’s a next-level look at how Boone Logan and Mariano Rivera shut down the Red Sox (with help from Rafael Soriano and David Robertson):

• Logan got the win, as well as perhaps the biggest out of the game, a three-pitch strikeout of Adrian Gonzalez with the bases loaded to end the bottom of the fifth. Gonzalez struck out on a slider out of the strike zone, a common location for Logan against Gonzalez. Logan has now faced Gonzalez four times in his career, allowing a hit with two strikeouts. Of the 13 pitches he has thrown Gonzalez, only six have been in the strike zone.

• Rivera closed the game out by registering two of his three outs recorded on strikeouts looking. It's the first time Rivera has gotten more than one strikeout looking in an appearance since April 18, 2010 - a span of 98 games.

Elsewhere around MLB Friday:

• Atlanta Braves second baseman Dan Uggla extended his hitting streak to 26 games with a single in his last at-bat. It ties Emilio Bonifacio for the second-longest streak in the majors this season (Andre Ethier, 30).

• Ubaldo Jimenez made his Indians debut, allowing five runs over five innings. He did not get a decision in the Rangers' come-from-behind 8-7 win.

• Craig Counsell broke his streak of 45 straight hitless at-bats with a pinch-single in the Brewers’ 8-1 win over Houston. It tied the worst single-year hitless streak by a non-pitcher since 1900.

• The Padres drubbed the Pirates, 15-5, in Pittsburgh. It is the most runs the Padres have ever scored in Pittsburgh, eclipsing their 14 at Forbes Field on June 2, 1970.
Today’s Trivia: Can you name the only two players with 50+ home runs for both the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees?

Quick Hits: Let’s take a look at some fast facts regarding the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry and what the fresh faces might mean for 2011.

• The Red Sox and Yankees have split the season series 9-9 in each of the past three seasons. That includes 2009 when the Red Sox took the first eight games against New York.

• Joe Girardi took over in 2008, so that makes him an even 27-27 against Boston while with New York. Including the postseason, Terry Francona is 67-69 against the Yankees as Boston manager.

• According to Elias, this will be the 28th time that the Red Sox have had their home opener against the Yankees. Boston has won the last six and in 14-13 overall.

• The last time the Red Sox faced the Yankees while on a six-game losing streak. According to Elias, it was in the midst of a nine-game streak in 2001. The last time the Red Sox snapped a six-game losing streak against the Yankees? May 1998.

• Mark Teixeira hit eight home runs against the Red Sox last season. That’s the most by a Yankees hitter since Mickey Mantle clubbed nine in 1958. Oddly, Teixeira hit just .237 against Boston in 2010.
Adrian Gonzalez

• Adrian Gonzalez has never beaten the Yankees, though he’s only had had three chances. Friday is also the Fenway Park debut for the hitter who has the most opposite field home runs in the majors since 2008.

• By contrast, Carl Crawford has almost a full season of data against New York. With a .301 lifetime average, he has 171 hits in 138 games. Among active players, only Manny Ramirez and Vernon Wells have more hits against New York, who is actually tied with David Ortiz for third. In 2005, Crawford tallied 35 hits against the Yankees, the first person to do that since Dale Mitchell in 1952.

• Since 2009, Dan Wheeler has made 10 appearances against the Yankees, but only lasted 5⅓ innings while allowing six home runs. His ERA in that span? 20.25. The Yankees are hitting .467 with a 1.634 OPS.

• It looks like Dennys Reyes won’t quite get to experience the rivalry, as he was designated for assignment Friday. If this is it for Reyes in a Boston uniform, he will go down as the only pitcher in Red Sox history with more hit batsmen (2) than innings pitched (1⅔).

• Russell Martin has faced the Red Sox in three games, and is just 1-for-11 (.091).
Rafael Soriano

• Rafael Soriano has been excellent against the Red Sox in his career with a 2.61 ERA and .178 opponent batting average. He had five saves against Boston last season, the most for a pitcher since Francisco Rodriguez in 2008.

Trivia Answer: Johnny Damon and Mike Stanley are the only players with 50+ HR with both the Yankees and Red Sox. Babe Ruth? He only had 49 homers with Boston.
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.

