Missing: Rafael Soriano

Planning for Andy Pettitte's return
Phil Hughes' Last Stand
(Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

The dominant bullpen corps has been the Yankees’ backbone all season, bailing out the sketchy starting rotation and inconsistent offense all April long. David Robertson struck out all three batters he faced last night and has yet to be charged with a run in 2012. Mariano Rivera as rebounded from his Opening Day blown save in spectacular fashion, and middle guys like Cory Wade, Boone Logan, and Clay Rapada have been far better than average. Then there’s Rafael Soriano.

The fourth highest paid reliever in baseball this year, Soriano has been earning his money by throwing warm-up pitches in the bullpen lately, not by facing actual hitters in games. His seven innings pitched are tied with Rapada for the fewest on the staff, and Rapada is nothing more than the second lefty specialist. Soriano has appeared in just two of the team’s last nine games, though he’s warmed up in four others. He hasn’t pitched since the last game of the Rangers’ series.

Of course, Soriano’s recent lack of work isn’t his fault. He’s been effective in his limited action this season, pitching to a 1.29 ERA and a 3.52 FIP. Joe Girardi is a master at pushing the right bullpen buttons, but his one real flaw is marrying relievers to specific innings. Simply put, there just haven’t been many seventh inning setup situations lately, which is why Soriano has been left warming up in the bullpen and not pitching in games. It’s not ideal given effective and valuable he can be.

Soriano’s recent usage isn’t actually a problem, this is more of an observation than anything. Girardi doesn’t bury his relievers for long periods of time and you know that before long, we’re going to run into a stretch of games where it feels like he’s out there everyday. With Robertson having pitched in each of the last two days, there’s a pretty good chance we’ll see Soriano out there in the late innings tonight if the game is close. It’s a nice luxury to have when a pitcher of this quality has been MIA for a week or two and you barely notice in terms of overall bullpen performance.

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Planning for Andy Pettitte's return
Phil Hughes' Last Stand
  • MannyGeee

    so, he can throw 40 tonight, right? we might need it.

  • jjyank

    “Joe Girardi is a master at pushing the right bullpen buttons, but his one real flaw is marrying relievers to specific innings.”

    Seems to be more of a problem with conventional wisdom than Girardi’s approach specifically. Though I would love to see that conventional wisdom change. I miss the days for D-Rob being the fireman.

    • titit

      It will be even worse if they put him at closer. It will be a waste of his best talent.

      • gageagainstthemachine

        I disagree. Anytime you can shut the door completely on a team is the best application of a skill. Otherwise, Mo would’ve been the 8th inning guy to some other “just another closer” guy the past 15+ years. If D-Rob is putting up zeroes night after night against people without even a whiff of threat from the batters, wouldn’t you want that applied in the very inning that guarantees a victory? What would be so great about being the fireman if the average closer just blows it in the 9th? We’ve been worrying about who’s going to be the guy to save the next 600+ games (not claiming D-Rob will actually do that) when Mo is done. Well, I think we’ve already got him. Personally, I’m liking less and less of the Houdini act and more and more of the you-ain’t-even-getting-a-whiff-of-hope act that he’s been putting up as he refines his game.

        • OMG! Bagels!

          I think the concern about D-Rob being a closer has always been the Houdini act. While fun, you don’t want that in a closer. The lights out is what you need in a closer though the cat and mouse 8th inning with D-Rob is certainly enjoyable. But when Mo toys with us by giving up hits and putting people on base, we’re saying, “STOP SCREWING AROUND MO.” because a) It’s Mo and b) that is what a closer needs to do.

          I like the lights out D-Rob because it will make him an effective closer but damn that Houdini shit is fun.

          • MannyGeee

            yeah, last night’s save was a thing of beauty (and the 600-ish before that). D-Rob will make those relatively routine saves more of a cardiac moment. Dont think my heart can take it.

            • CS Yankee

              We will miss you.

  • Will (the other one)

    Don’t worry, folks. It’s only because he’s being stretched out to become a starter.

    • MannyGeee

      his stuff would play better out the rotation…

      #theantiJoba

  • Manny’s BanWagon

    Maybe Joe is babying him to keep him healthy.

  • TLVP

    Soooo… Mariano Rivera has pitched 8.1 innings with an ERA of 2.16 and there are 5 relievers on the staff with better numbers than him?

