The National No One is Talking AboutPosted on April 23, 2014 by Ben Bruno
The disappointing end to the 2013 season for the Nationals led to numerous questions, including the role of Rafael Soriano, specifically, if he would remain the team's closer. Soriano recorded 43 saves in 2013, but he was inconsistent and not the dominant strikeout pitcher we were used to seeing, posting a career low 6.9 strikeouts per nine innings pitched. Many fans called for him to be removed from the closer role and allow Tyler Clippard or Drew Storen to take over in 2014. That did not happen - much to the chagrin of many fans - and Soriano entered this season in his customary role as closer. Through the team's first 21 games, Soriano has made eight appearances and is off to a great start, yet not much is being said about him. This is likely due to the mediocre play of the Nats as a whole, including their slow starts to games and leading the league in errors, dominating headlines, but Soriano's pitching - so far - deserves to be talked about.
Soriano has appeared in eight games this season, pitching an inning each time. In his eight innings of work, he's given up six hits, no runs (earned or unearned), one walk, and eleven strikeouts. He's only made one appearance in which he's failed to strike anyone out, leading to a strikeouts per nine rate of 12.38 (he has a K% of 36.7 if you prefer that stat), which is great to see, considering this number was so low last season. His WAR is already at 0.5, after being 0.9 for all of last season. (For reference, a WAR of 5.0 is the best a relief pitcher has posted in the "closer era", since 1988.) He hasn't given up more than two hits in any appearance and has only given up one hit over his last five, including none in his last three, in which he recorded two saves and a win. Also, just an interesting note, he has made one appearance this season with the Nats trailing, something he was not asked to do a single time in 2013.
These numbers are great so far, but they've come over just eight innings pitched. Still, it's good to see Soriano get off to a good start, especially with questions surrounding him in the off-season about his role as closer, and his poor start to the 2013 season. (Through 8 IP last year, he gave up four runs and had a blown save.) The Nats are not putting Soriano in save situations often this season, but when they are, he has yet to fail to do his job. He has pitched great even in non-save situations as well, which can often be troubling for closers, as they are not accustomed to pitching in these situations.
While the save is basically a meaningless stat (that's a topic for another blog), it's nice to see the Nats' closer being able to record them when called upon and providing the bullpen with some stability, especially during a stretch when Clippard has been shaky. Maybe closers are like umpires, and kickers in football, in that if they're doing their job, you don't hear about them. I'm guessing Soriano doesn't mind not getting attention, but his pitching so far this season deserves some.