The playoff hangover must have been still lingering in Washington and Rafael Soriano is apparently the salve.
You could hear the cries of Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen owners all across the fantasy landscape when the news of the Nationals inking Soriano to a two year, pile of unnecessary cash deal, was announced. But there were apparently enough concerns over Storen’s health, his playoff meltdown versus the St. Louis Cardinals, and/or Tyler Clippards forgettable second half, that bringing in Soriano to put out fires was necessary.
This gives the Nationals a awfully fine bullpen headed into 2013. Sean Burnett, Craig Stammen, Michael Gonzalez, Tom Gorzelanny, and Ryan Mattheus all turned in pretty stellar seasons in 2012 (well, Mattheus was maybe just okay…). But, of course, they lost three of them to free agency and have Zach Duke, Bill Bray, and Sean West as replacements. And then there’s Henry Rodriguez of course, who might be the most feared reliever in baseball — both because when he knows where the ball is going, he’s un-hittable, and also because he rarely knows where the ball is going.
Regardless, the Nationals appear to possess many (if not too many) late inning options which ought to make their late game situations close to ironclad.
I’m assuming Soriano is going to close for the Nationals, so I won’t tax your sensibilities with that hypothetical conversation. But what this means for Clippard and Storen is a little unclear.
First and foremost, the numbers. Storen emerged as a top-shelf closer in 2011, saving 43 games, striking out over 24% of batters faced and generally lived up to every reasonable expectation placed upon him when he was a first round draft pick. He hurt his elbow in 2012, was limited to just 37 games, but upon his return in July, his stuff was back and his results were a 2.37 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, and he was the feared closer once again. And then there was the debacle on October 12, which ended the Nationals outstanding season. That taste seems to have lingered through the winter.
Tyler Clippard was king of the holds category in 2011, when he was almost impossible to hit. He took over for Storen in 2012, saved 32 games, but experienced some regression on balls in play and strand rates, which was expected. His ERA and WHIP weren’t as sterling as they were a year prior, but his overall contribution to fantasy squads was still sizable. But dig just a level down, and the ugliness of his second half is difficult to ignore. In his first 37.1 innings, Clippard held opponents to a .143/.234/.203 slash line, giving up just 19 hits and zero home runs. His ERA and WHIP stood at 1.93 and 0.91, respectively. But, as they say, there was a lot of baseball still yet to be played.
His second half ERA ballooned to 5.60 as he gave up 36 hits over 35.1 innings pitched, including seven home runs. He was still striking batters out, but that 56.6% fly ball rate caught up with him and he suddenly looked far more human.
If you look at their situations objectively, you would have to assume Storen is the main setup guy headed into 2013, so his value will be in his holds. If you’re not in a hold league, you either stash him while you wait and see if Soriano’s appendages hold together, or maybe cut bait.
But vultures are already circling on the trade front. It’s been posited more than once that we could see Clippard or Storen moved. It’s certainly possible, and my money would be on Clippard. It could be that we see him sweeten the pot in another bigger deal as some others have argued, or he’s dealt on his own, who knows. But the point here is try to hold the line on both Clippard and Storen until this plays out, because there might be more shifting ahead. Perhaps more importantly, there are plenty of teams that could certainly use late inning relief help, so a closer role somewhere else isn’t out of the question. I recognize Duke, West, and Bray are not Burnett, Gonzalez, and Gorzelanny though – and it’s possible that any moves will have to wait until the Nationals see the whites of their eyes in March before they start to deal from a perceived position of strength.
Lastly, to point out the rather obvious, pitchers get hurt. And Soriano seems particularly adept at it. He’s missed significant chunks of time in five different seasons due to elbow and shoulder issues, and to most observers, the elbow and shoulder are important to a pitchers delivery. He’s also 33 years old, which doesn’t make him eligible for social security, but it’s right about when relievers tend to start falling apart (although there’s some selection bias in there, but it’s a great study). Storen, on the other hand, is just 25 and he’s not a free agent until 2017. Count me among the many who wouldn’t be surprised to see him closing games in Washington at some point this season.