Revisiting the Rafael Soriano Signing

When the Nats signed Rafael Soriano it was met with mixed reaction. Stats don't back up the need for a lock down closer. When leading heading into the ninth baseball teams have a greater than a 90% chance to win that game, and that is right around where the Nationals have been this season. The current MLB average win percentage with a lead heading into the ninth is 94.9% and the Nationals are at 94.7%. That misses quite a bit of the nuisances of the Nationals bullpen this season and why even as an overpay paying for the marginal wins Soriano has provided was worth it.

Imagine the Nats bullpen without Soriano. Think back to Game 5 and who it was standing on the mound and Descalso first tied the game and Pete Kozma drove in the go ahead runs. Think about the image of Drew Storen sitting in front of his locker staring in horror at the ground. Now fast forward to 2013 and look at Clippard and Storen. Neither pitcher is pitching like they have in the past. Clippard is walking an astronomically high 6.8 per nine and Storen is giving up a too high for a reliever 1.5 HR/9. Both have struggled at times and in his one chance to close out a ball game Storen blew it. No one has made a big deal of the mild struggles of Storen and Clippard, but imagine if the Nats didn't have Soriano. Imagine all the columns being written with the focus being on Game 5 and the mental state of Drew Storen. All the columns on if Storen truly has a closer's mentality and all that other nonsense.  

Rafael Soriano has stabilized the Nats bullpen, and beyond that he has allowed Storen and Clippard to hide in set-up roles after the Nats bullpen cost them a chance to play in the NLCS and struggled to begin this season. Soriano is a steadying force. He doesn't have the personality of the rest of the Nats relievers. It is hard to imagine him reading 50 Shades of Grey   or handing out Gatorade shots to the other Nats relievers. Soriano is a silent assassin. He goes about his business and even when he celebrates a save with his customary untuck it is workmanlike. He has a job to do on the mound, gets it done, and then relaxes. He doesn't finish with any type of flourish or Velverde chicken dance. Just a simple untuck as the catcher approaches for a handshake to congratulate him on a job well done.   

Because of Soriano the struggles of a couple of the Nats relievers have been hidden, but they are rounding into form. The entire bullpen has gone 15 innings without allowing a run, and Storen and Clippard are starting to pitch much more like themselves. There is credit to be shared though. Show me a good bullpen and I will show you a good starting staff. Over the last 14 days the Nats starters have a 3.16 ERA and have averaged 6.4 innings pitched a game. Over that same 14 day period the Nats bullpen has 1.61 ERA and has averaged just 2.33 innings pitched a game.

Over the course of the entire 2013 season the Nats starters are getting deeper into games. In 2012 the Nats starting staff averaged under six innings pitched a game at 5.8, and so far into 2013 they have raised that to 6.1. It is a small difference but an important one. The Nats are limiting opponents to seeing and average of three relievers a night and when teams aren't getting as deep into the Nats bullpen it means they can use their mop-up men in mop-up roles and don't have to force them into a game because their normal set-up man and seventh inning guy are unavailable. Good starting pitching makes an average bullpen good and a good bullpen great.

Combine the increase in starting pitcher's innings on the front end and the presence of Rafael Soriano on the back-end and the Nats middle relievers are able to go about their work quietly as they recover confidence from what was a tough end to a great 2012. Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard are both great pitchers and will have dominant stretches. It could be argued that they are doing it right now. In his last four appearances Storen hasn't allowed a run and Clippard, three. If it wasn't for the presence of Soriano there might not have been time for Storen and Clippard to round into form. The uproar and panic over their early struggles would have been deafening. Soriano, along with the starting pitching, has stabilized the situation, and while the Nats overpaid for marginal wins early returns have it as a worthy investment.  

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