Filtering by Tag: Rafael Soriano

Nats Need to Find a Way to Win the Close Ones

The Nats overall are 8-4 in one run games and that might lead people tobelieve that they have done a good job of winning the close ones, and while they did end up winning yesterday, the way they went about it is not the path to success. Against Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner the Nationals scored a combined three runs. That by itself may not sound good and no one is denying that the Nats offense has been scuffling, but Matt Cain holds a career 3.35 ERA and is one of the best pitchers in the NL. Madison Bumgarner is a rising star and has been the Giants best starter this season and his career 3.17 ERA isn't too shabby either, and while they Nats struggled to score runs against Cain and Bumgarner the Giants scored a combined one run against Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez. In other words, the Nats starters were just that much better.​

In both games the Nats entered the late innings with a one run lead and handed the ball to a bullpen that was believed to be one of the best in the NL and in both games the Nats bullpen blew it and forced the game into extra innings. The Nats ended up splitting these two games, but they should have won both of them. These games represent what playoff baseball is like. Whether it is Strasburg vs. Cain, Gio vs. Bumgarner or Strasburg vs. Cueto, Gio vs. Latos or Strasburg vs. Wainwright, Gio vs. Miller; if the Nats starters out-duel the other team’s top pitchers they have to win the game. This is how the Nats are ultimately going to win a World Series. While the lack of offense and ability to score runs is very alarming the more alarming aspect of these last two games was the Nats inability to close out games, and this isn't the first time it has happened this season.

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Revisiting the Rafael Soriano Signing

When the Nats signed Rafael Soriano it was met with mixed reaction. Statsdon'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.

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Circumventing the Closer

With the signing of Rafael Soriano the Nationals did something important. They are now able to both have a non-traditional closer pitch in the highest leverage situation of the game while still having a traditional closer for the save situation. For you see with Clippard, Storen, and Soriano all having experience closer and career ERAs at or around 3.00 and all being strikeout pitchers the Nationals will have closer level talent pitching in the seventh, eighth, and ninth innings whenever they have the lead. So far in the season both Clippard and Storen have pitched four innings and have essentially split the seventh and eighth inning with Storen having pitched in the eighth inning in all four of his outings and Clippard pitching the eighth in two out of his four appearances with the other two coming in the seventh.   ​

When both Clippard and Storen have appeared in a game it is with Clippard pitching the seventh and Storen pitching the eighth. It is both clear that they are near equal talents and that Davey Johnson favors Storen slightly more as the set-up man. That should come as no surprise as Storen is the more talented pitcher and would have been the Nats closer had Soriano not been signed. There is an important off-shoot of this that goes back to how Davey Johnson used the bullpen in 2012. With Clippard as the closer, Burnett as the set-up man, and Stammen as the clear third most talented reliever in the bullpen Davey Johnson used Stammen mostly as a long reliever in games that were close. In essence Stammen was the Nats bullpen Ace or fireman. He came in to clean-up the mess left by starters and was often given the highest leverage situations and asked to pitch more than one inning. ​

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Mike Rizzo and the Nats Window for Opportunity

The last remaining side-effect of the Rafael Soriano contract is that it defines when Mike Rizzo thinks the Nats window for opportunity ends, or could end. The Nats will pay Soriano $7 million over the next two seasons and then won't pay him the remainder of the contract until 2018-2025. $2 million a year over those seven seasons doesn't sound like a lot, but that will include some interest so it may end up being more like $2.5-3 million, but none of the will affect the top of the Nats roster.

It won't affect the Nats decision to extend Strasburg, Harper, Desmond, or Zimmermann past 2018. It may have some effect on the bottom of the roster, but the Nats did let John Lannan sit in the minors for $5 million last season and are in no rush to trade Michael Morse who is owed $7 million for 2013. The big thing is that the Nats first have to get to 2018. The only players on the Nats current roster that are under contract in 2018 are Ryan Zimmerman and Bryce Harper, and 2018 is Harper's walk year.

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The Nats Final Off-Season Issue

This is the time of the off-season where teams sign players and make moves few hear about, and if they do they aren't expected to have much of an impact. Now is the time of the January free agent. Sure, there are guys like LaRoche, Lohse, Soriano, and Bourn still on the market, but they are not the typical January free agent. The January free agent is that guy looking for a minor league deal and invite to Spring Training. He is the guy hoping to get one more shot to wear the uniform and play in the big leagues. 

The Nats don't need a lot of these types of players, but they may benefit from a couple. As it stand right now there are two spots up for grabs on the Nats 25 man roster. The rotation, line-up, and bench are set. The only real question is if it will be LaRoche or Morse manning first in 2013, but that has no impact on the two spots the Nats have open. The Nats need a sixth and seventh man in the bullpen. They have a number of internal options and if they decide to forgo the Christian Garcia as a starter experiment then suddenly there is one less spot in the bullpen.

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