- FanGraphs Baseball - http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs -

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.