Bobby Jenks could be steal of the offseason

December, 17, 2010
Bobby Jenks
Bobby Jenks is changing the color of his Sox, moving from the Chicago White Sox to the Boston Red Sox. What are the Red Sox getting? If you look beyond his inflated ERA, Jenks was the victim of bad luck in 2010.

Jenks was mostly the same pitcher in 2010 that he was from 2007 to 2009, and in some ways, he was better. Jenks generated more swings and misses and struck out a higher percentage of batters than he had in the three seasons prior while allowing fewer base hits.

So what was Jenks’ problem? Opposing batters were missing the White Sox gloves.

Jenks allowed a .260 batting average last year, his highest since he joined the White Sox. This doesn’t seem to make sense considering the high rate of strikeouts, but opposing batters had a .368 batting average on balls in play against Jenks last year, almost 100 points higher than the .269 BABIP posted against him over the previous three seasons.

This was even more drastic when runners were in scoring position -- his BABIP with RISP was an astonishing 145 points higher last year than it was from 2007-09 -- where Jenks saw huge spikes in opponents’ batting average and slugging percentage, leading to more runs scored. If Jenks’ BABIP returns to his average over the previous three seasons and he continues to strike batters out at a high rate, the Red Sox could have the steal of the off-season.

Compared to this offseason's most coveted reliever -- former Tampa Bay Rays closer Rafael Soriano -- one appears to be an elite reliever while the other appears to be not very good at all.

However, when we dig a little deeper, we find those characterizations might be very misleading. While Soriano's ERA (1.73) was substantially better than Jenks' (4.44), their underlying numbers actually support very similar ERAs.

Specifically, Fielding Independent Pitching -- which takes out the things for which a pitcher is not responsible, like defense -- says that the difference between Soriano and Jenks in 2010 was, largely, luck. Soriano benefited from a remarkably low BABIP, while Jenks' was one of the worst.

The net result, Wins Above Replacement, pegs these two relievers as virtually exactly as "valuable" as each other last season despite the wild difference in their ERAs.

Stats & Info ALDS Preview: Rangers-Rays

October, 4, 2010

Mark J. Rebilas/US Presswire
Rays second baseman Sean Rodriguez had a knack for strong defensive play and clutch hitting, two factors that could be key in the postseason.

A capsule stat-based preview of the Texas Rangers-Tampa Bay Rays ALDS matchup.

Top things to know

The Rays led the American League in both walks and stolen bases, which partly accounts for how a team could finish near the bottom of the AL in batting average, yet near the top of baseball in runs scored (third-best in the majors).

The Rays also rank atop the majors by a huge margin in a Bill James-devised metric Baserunning Gain (ability to take an extra base on hits, outs and other plays). The Rangers rank second (+66 bases, 52 behind the Rays).

Josh Hamilton had the greatest offensive season by a member of the Texas Rangers. He had the highest batting average (.359) of any player in Rangers team history (for a team that led the AL in the stat), as well as the best OPS+ (OPS compared to league average, adjusted for ballpark), a 174.

Deciding factor

The Rays had the second-best record in baseball when opponents started a left-handed pitcher, and they'll face left-handers in each of the first two games. They beat Cliff Lee three times during the regular season in 2010. Evan Longoria, currently battling an injury, led the way with a .956 OPS against lefties, followed by B.J. Upton's .919.

The Rangers bullpen won 32 games this season, most of any American League team. Their four most frequently used relievers who are available for the ALDS (Neftali Feliz, Darren O'Day, Darren Oliver and Alexi Ogando) combined for a 2.22 ERA, and had a strikeout-to-walk rate of 3.6 to 1.

Most interesting matchups

Vladimir Guerrero has good numbers against almost every Rays reliever of note, albeit in a limited number of meetings. He's 5-for-9 against Rafael Soriano, 3-for-5 against Dan Wheeler, 3-for-6 against Grant Balfour, and 4-for-15 (with four walks and a .450 on-base percentage) against Joaquin Benoit. If Tampa Bay puts James Shields in the bullpen, Guerrero is good against him too (.394 BA, 1.030 OPS).

With the first two games taking place in the afternoon, it's worth noting that the Rays .587 win percentage in day games ranked sixth-best in baseball. The Rangers were 24th out of 30 (19-25, .432 win pct). The biggest impact seemed to be with Hamilton, who hit .384 with an 1.121 OPS at night, compared to .286/.819 during the day.

