Rafael Soriano, Your Head Asplode

Like most non-Yankees fans, I typically change the channel when the 9th inning rolls around and Mariano Rivera is trotting to the mound. Why bother watching when the outcome is near-foretold? Especially now that “Ni Hao Kai Lan” is on streaming Netflix? I have better uses of my time, dear Yankees closer.

In 2011, I have found this ignore-the-Yankees-ninth tradition has extended now into the 8th inning. As a Rays fan, I know well how Soriano can and will close down many a late inning affair. So, when Rafael Soriano took the bump last night, I considered my evening of baseball complete and retired to my chambers. I imagine a number of Yankees fans woke like me — quite surprised at the night’s result: A 5-4 New York loss.

Soriano ended with a line of 0.2 IP and 4 ER against him, leading to the eventual Yankees loss. The occasionally-injured reliever did not have his typical command last night, missing the catcher’s target on nearly every pitch. But what does this mean for the New York Yankees bullpen in the long term? Probably not much.

So what was happening with Soriano? Well, the under-qualified scout in me says: He missed his locations. Something was off — perhaps in his release point (though I could not Pitch F/X data to corroborate my suspicion) because he missed high and away a lot — and he was only able to put about five pitches where he wanted them (a few fastballs and a slider or two).

The lone silver lining of the outing was the bases-loaded strikeout of Tsuyoshi Nishioka (the second and final out Soriano would acquire on the night) which came on four consecutive fastballs (I believe cut fastballs) that even still missed their intended targets by about 3-5 inches (again, eyeballing it scoutastically).

A look at Soriano’s plate discipline numbers tells us he typically generates a good deal of swings (~50% versus the league average of ~46%) — and plenty of empty swings (~12% versus ~9% league average). Last night, batters took to the waiting game with him, swinging at only a third of his offerings and missing half as much whilst Soriano sought the plate.

Perhaps this may be some unintended byproduct of his early and heavy usage (pitching 3 games out of the Yankees first 5), or having gone back-to-back nights for the first time this season.

Regardless the cause of his corroded command, Soriano was not at true fault for the 4 earned runs last night. In fact, he nearly escaped with but 1 on his record (and in fact did only received one “fair run” against him), but proved victim to Delmon Young‘s annoyingly bloopish double (or perhaps a href=”http://www.fangraphs.com/statss.aspx?playerid=4599&position=1B/OF”>Nick Swisher’s high-traction knees, which prevented him from a sliding catch, instead producing an awkward, half-melting collapse).

After Soriano walked in a run, Joe Girardi produced his elongated, hooked cane and replaced Soriano with another excellent, yet unfortunate, reliever in the Caucasian form of David Robertson. Had Young’s fancy-free double hung a moment longer in the air, then Rivera would have closed out a win last night and Soriano’s reputation would have hardly tarnished.

Unfortunately for Soriano, that did not happen. And since reliever statistics are the stuff of variation and whimsy, Soriano might pitch amazingly for the year’s remainder, but his statistics will still carry the burden of this one ill-fated night.

That doesn’t mean I’ll be watching, though.




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Bradley writes for FanGraphs and The Hardball Times. Follow him on Twitter @BradleyWoodrum.


65 Responses to “Rafael Soriano, Your Head Asplode”

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  1. Scout Finch says:

    Color me humorless, but your off-color title is a touch offensive to those tackling english as a second language.

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    • Shaggychild says:

      I think it’s sic!!!!

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    • Powder Blues says:

      asplode

      A mixture of an explosion and implosion, usually affecting only a person’s head, though anything is subject to asploding.

      It is a spontaneous and violent act, though usually its effects are only temporary, restoring its victim to continue normally or asplode again. An asplosion may occur if a person is overwhelmed by current circumstances, or if the existence of an object must suddenly cease to exist.

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      • Small Sample Goodness says:

        I find that most asplosions are due to the consumption of spicy foods.

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      • B N says:

        I second the conclusion that spicy foods are indeed a likely culprit, and moreover am willing to bet that the majority of such asplosions can be blamed on either Mexican, Indian, or Sichuan cuisine.