    Ok, I’m cherry picking ERA for emphasis but they are pretty awesome individually and as a group. 76 innings is not really SSS either

    • Dummies Playing With Balls (formerly Rainbow Connection)

      Ignore facts and just call him ‘God’.

    • MannyGeee

      dont worry, Freedy in the bullpen will spring that bullpen ERA back up to the mean.

  • infernoscurse

    hes just resting and getting ready to take over the closers role next year

    • jjyank

      I’m torn on that. I see both sides of the argument. Yankee fans are bound to start overreacting when the first non-Mo closer falters. We’ve been so spoiled all these years, and instead of a couple of “What’s Wrong With Mo Weeks” every year, we will have several more “Our Closer Just Sucks” weeks. That reality will come as a shock to a fan base that’s been lucky enough to have the greatest closer ever all these years. So if you’re gonna be the closer of the future, it will likely be easier to replace the guy who replaces Mo, instead of replacing him outright. Soriano is a perfect candidate to be the replacement for Mo, while D-Rob replaces him later.

      On the other hand, D-Rob is just straight up awesome. And I think I’m leaning towards just making him the closer outright.

      • Robinson Tilapia

        I’m fully expecting that there will be no doubt Robertson is the heir when this is all said and done.

        • GardnergoesYardner

          Agreed. They will want to go with one of their own, and even if Soriano does take over for 2013, (which really shouldn’t happen) he won’t have enough staying power.

          Between Soriano and Robertson, I think fans would be more on the former if he struggled early on than the latter. Robertson has proven himself in NYC, won a title already, and is also a very likeable and easygoing person, key for a Mo replacement. In short, a True Yankee in Training.

          • Cris Pengiucci

            Additionally, perhaps if he gets passed up for the closer role, Soriano will opt out of his contract. We can hope.

            (Only half joking. He can be very good, but he’s over paid.)

          • Robinson Tilapia

            Even if they didn’t have a preference for one of their own, I think he will look a hundred times more like a shutdown closer than any other feasible option. The guy is straight up awesome.

            I also agree with whoever said in another post that no closer in NYC should come out to the mound to Flatt & Scruggs, or whatever.

          • G

            Just saying, DRob is gonna need some better walk up music if he’s the closer. I like Lynyrd Skynyrd and all but I’ve grown so accustomed to an intimidating trot out/warm up in the 9th haha.

            • OMG! Bagels!

              I can’t see him changing it. Maybe to that Warren Zevon song that references the dead guy singing about Alabama (name I cannot remember).

      • infernoscurse

        i agree, i think you need to throw someone there to stink it up and replace with someone better

      • titit

        Put Soriano there, because the fans will be insane after the first blown save. My hope is that when Hughes is pushed to the pen he will be the closer heir apparent. Leaving Robertson to do what he does best.

        • Robinson Tilapia

          You heard it here first: Hughes sets up D-Rob in 2013, and does it well.

          • MannyGeee

            and thus begins the “Joba to the 6th” experiment.

        • OMG! Bagels!

          To be the heir apparent you have to be steely-eyed and not fragile.

          Andy would be in line for Mo’s job long before Phil ever is.

          [disclaimer: above line is sarcasm. Of course I do not think that Andy would ever be in line for any relief pitching let alone the closer’s job. for those of you without the ability to “get it,” please hold your fire.]

  • Rey22

    He’s the long reliever when Phil’s out after 1.1 innings today, that’s why.

    I’d love for Hughes to succeed but I’m just not a believer anymore.

  • Robinson Tilapia

    I still can’t stand to look at Soriano’s mug, and I’m willing to embrace almost anyone in pinstripes.

    Still, a slightly more rested Soriano will be just fine as the season goes on. D-Rob can’t do it every time.

  • LiterallyFigurative

    Soriano’s usage has been indicative of the weird April the Yankees have had.

    The starters have either been really good and gone 7 or 8 innings (ex. CC and Kuroda the last two days), which bypasses Soriano’s designated innings. He’s not coming in over DRob or Mo.

    Or you’ve gotten the awful starts from Hughes and Freddy, which leads to Phelps and Wade and Rapada and Eppley pitching lots of innings to mop up. You are way behind, so Soriano is not going to get work there either.