Statistical secrets

Rays second baseman Sean Rodriguez has all sorts of value to his team. His 18 defensive runs saved (a metric that measures ability to turn batted balls into outs, and turn double plays) rank best in baseball among second basemen.

Rodriguez also had an unusual knack for getting hits in big spots. He hit .400 (18-for-45) in "close and late" situations (defined by as plate appearances in the seventh inning or later with the batting team tied, ahead by one, or the tying run at least on deck).

The Rangers combination of Elvis Andrus and Julio Borbon bunt for hits better than almost anyone. charted Borbon as tied with Erick Aybar for the major league lead with 18 bunts hits. Andrus ranked third with 13. Combining bunt hits and infield hits, the Rangers rated tops in the majors, by Fangraphs calculations, with 187.

SIG's Picks

Albert Larcada of ESPN Stats & Info did statistical analysis of the last 10 postseasons, looking for the factors that most separate winning and losing teams. He found three -- power hitting, front-end starting pitching, and the ability to turn batted balls into outs. Using his findings, he was able to make a projection.

For the Rangers-Rays matchup, Larcada's system picks the Rays in four games. He gives the Rays a 56.6 percent chance to win the series.

1st Pitch: Pujols pursues 400

August, 24, 2010
Today’s Trivia:
After going deep last night in Pittsburgh, Albert Pujols is now one home run away from his 400th career HR. Pujols' first career longball came in April of 2001 off of Armando Reynoso and the Arizona Diamondbacks. What did Pujols do in that game that he ALSO did last night? Hint: it’s something he has now done 26 times in his career. Pujols

Bonus: Obviously, Busch Stadium is the park where Pujols has gone deep the most. But which Busch Stadium – the one that closed in 2005 (Busch II) or the one that opened in 2006 (Busch III)?

Quick Hits:
The Tampa Bay Rays’ Rafael Soriano accomplished a rare baseball feat on Monday (a feat with a cool-sounding moniker to match its impressiveness): the Immaculate Inning. Such an inning requires striking out the side on nine pitches, which Soriano did against Erick Aybar, Mike Napoli and Peter Bourjos. Soriano

So rare is the feat that it has only been done 44 times in MLB history. Let’s take a look at some of the pitchers who have pulled off the Immaculate Inning, according to

• Only three have done the feat twice, and all three are Hall-of-Famers: Lefty Grove, Sandy Koufax and Nolan Ryan. No one has done it three times.

• An Immaculate Inning has occurred in every inning, though it is most common late in games. It’s happened nine times in the ninth, seven times in the eighth and four times in the seventh.

• There are some pretty solid sluggers who have been on the other end of an Immaculate Inning. Ken Boyer was part of one thrown by Bob Bruce in 1964. Andre Dawson and Rafael Palmeiro were both part of one thrown by Jeff Robinson in 1987. Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio have each been victims, though in different games. Even contact machine Ichiro Suzuki fell prey to one, but in his defense, it was done by Pedro Martinez.

• From Elias: The last closer to get a save while striking out the side on nine pitches in the ninth inning was LaTroy Hawkins in September 2004 for the Chicago Cubs.

• Call it the Rich Harden connection: On the same night Harden was pulled in the middle of a no-hitter, Soriano threw his Immaculate Inning. But Harden has an I.I. of his own, and it came in the first inning. He did it in June 2008 with the Oakland Athletics against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

• Koufax is the only one to throw an Immaculate Inning that turned into an immaculate game. His first Immaculate Inning came in his first no-hitter – on June 30, 1962 - and was also done in the first inning. His immaculaticity (not a word) ended in the second inning when the New York Mets’ Frank Thomas grounded out to short.

• And finally, a Lou Piniella connection. Piniella managed the 1991 Cincinnati Reds to a 74-88 record and fifth place division finish. But that might not have been the worst of it. That team, featuring Barry Larkin, Chris Sabo and Hal Morris, is the only team in MLB history to have two Immaculate Innings thrown against them in the same season. Andy Ashby and David Cone did it to them that year.

Today’s Leaderboard:
It’s becoming one of the classic adages in the sport – if you let the leadoff man get on base in an inning, he’s going to come around to hurt you. Well, don’t pity the leadoff men tonight. Several of the pitchers who are the top culprits in letting the leadoff man get on base are starting for their teams on Tuesday.

