Food For Thought: Rafael Soriano

That graph comes courtesy of Mike Fast, who published it as part of this Baseball Prospectus article. You’ll need a subscription to read the whole thing, but the gist of the article is that Rafael Soriano and Mariano Rivera aren’t so different. Both guys throw cutters as their primary weapon, which you can see in the graph, but the most interesting part was that Soriano started throwing the pitch more to left-handed batters in 2010 than he had in the past. The result was a few more popups and the best performance against lefties (.267 wOBA against in 2010, .313 wOBA pre-2010) of his career. Before 2010, Soriano went after southpaws with a little two-seamer away that resulted in ground balls and ultimately more hits.

Soriano will undoubtedly see his performance regress a little bit in 2011 because a 16.7% infield fly ball rate and a .212 BABIP is unsustainable, but there’s tangible evidence that suggests his improvement against lefties is real. He altered his approach against them, and the early returns look good.

The RAB Radio Show: January 19, 2011

Today was the Soriano press conference, but that didn’t bring us anything interesting. We had to wait for reporters to relay the interesting parts. Most notably: the Yankees were close to bringing back Carl Pavano on a one-year deal. Mike and Joe discuss the implications of that move.

We’re also getting a bit ahead of ourselves and are looking towards mid-season. It appears that’s the time that the Yankees will make a big move.

Podcast run time 26:33

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Intro music: “Smile” by Farmer’s Boulevard used under a Creative Commons license

Soriano Presser Notes: Joba, Pavano, Pettitte

(AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Rafael Soriano was officially introduced as a Yankee today, though unfortunately the broadcast didn’t show any of the juicy Q&A with Brian Cashman and the rest of the bigwigs. Thankfully we have Twitter, so here are some notes from the presser with the source in parenthesis…

  • Cashman acknowledged that a) he did not recommend signing Soriano to ownership, and b) it was Hal Steinbrenner’s call. “I just didn’t think it was an efficient way to allocate our remaining resources,” said the GM. (Joe Lemire)
  • “Its not my team. I don’t own it,” said Cash. “[The Steinbrenners] do. In any job you better be prepared for every decision to not go your way.” (Peter Botte)
  • Cashman did acknowledge that Soriano makes the team considerably better in 2011, jokingly saying “I think 29 other GMs would love to have their owner shove Rafael Soriano down their throat.” The man has a point. (Lemire & Botte)
  • The inevitable question was asked, and Cashman responded “[Joba Chamberlain] is a bullpen guy, for the 200th time.” Such a damn shame. (Botte)
  • Cash admitted that the team considered and had several discussions with the agent for … wait for it … Carl Pavano. Pavano was said to be seriously considering a return to New York, but he decided to pass on the team’s offer of a one-year deal when the Twins offered two guaranteed years. He passes the “better than Sergio Mitre” test and at this point he’d only cost a second rounder, so why the hell not? This offseason jumped the shark a long time ago anyway. (Botte & Brian Costello & Ken Rosenthal)
  • As for the rest of the free agent pitching market, Cash had a doozy of a quote: “It’s a difficult market to choose from. Listen, if you’re still on the board, there’s a reason for it … The starter might have to come from within. Hopefully we have some of these young kids answer the bell for us.” The truth stings, huh? (Bryan Hoch)
  • Since Scott Boras was at the presser, Cashman continued talks with him about Andruw Jones. I’d be surprised if he hasn’t agreed to terms by Monday, honestly. (Hoch)
  • And finally, there is still no official word from Andy Pettitte regarding his potential return or retirement, but Joe Girardi did speak to him last week and confirmed that the lefty is at least working out to remain in baseball shape. Better than nothing, I suppose. (Bryan Hoch)

Prospect Profile: Rob Segedin

(Photo Credit: Tulane University)

Rob Segedin | 3B

A semi-local kid, Segedin grew up a Yankees fan in Old Tappan, New Jersey. He attended Northern Valley Regional High School, where he lettered in baseball all four years. Segedin helped the Golden Knights to the county championship as a freshman, and the state sectional title as a junior while placing as the runner up as a sophomore and senior. As you can imagine, he racked up plenty of hardware, so let’s recap…

  • Owns the New Jersey state record with 181 career hits
  • All-League honors all four years
  • New Jersey Hitter of the Year as a junior and senior
  • First Team All-State as a junior and senior
  • First Team All-County as a junior and senior
  • Second Team All-County as a sophomore
  • Member of the National Honor Society

Segedin also played for the Bayside Yankees, a prestigious travel team whose alumni includes Jon Lester, Rocco Baldelli, Steve Karsay, Nick Hundley, John Lannan, and Pedro Alvarez. He helped them to the Premier National Baseball championship in 2006 and 2007, winning team MVP honors in ’06. Because that’s not enough, Segedin also served as his class vice president and graduated Magna Cum Laude.

[Read more…]

A quick no on Galarraga

(Duane Burleson/AP)

You don’t often see a team agree to a $2.3 million contract with a player only to DFA him a day later. But that’s what happened with the Tigers and Armando Galarraga. They avoided arbitration by signing him to the contract, and then designated him for assignment to make room for the newly acquired Brad Penny. That gives the Tigers 10 days to work a trade, and GM Dave Dombrowski is confident that he can do so. While he’ll certainly ring up Brian Cashman, he hopefully will not find a match.