    For Soriano to get regular work, you’d need some semblance of normal starting pitching. The usual 6 IP,3 ER kinda performances, where the Yanks are up 4-3 or tied at 3. Then you’d see the SoRoMo formula at work.

    • jjyank

      Yeah that’s true. It doesn’t seem like the Yankees have had very many close games with the starter leaving after the 6th.

    • Kosmo

      Soriano could play an important role when Pettitte returns. Pettitte now is essentially a 6 inning pitcher.

      I also have a sneaking suspicion that Soriano´s stock will rise when 2 or 3 contending teams need a closer come the trade deadline. AT that point he´ll have roughly 18 million owed to him for the remainder of this season and all of next season. A team might be willing to gamble on the prohibitive cost if it means making the playoffs. It also could net NY 2 good prospects in return.
      We´ll see how it all shakes down.

      • forensic

        Someone is going to pick up $18 million AND give up 2 good prospects? I don’t think so.

        • Kosmo

          The more money NY eats the better the return. So they eat say 5 mill that means 13 mill spread over 1 yr 2 months and if another team is in dire need or if 2 teams are competing for him then it could turn out to be in NY favor. Not great prospects but decent b- ones.

          • Will (the other one)

            I understand what you’re saying, but I think you’re way, way overestimating Soriano’s value to another team. The amount of money the Yankees would have to eat to get any viable interest is just too high to dump him at all, never mind get anything in return. About the only thing they might be able to do is swap him for another bad contract, but they won’t do that either as long as Soriano continues to remain healthy and reasonably productive.

      • LiterallyFigurative

        Unless Soriano is lights out, why would teams give up good prospects for him? Especially when he could opt out?

        Maybe there is a team that hasn’t made the playoffs in a long time and is willing go for broke. Short of that, I don’t see it.

        • MannyGeee

          this. Soriano’s contract makes him a negative asset. and teams who “figure” to be in the thick of things in July all sorta have a closer. San Fran might be a wild card with Brian Wilson out with TJS…

          wait… I can see it. wait for ittttttt…. Soriano str8 up for Melky. The prodigal son returns 8/1/2012

          boom. that just happened.

          • YanksFanInBeantown

            We could get way more than just Melky out of Sabean.

            But I’d make that trade in a heartbeat; for Robbie’s sake.

            • LiterallyFigurative

              I’d make it for the defense’s sake.

  • forensic

    I would disagree with how effective he’s been, despite that ERA in 7 innings. He’s allowed 14 baserunners in those 7 innings (8 hits, 6 walks), though he has struckout 7 too. He’s had at least 2 baserunners in 4 of his seven appearances, and one in each of the other 3. He’s had three runners stranded by Robertson coming in to bail him out. Also allowed at least one line drive in all but his first appearance of the year.

    It’s all small sample stuff, but I don’t think he’s been all that effective yet. Luckily, the odds are that he’ll improve as he goes along.

    • Havok9120

      Yeah, its definitely been a ride, but part of that, I think, is lack of regular use. No way to know until we know I suppose.

  • Cooking with Quarks

    Easy money. Even Soriano can’t frown at that.

  • Dummies Playing With Balls (formerly Rainbow Connection)

    How are his split ends doing?

  • jsbrendog

    i hate him.

  • jayd808

    Apropos of nothing: Andruw Jones on Our Man Eduardo: “He talks funny; he runs funny; he swings funny; he catches the ball funny,” Andruw Jones said. “Everything he does is funny.”

    • jjyank

      Andruw is a wise man.

    • MannyGeee

      this
      is
      fcking
      awesome!!!

    • RetroRob

      Confirming, he is the World’s Most Interesting Man.

  • FIn

    Let me get this straight, people want Soriano to close just because it will be hard to replace Mo? If Roberston keeps pitching the way he has for the last year plus it wont be hard to replace Mo. It will be hard to replace Roberston in the 8th inning role though. I have no doubt in my mind the Yankees will go with the best guy for the job when Mo retires and that, right now is easily Roberston, who may even be better than Mo at this point in their carrers.

  • Thomas

    Bob: I see you’ve been missing a lot of Rafael Soriano?
    Peter: Well, I wouldn’t say I’ve been missing him.

  • Jake

    “but his one real flaw is marrying relievers to specific innings.”

