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January 15, 2013 / Nat Anacostia

The Nats’ new closer

The Nationals have reportedly signed closer Rafael Soriano to a 2-year, $28 million deal. About a week ago, the Washington Post’s Adam Kilgore speculated that signing Soriano might make sense for the Nationals.

Statistically speaking, what sort of pitcher is our new closer? In looking forward, I think it’s important to look at a pitchers’ record over more than one year, so from Fangraphs I pulled up the list of all pitchers who’ve thrown at least 80 innings in relief over the last three seasons—208 pitchers in all (representing about seven pitchers per team,the size of the average MLB bullpen). How does Soriano rank relative to this group?

1. In terms of ERA, he’s in the top tier, but not one of the elite pitchers. His 2.50 ERA ranks 23rd, which is good, but well behind the top five: Kimbrel (1.46), O’Flaherty (1.59), Romo (1.85), Rivera (1.87), and Adams (2.06).

2. He doesn’t fare nearly as well in terms of FIP (3.28 which ranks 64th of 208), or xFIP (3.80, which ranks 104th).

3. His numbers over the last three years aren’t too dissimilar from the other guys in the Nats’ bullpen:

  • for ERA, Craig Stammen (2.81),Tyler Clippard (2.82), Ryan Mattheus (2.84), and Drew Storen (2.96)
  • for FIP, Storen (3.13), Clippard (3.22), Stammen (3.37), and Mattheus (4.37)
  • for xFIP, Storen (3.46), Stammen (3.53), Clippard (3.63), and Mattheus (4.48).

While the Nats’ bullpen doesn’t have the elite arms that the Braves have, these are four good, above-average arms, along with a solid average arm in Mattheus.

4. Soriano’s numbers should be helped by moving from the AL to the NL and, especially, by moving away from Yankee Stadium. In 2012, his opponents’ on-base percentage was .317 at home versus .255 on the road; in 2011 his opponents’ OBP was .355 at home versus .271 on the road.  For slugging, the splits were .397 (H)/.307 (R) for 2012 and .390 (H)/.242 (R) for 2011.

5. If the Nationals don’t trade one of their relievers (and there’s no reason that they should), Christian Garcia appears to be the odd man out. On the other hand, I expect he will still have opportunities to fill in with the Nats as injuries arise.

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