All winter we’ve been exploring options for the back end of the Yankees bullpen, which currently comprises Ivan Nova and Sergio Mitre. Having Nova there can be a good thing. He gained big league experience last winter and he’s a decent prospect, so they might as well see what he can do. The issue is with Mitre, who, despite having played in the bigs for parts of seven seasons, has limited starting experience. In fact, we’re so desperate to get Mitre out of the picture that we’ve measured all external options by the BTM scale: Better Than Mitre. Unfortunately, Galarraga doesn’t necessarily fit that bill.

If Galarraga has one advantage over Mitre it’s experience. He has made 78 stats in his four big league seasons, while Mitre has made just 64. He has also pitched at least 143.2 innings in each of the last three years, while Mitre’s career high is 149 — and that came in 2007. That is the only reason I can see that Galarraga could potentially represent an upgrade. But in all other aspects the two are relative equals.

Galarraga 5.70 3.52 1.42 4.58 5.17
Mitre 5.38 2.96 1.10 5.27 4.72

Neither strikes out many batters, but at least Mitre mitigates that somewhat with a lower walk rate. Galarraga owns the better career ERA, due mostly to his flukey 2008 season. He’s clearly not that good, though he might not be quite as bad as his 2009 campaign. Mitre, on the other hand, has an ERA that far outpaces his FIP. Given the walks and the FIP I’d pick Mitre, but there is one more factor that has me certainly favoring him.

The most glaring number on the above table is home run rate. Galarraga’s 1.42 homers per nine rate is bad enough as is, but it looks much worse when you consider his home park. Comerica Park suppresses home runs, yet during the past three seasons only two pitchers have a worse homer rate. Now imagine him, a soft-tossing righty, facing David Ortiz at Yankee Stadium.

As the winter wears on and we pine for baseball, we’re going to explore any Yankees topic possible. A final starter is the foremost topic, and we’re going to explore every possible angle. (In fact, today or tomorrow we’ll have something on a name you haven’t yet heard.) But Armando Galarraga just doesn’t fit the Yankees needs. He’s a homer-prone soft-tossing righty who had one good season three years ago. Even then he greatly outperformed his horrible strikeout and home run rates. There is someone out there who can provide an upgrade to the rotation. Galarraga is not him.

The way to use Rafael Soriano

Yankee fans who came of age during the past four years could be forgiven if they don’t understand the concept of leverage situations for bullpen pitchers. Since the Yankees rushed a young Joba Chamberlain up to the Bronx in 2007 to fill the set-up role and had to force Joe Torre to use him carefully, the team has had a seemingly unhealthy obsession with The Eighth Inning™. Rafael Soriano‘s presence on the Yanks should change that.

The idea behind leverage differs a bit from the concept of a set-up man as the eighth inning pitcher. Major League managers will never get to the point of using their closers in high-leverage situations well before the ninth inning. Ideally, though, the best relievers will be used in the best situations. For instance, if the home team has a two-run lead in the 6th inning but their opponents have bases loaded and one man out with the top of their order up, the pitcher is facing a high-leverage situation. That’s not when a manager should call upon his third- or fourth-best pitcher even if the inning dictates it.

Often, though, we’ve seen Major League managers adhere too closely to the time of the game. Even if it’s not the eighth inning, the seventh inning middle relievers must pitch. If it’s not the ninth inning, the eighth inning guy but not the closer will make an appearance. Oftentimes, closers end up pitching in lower leverage situations than the lesser pitchers behind them on bullpen depth charts. Sometimes, those lesser pitchers blow the game, and the closers never even see action. Losing with the best pitcher sitting on the bench can be a frustrating experience indeed. Ask any Yankee fan who had to sit through Chad Gaudin pitching before Mariano Rivera last year.

For 2011, the Yankees can do something different with the bullpen. While I’m not enamored with the Rafael Soriano signing, he certainly makes the bullpen better and deeper. Now, we just have to hope Joe Girardi uses him correctly.

With Soriano around, the Yankees have two closers: one for the ninth inning and one for appropriate high leverage situations that pop up late in close games. Earlier today at The Yankee U, E.J. Fagan explored Soriano as a fireman. Instead of the traditional eighth-inning only set-up guy, the Yanks should use Soriano to put out fires. Fagan proposes the following three rules to guide Soriano’s appearances:

  1. In a close game, Soriano comes into innings 5-7 in any situation with the starter out (or gassed) with less than 2 outs, a runner on second or third base and a right-hander coming up to the plate.
  2. If no situation presents itself by the 8th inning, Soriano pitches the 8th inning.
  3. Against top lefty hitters with runners on base in a close game, Feliciano or Logan relieve Soriano. He stays with no runners on base and against most lefty hitters.

These rules may be too rigid. I’d amend the first one by urging the Yanks to use Soriano at any point during innings 5-7 when the pitcher — starter or reliever — is getting into trouble, and the Yanks need to get out of a typical jam. If the team is losing by a run and needs to keep the score close, Soriano should pitch as well. If the Yankees are in a position where a path to a victory requires one of their top relievers to get a few outs, Rafael Soriano is now the clear leader in the non-Mariano category of bullpen pitchers.

Rafael Soriano is, in a certain sense, an unnecessary luxury for the Yankees, and they might only have him for one year. But his presence on the team can help shorten games in a way we haven’t seen since 1996 when a young Rivera would hand the ball to John Wetteland over and over again. As Fagan wrote, “If they use Soriano the wrong way, they’re going to do a very good job taking a lead that they had at the beginning of the 8th inning and transferring it into a win. If they do it the way I am arguing for, they will do a much better job of taking a lead in the 6th inning and holding on for a win. That’s really what shortening a game is about.”