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    • Kyle says:

      Amazing.

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    • Color me unconcerned: I’m an ESL teacher. And I consider myself a funny one.

      Moreover, I’m a CSL student (Chinese as a Second Language), and I find my mistakes humorous (when explained to me), not offensive.

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    • M.Twain says:

      It’s hilarious.

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    • joser says:

      Scout, are you yourself an ESL student? If not, how do you presume to speak on their behalf? Was there some vast election among them for excessive overreaction spokesperson?

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    • Luis says:

      coming from a cuban-american: chill out meng

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      • Los says:

        Hahaha…haven’t heard meng in a while. I guess that is what happens when a Cuban moves to Pittsburgh.

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    • Kyle says:

      well, its a homestar runner reference. At least, i hope.

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  2. DD says:

    I believe the title is an homage to Strongbad from Homestarrunner.com. If it is, awesome. If not, I still like it.

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  3. John says:

    Maybe it was the Twins fan in me, but I found the 8th inning to be glorious. When Delmon “mashed” his “line drive” double my head nearly asploded.

    That being said, something was bound to fall in for the Twins eventually, everything hard they have hit seems to have been at someone, luckily a soft one fell in when it counted.

    As for Soriano, his walk rate has always been higher for lefties than righties, last season it was 3 times higher against LH batters. He did face 5 lefties in a row that inning, no?

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    • Fine observations! As a Rays fine, I found the evening’s results delightful too, but I must balk at the assumption “something was bound to fall.” I believe the present 2011 Tampa Bay Rays have done a fine job disproving that old idea. They are out to prove that a team can sustain a sub-.100 BABIP.

      And good point on the lefties in the lineup — I had not even considered that. He was missing his spots against everyone; facing those lefties probably only exacerbated the problem.

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    • descender says:

      When the umpire (who was new/young as they said in the broadcast) learns where the outer half of the plate is, that inning never happens.

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  4. Ellis says:

    Dude, you’re missing out by changing the channel when Mo comes out to pitch! He’s my favorite pitcher in all of baseball to watch, it’s mesmerizing. Why waste your chance to observe the best pitch in history?

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    • It’s true his cutter (and the rest of him) are Hall of Fame bound, but frankly I get my fill of watching Mo when he shuts down the Rays a dozen or so times a year.

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  5. CircleChange11 says:

    The rest of the league should just enjoy this b/c there will be many more nights where the play sticks to the script.

    The interesting thing in this MIN-NYY is that the script was flipped. The NYY lost a lead for a change.

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    • Indeed. This first week of baseball has taken to the “script” like Tobias Funke adaptation of “As You Like It.” The Rays and Red Sox are two of three worst-hitting teams (per wRC+) and the Orioles are leading the league in ERA.

      Yeesh.

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  6. mattlock says:

    I expected to see this post getting madly flamed for daring to desecrate the name of Mariano.

    Then I remembered that no Yankee fan would dare let themselves be found on a site of advanced stats and intelligent and reasonable baseball discourse.

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    • Ouch. You’re lucky none of them are here to see your comment!

      In all seriousness, though, there are plenty of Yankees fans out there with quality brains stuffed into their skulls. I would hope my opinions of Mo (he’s boringly predictable) would only fill them with pride.

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      • phoenix2042 says:

        and it does! Mo is awesome. Amazing that he’s still doing his thing at 41 too.

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    • Dan says:

      i understand most yankee fan’s are mouth breathers who call Mike and the Mad Dog and tell you how great Jeter is compared to A-Rod. But don’t lump ALL of us in to that group. There are a few of us out there who appreciate intelligent discourse and value pitcher wins appropriately.

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      • Dan says:

        and by appropriately, I mean not at all

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      • phoenix2042 says:

        good save, Dan! haha but yes, I am a big Yanks fan, but I’m also a baseball fan. And I can recognize that Jeter is aging terribly, Arod is aging predictably, and Mo is… not aging?