Key Matchups:
• Ichiro has been an All-Star every year of his 10-year MLB career and has never batted below .303 in a season. But none of that might be true if he had to face Josh Beckett in every at-bat. Beckett is limiting Ichiro to a career .190 BA (4-21) with more strikeouts (five) than hits. Among pitchers who have faced Ichiro at least 20 times, Beckett is the starter who’s holding him to the lowest average.

• These numbers don’t seem to match up: Adam Wainwright has a perfect 5-0 record at PNC Park, yet a pedestrian 5.56 ERA there. Among parks where Wainwright has pitched more than once, he has a higher era at only Dodger Stadium. Turns out, you can chalk up his sparkling record at PNC to run support. His offense has scored an average of 7.43 runs in games he started there.

• There’s a new Cincinnati Reds rookie starter in town, and he’s not named Mike Leake. Travis Wood takes the mound in San Francisco tonight, making his 10th career start. No Giant has seen him before, but they might want to know these numbers. Wood is allowing a .135 BA his first time through the lineup, but that jumps to .184 his second time through and .222 his third time through.

Trivia Answer: In both games, Pujols finished a triple shy of the cycle. In fact, Pujols has never hit for the cycle in his career despite coming a triple shy of it on 26 occasions. He has finished a home run shy of the cycle twice and finished a double shy of the cycle once.

The bonus question was a trick question. Sort of. Pujols has the exact same number of home runs at both Busch Stadiums – 94 at each.

Tuesday's 1st Pitch: Closing Numbers

April, 13, 2010
Today’s Trivia: April 13 is the anniversary of both Pete Rose’s first hit (1963 off of Bob Friend) and his 4,000th hit (1984 off of Jerry Koosman). Which pitcher did Rose have his most hits against?

Quick Hits: More fun with tiny sample sizes. This time, with the help of Baseball Tonight researcher Mark Simon, let’s take a look at some strangeness pertaining to closers.

* Jon Rauch has had an odd go of it, so far. He's started 13 of 19 hitters with an 0-1 count. Those hitters are batting .385 against him. The six hitters that he's started with a 1-0 count are hitless.

* For the first time in his career, Jonathan Papelbon has more walks (2) than strikeouts (1) in a season.

* Via Fangraphs, hitters have only swung at 11 percent of pitches that Mike Gonzalez has thrown out of the strike zone. Last year, they swung at nearly 31 percent.

* Also via Fangraphs: In three appearances, hitters have made contact on 94.7 percent of their swings against Rafael Soriano. Last year, they made contact on 71.3 percent (16th-best among the 341 pitchers to throw at least 50 innings)

* Jose Valverde, who has always been more of a flyball pitcher, has induced eight grounders compared to only one fly.

* Matt Capps has allowed two doubles and five walks in four appearances, yet has only been charged with one run. Opposing hitters are 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position.

Key Matchups: Brandon Inge is 0-for-14 in his career against Brian Bannister, which matches his history with Bruce Chen for Inge’s most at-bats without a hit against a pitcher. It is also the most Bannister has faced anyone without allowing a hit. Gary Sheffield is 0-for-12 against him.

Jorge Cantu is 6-for-20 all-time against Bronson Arroyo, which normally would not be significant enough to be mentioned in this space. However, Cantu is swinging for history on Tuesday. He has at least one hit and one RBI in all seven games this season. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, he can tie the MLB record tonight for consecutive games to start a season with both a hit and an RBI. George Kelly did it in eight straight games for the 1921 Giants. The good news for Cantu? He has four hits in his last five at-bats against Arroyo, including a pair of home runs.

Today’s Leaderboard: Two of the hitters struggling most so far this season are leading the majors in pitches per plate appearance. David Ortiz leads the way with 5.0, followed by Milton Bradley. Are they struggling with patience or because of it? According to, Ortiz has been caught looking at 37 percent of the strikes thrown his way, well above his career average of 25 percent. He has also only swung at eight percent of first pitches. His career average is 28 percent.

Trivia Answer: Rose had 64 hits off of Phil Niekro, four more than he had against Don Sutton. A big part of that were 266 plate appearances against the knuckler, 72 more than against Sutton. Fun fact: Rose did not strike out once in his final 101 plate appearances against Niekro.