    Completely agree. Generally there aren’t enough good pitchers in a bullpen to be able to designate them as pitchers of certain innings other than closers. Even if one team (such as the Yankees this year) does have enough reliable arms in the bullpen, designating them to specific innings isn’t a real benefit. In fact I’d see that getting teams into trouble more often than helping them if they stick too strictly to that regimen – like, say when Soriano comes in in the 7th inning and struggles early, cleary doesn’t have it on that night, yet Girardi refuses to take him out b/c he’s the “7th inning guy.” Or when you take a pitcher out at 95 pitches after 6 innings because you have a “7th Inning guy.” I’m not trying to knock Girardi, b/c I think he is good with the bullpen. I just hate seeing people calling for managers to designate certain relievers to certain innings. It’s so unnecessary.

    I’d say other than the closer, and on this team Robertson (who as it happens could close on 29 other teams), different situations and matchups call for you to be flexible with your bullpen, especially in the mid to mid-late innings before your closer comes in. By and large the pitcher who should pitch in the late innings before your closer is the pitcher who is the combination of being the most reliable and having the hottest hand. Robertson fills that description on this team.
    But if it’s a close game, even in the regular season, I don’t see much of a problem with Soriano coming into the game when the situation calls for it, even if it’s outside of the 7th inning. I don’t see a problem with going to Robertson outside of the 8th inning either, other than to keep from overworking him throughout the regular season.

  • RetroRob

    There is an interesting dynamic developing here, and it’s one that might lead to Soriano being the closer next year. Robertson’s the better pitcher, which actually may work against him here for at least one more year.

    If Mo retires, then Soriano would be an option to replace him, and I believe Boras constructed Soriano’s contract to leverage that very scenario by building in the player options and having his salary balloon in the last season. The $35M owed could have been split pretty evenly, $11.5, $11.5, $12, or $11, $12, $13, or even a $2M up-front signing bonus, with even salaries of $11M the rest of the way, but Boras backloaded much more into the final season when Soriano will get $14M.

    Boras’ likely plan was built on Soriano being the set-up man to Mo the first two seasons, and then when Mo retires (Mo had just signed a two-year deal to Soriano’s three), use the threat of the opt-out to force the Yankees back to the negotiating table with Soriano’s $14M salary for 2013 as the starting point, knowing full well that the Yankees were already paying Mo $15M per to close. Boras was probably already anticipating a three-year $42-$45M extension for Soriano after 2012. Or, if Mo didn’t retire and played one more season, Soriano could either collect his $14M as Mo’s set-up man and then when Mo retired after 2013, Boras would once again still have leverage as the Yankees would need another closer, or just go back out to market to another team.

    It was a brilliant contract on the part of Boras since it’s all win, no lose for the player, and thus Boras. Yet it’s not quite unfolding according to plan. Indications are that Mo will retire, but Soriano is not the the set-up man, and not the closer-in-waiting, as D-Rob has seemingly messed up Boras’ plan.

    Yet maybe not. If Soriano pitches well this year, I can see the Yankees giving him a very real shot to be the closer next year, keeping Robertson in the role he’s doing so well for one more season. The Yankees can see Robertson providing more value as a true set-up man, providing the flexibility to pitch parts of the 7th when needed plus the 8th, meanwhile they can maximize the full value of the $14M they’re paying Soriano by having him close. Because Robertson can go more than one inning if required, something Soriano doesn’t want to do, it actually does make sense to keep D-Rob right where he is. Plus, depending on when Robertson is arbitration eligible, there could be potential cost savings by delaying Robertson assuming the role of closer.

    So I do think there’s the chance Soriano could be the transition closer if Mo retires after this season, yet Soriano and Boras still may have the final say. He gets $1.5M if he triggers his opt-out instead of pitching for $14M. That means he has to cover $12.5M to be whole. He won’t get that for a single season, but he doesn’t have to to make it worthwhile to opt out. It’s guaranteed money Soriano and Boras are seeking, especially considering Soriano’s injury history. If he pitches well this season and Boras thinks he can land a three-year, $27M deal as a closer, then I can see Soriano triggering the opt out.

    • Fin

      Hmm, Robertson already pitches the higher leverage innings when Soriano is making 10m a year more, not sure how a few more million changes that equation next year.