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    • waynetolleson says:

      I think it’s more a case of intelligent baseball fans, many of whom happen to be Yankees fans, appreciate just how special a pitcher Mariano Rivera is. Rivera’s stats, advanced and otherwise, speak for themselves. He is by far the greatest player in his field, i.e. closer.

      One can argue the exact importance of closers, but one cannot argue that Rivera has excelled in what is now his fifteenth season as the Yankees’ closer. No other pitcher comes close to matching Rivera’s consistent excellence for fifteen straight seasons as a late-inning relievers.

      Rivera is also special to watch because of his strategy and demeanor on the mound. Most relief pitchers mix a power fastball with either a devastating slider, splitter, or change. Rivera throws in just one range in velocity. He commands several variations of his fastball with a combination of great late movement and precision.

      Rivera never appears rattled. This is, perhaps, the trait that has made him so great over the years. Rivera’s delivery always appears fluid and effortless. He carries an aura of calm about him, and almost seems immune to pressure.

      You can dismiss all of this as the words of a fawning Yankees fan, but I believe that there are fans of all teams who appreciate Mariano Rivera’s abilities and the manner in which he conducts himself.

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      • Martin says:

        Absolutely, as a general rule I hate all Yankee players, and most especially Jeter, since he is the most overrated player in the history of baseball, and possibly of all major sports that have ever existed since the beginning of time, and may have existed in theoretical Universes past that have flourished and failed over the eons of time.

        But I quite like Mariano. I cannot understand how he does it, everyone knows exactly what he throws, at what speed, and still players cannot hit him, he is truly astounding and a credit to baseball

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      • Mike R. says:

        Jeter is(was) every but as important to the Yankees success as Rivera for the past one and a half decades.

        This IS a site for advanced statistical analysis therefore I’d contend that the true overrated players are guys who aren’t just pimped by the media but.

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      • Mike R. says:

        “but” to bit and eliminate second “but”…sorry

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      • Barkey Walker says:

        Rivera is very good, and has lasted incredibly well. But I doubt any other team would trade for him with that contract while Joe Nathan is probably a better value at 10M/year and similar performance.

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    • Total Dominication says:

      Riveraveblues.com
      yankeeanalysts.com

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    • descender says:

      You realize that 1/2 of the posters around here are most likely Yankee fans. The problem is that they (we) have to hide that fact, because people instantly write off their opinions and idiots like you flame and troll yankee fans.

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  7. waynetolleson says:

    “Absolutely, as a general rule I hate all Yankee players, and most especially Jeter, since he is the most overrated player in the history of baseball, and possibly of all major sports that have ever existed since the beginning of time, and may have existed in theoretical Universes past that have flourished and failed over the eons of time.”

    Derek Jeter will soon be the most overrated player in the entire history of baseball with a .314 BA, 3000+ career hits, 500+ career 2B’s, a .384 career OBP, 1200+ RBI, and 1900+ runs scored.

    I guess if you rate Jeter as being as good as Babe Ruth or something, then Jeter’s overrated. By all other standards, Jeter has had an excellent career.

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    • Mike R. says:

      Singles hitter over glorified New York Michael Young terrible in playoffs nobdy on Royals turrible fielder

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      • Total Dominication says:

        What about 500 career doubles and close to 250 home runs do you not understand? Jeter might be overrated, mainly due to his defense, but his offense and consistency for a SS is truly legendary.

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      • waynetolleson says:

        “Singles hitter over glorified New York Michael Young terrible in playoffs nobdy on Royals turrible fielder.”

        I don’t think you could offer a more stereotypical or useless argument if you tried. After publication after publication, website after website, has spent the past 5-10 years arguing just how overrated Derek Jeter is, I can’t say I see this movement that claims Derek Jeter to be the greatest living player, or the greatest shortstop in history.

        I don’t know how you suppose the rest of the world “rates” Derek Jeter. However, when you look at Jeter’s career totals, take a handful of his best seasons, and take into consideration that Jeter’s teams have always played in the playoffs, and that Jeter has been a part of five World Championship teams, I don’t see how you can say that Jeter hasn’t had a superlative career.

