Giving Rafael Soriano Credit Where It’s Due

Like many Washington Nationals fans, I’ve been fairly brutal toward Rafael Soriano this season. I certainly harbor some left over frustration about his lackluster 2013 season, and any time he allows a walk or a runner to reach base, I have a “here we go again” mentality. So, I decided to look into his numbers to see if there was any logical reasons for this thought process. In short, not really.

Let’s talk numbers

Soriano has an impressive 1.20 ERA, an equally impressive 2.10 FIP, and a still pretty damn good 3.49 xFIP. All this means that while his 1.20 ERA is artificially low, even as it starts to come up, the FIP and xFIP values indicate that he’ll still be fairly successful.

Soriano is striking out about one batter per inning (9 K/9), which is right about in line with his career 9.14 K/9 rate and more than two full strikeouts per nine better last year’s performance. He’s walking an average of three batters per nine innings, and that’s actually a better rate than in four of his last six seasons.

Opponents are hitting .212 against him, or just seven points above his career average, and his 1.07 WHIP is identical to his career average. Basically, Soriano has done exactly what the Nats have paid him to do based on his career rates.

How does he compare with other closers?

Soriano only has eight saves this season, which puts him in a tie for 16th, but I don’t care about the save statistic, like, at all. I do care about how he is performing in comparison with other MLB closers, though.

He has performed 46% better than the league average pitcher in terms of FIP, or Fielding Independent Pitching, which makes him the fourth best NL closer behind Craig Kimbrel, Steve Cishek, and Francisco Rodriguez.

As far as xFIP, or perhaps the ultimate predictor of future performance based on a host of factors including flyball rate and the expected home run rate,  Soriano is still better than league average, but by a smaller margin of only seven percent. However, this still makes him better than four of the nine guys in the NL with more saves than him (Sergio Romo, Jonathan Papelbon, Trevor Rosenthal, and LaTroy Hawkins).

What about Drew Storen?

After heaping all of this praise upon Soriano, it only feels right to compare him to the pitcher who I have long believed should be closing games for the Nationals: Drew Storen.

Storen has a 1.59 ERA, 2.22 FIP, and 2.45 xFIP, so while the first two numbers are marginally worse than Soriano’s, 11% and 4% respectively, Storen dominates xFIP with a metric that is 29% better than Soriano’s. Storen also owns a massive 10.32 K/9 rate and minuscule 0.79 BB/9, which means he strikes out 13 batters for every walk. Soriano strikes out just three guys for every walk.

What does that mean right now?

It means that Rafael Soriano has performed well as the Nationals’ closer and far better than just about anyone has given him credit for, despite some performances that have caused all Nats fans’ hearts to palpitate. That said, both his FIP and xFIP values indicate he is due for some regression, and at least according to xFIP, Storen may be a better option to close games when that happens.

All statistics were gathered from FanGraphs.

(Photo: Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)

Joe Drugan

About Joe Drugan

Joe is the Managing Editor of The Nats Blog and host of the Nats Talk On The Go podcast. He's been blogging about the Nationals since 2010 and with The Nats Blog since 2011.