        There are elements of the media that inflate Jeter’s greatness. However, at the end of this year, Jeter will likely have 3000+ hits and around 1900 runs scored. It’s not as though he spent his career being Willie Bloomquist or Yuniesky Betancourt.

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      • Kevin S. says:

        Just among SS with 5000 PA (to make the search somewhat reasonable in size), Jeter’s ISO is wedged right in between “singles hitters’ Honus Wagner and Arky Vaughan.

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      • Mike R. says:

        Relax people. I was sarcastic.

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    • Chris says:

      And how many SS have a higher WAR than Jeter? Exactly 2. (Not counting A-rod since he didnt get to 70 WAR at short).

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      • Kevin S. says:

        Wait, what? Honus Wagner, Cal Ripken, George Davis, Luke Appling, Bill Dahlen, Joe Cronin, Arky Vaughan. All have higher WARs (and Ozzie Smith is tied). Will Jeter pass a bunch of them if he stays healthy and on the position for the next two years? Quite possibly, but he’s not there yet.

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    • Barkey Walker says:

      Batting average, RBI, and runs scored? Did you forget what site you were on?

      FG ought to have a filter to cover up posts like these just like other sites cover up posts with dirty language.

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      • waynetolleson says:

        “Batting average, RBI, and runs scored? Did you forget what site you were on?”

        No. People like you continually remind us that we’re on a stats site inhabited by a disproportionate amount of condescending know-it-alls who think that because they can now throw-around terms like wOBA, xFIP, OOZ, and WAR, that they now have keen and penetrating insights into the game of baseball that the rest of us rubes are too simple to understand.

        The problem is that once a player has accumulated the number of hits, 2B’s, HR’s, SB’s, RBI, and runs scored that Derek Jeter has accumulated, that player will also have great advanced stats as well.

        For example, in terms of WAR, Derek Jeter is the EIGHTH-MOST PRODUCTIVE SHORTSTOP OF ALL-TIME.

        Jeter is seventh all-time among shortstops in wOBA. He is fifth all-time among shortstops in wRC+.

        How overrated, then, can Jeter really be? Unless there’s this huge movement – and I’m not seeing it – claiming that Jeter is better than Honus Wagner, Alex Rodriguez, Cal Ripken, and Ernie Banks, I don’t see how people reach this conclusion that Jeter is hideously overrated.

        How good do people want Jeter to be? He’s on base 38.5% of his PA’s. He steals bases. He hits a lot of doubles. He can put a ball in the seats every now and then. He has done this consistently for a decade-and-a-half.

        I honestly feel that at this point in time, the voices of those who underrate Jeter are far louder than that of those who overrate him.

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  8. Anthony says:

    If I didn’t have a stats exam tomorrow, I’d do some research on how much early season happenings mean. I don’t mean like, a hot streak, but like starting 6-0 or 0-5.

    I know this, 91 wins generally gets you in the playoffs. So if you’re racing for 91, and you start out 6-0 like TEX, then you only have to maintain a .545% to make it, which if you did for an entire season would land you at 85 wins. The Red Sox have to maintain a .580%, or like a 94 win season %.

    I don’t think Soriano’s outing is a sign of things to come (although I hope it is), early season events have to at least some time mean something.

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    • Speak of the devil, my pal Jason just did some research in this regards at my behest:

      http://www.draysbay.com/2011/4/6/2093265/why-an-0-4-start-isnt-so-bad

      The fact is all teams have losing streaks and winning streaks through the course of a season. Each one impacts the final results, but ultimately a team’s talent will be its chief determinate in the standings. (Chief, but not sole; I’d say it’s talent at 40%, luck at 30%, and all sorts of other noise for the last 30%.)

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      • Anthony says:

        Well it makes sense. baseball is such a streaky sport. There are times where if you started the playoffs and inserted the Pirates, they’d win it all, if they just happen to be on a hot streak. Players are the same way.

        I think some teams just get unlucky. Like Atlanta last year, 9 games losing streak, I think it was against the Mets who were hot, the Cards as they were hot, and the Phillies who were hot. If you just get bad luck and face a bunch of teams who are hot, you’re going to lose more games than a team that plays a lot of games against teams that are cold, even if they’re the same teams but at different times.

        Thanks for the article btw.

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      • John says:

        But the order of your streaks is important for the simple fact that a good team that is unlucky early in the seasons is much more likely to be a seller and much less likely to be a buyer at the trade deadline.

        Now losing a few games early won’t matter, but if you have consistent bad luck early in the season, it could effect the outcome of the season if they have made moves or didn’t make moves as a result of that bad luck.

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  9. Anthony says:

    I know there out there, but how much does “getting lucky” (last ab wins) help? Last year atlanta seemed to win a lot of games late and it’s actually an argument people have for them not being as good as they look. As a Braves fan, it seemed that from mid-Aug to September the Phillies were either getting cold teams, or were winning on flukes (the foul ball call vs FLA), or going head to head with ATL right after injuries. It SEEMED like Philly got every break near the end of the season. Other people say good teams make their own breaks.

    Article links would be much appreciated. I’m too lazy to look and I assume you guys know where to find the really good stuff.

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  10. wobatus says:

    His velocity is down. Maybe he was reaching back for something extra and it was making him miss. Also, he supposedly doesn’t like non-save situations. Understanding he isn’t the closer, but a 4 run lead in the 8th and a back to back for him. Maybe he was too casual at first and got out of whack.

    Could be a combination of things. He could be injured. He’s never walked 3 in a game before. Not to overreact to one early outing (unfortunately you have to add that or else someone thinks a raised eyebrow is a panic attack), but again, his velocity was down before that game and he has an injury history. Bears watching (kinda like Mike Gonzalez last year, who was never as good as Soriano, but he totally asploded).

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  11. Jay Dee says:

    Make no judgements on pitchers trying to work when the temp is in the 30’s. Especially ones who have been in Florida for an extended period of time. Sor will look different in June. Bet on it.

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  12. Matt Goldfarb says:

    @ Bradley: Is “As You Like It” the play he directs for Maybe and GMB’s HS?

    @ Yankee Haters: As a Yankee fan, I too hate most Yankee fans; especially those who called Mike Francesa yesterday saying Mo should have been brought-in in the 8th.

    @ Jay Dee: Temp was def a big factor.

    @ The rest of ya’ll: Who was the best of the big 3 SS of the late 90’s early 2000’s. Garciapara? A-Rod? Jeter? Another name to throw into the fire could be Tejada.

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    • Kevin S. says:

      Mo should have been brought in to get out of the eighth. If you don’t want to use him for four outs on a cold April night, fine, let Robertson pitch the ninth. The game needed to be saved when Soriano got yanked. I want my best pitcher there, not facing the 6-7-8 hitters with a three-run lead and the bases empty.

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    • Total Dominication says:

      A-rod. Not even close.

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  13. Colin says:

    asplode…HA

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  14. Deadeye says:

    This was a very well written, tactful piece. Someday when I finish my English degree I hope to aspire to such heights of writing

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  15. Barkey Walker says:

    “Delmon Young‘s annoyingly bloopish double” It’s amazing hour Yankees fans always want to rewrite history so you win every game. It was a ball in play. You have to choices: the fielders can’t filed their positions, or it was a legit hit.

    The way I saw it, the team lacked cohesion/strong management. None of them could run full tilt to the right spot because they weren’t sure who’s ball it was. It was a little like watching a little league team field.

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  16. slugger27 says:

    Barkey:

    You do realize that the author clearly states he’s a rays fan in the 2nd paragraph OF THIS VERY ARTICLE, right?

    Ill assume you’re a twins fan that for some reason took his phrasing personally, but if not, this comment is nonsense

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    • Barkey Walker says:

      Not sure we read the same article. Anyone who watches a team often enough to have a policy on which pitchers they will watch is, in my book, a fan. Example: if you will only watch for exactly one starter, then you are a Nats fan who isn’t going to watch much in 2011 (like me).

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  17. Rafael Soriano says:

    I’m trying some mechanical changes, so my velo might be down for a bit, but eventually it should increase to around 96-99 mph.

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