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I may be against the Rafael Soriano deal, but there’s no doubt that he adds a powerful, dynamic arm to the Yankee bullpen. Soriano is one of the best relief pitchers in the game, and certainly the best relief pitcher in the game not to be closing games for a MLB team. This is important because managers use closers in an inefficient way. For whatever reason, we’ve decided that our best relief pitchers should only pitch the 9th inning (maybe the 8th inning too in a desperate situation), no matter how important the game situations that come before the 9th inning. I’ve always argued that Mariano Rivera should make 90% of his appearances when men are on base in tight games, be it in the 6th, 7th, 8th, or 9th inning. This would maximize the leverage you could get out of Mo’s 60-75 innings.

Leverage is a pretty simple concept. You need 27 outs to win a baseball game, but some outs are more likely to turn a win into a loss and vice versa than others. If a gassed starting pitcher walks two batters to start the 7th inning in a 1-0 game, that situation is more dangerous than if the game were 1-0 at the top of the 9th inning, and therefore your best pitcher (probably your closer) should come in at that situation. He won’t get a save, but the team is more likely to win the game. Unfortunately, Mariano Rivera will not come in for that situation. He’s in the closer role, limiting his availability for no good reason. I understand that this psychological crutch isn’t going anywhere, but that’s why we have Soriano!

I’m afraid that Joe Girardi will fall into Joe Torre’s setup man trap. Every year, Torre would designate his 8th inning guy. That guy would be a closer, but for the 8th inning instead of the 9th inning. Instead of maximizing his 60-75 innings by putting his second best relief pitcher into all sorts of crazy situations, he relied upon him to pitch the same inning every day, coming in most often with the bases empty and a lead. The Yankees could get so much more out of Rafael Soriano by using him as an old school fireman – he’s available in any situation, in any inning, at any time. I’d propose these guidelines for his use:

  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.

The downside here is that it will probably result in fewer innings (but more appearances) for Soriano over the course of the season. He will actually pitch fewer innings than someone like David Robertson or Joba Chamberlain, who will pitch full innings more often. However, their innings will be less leveraged than Soriano’s innings. Logan and Feliciano will both be leveraged too, coming in mostly to relieve Robertson and Joba (but if they’re not yet used, Soriano too sometimes), and will also pitch fewer innings. The whole group really is quite solid, so even if Soriano is burned in the 6th inning in an important situation, Robertson or Joba or whomever should be able to do a pretty good job in the 8th inning anyway. And if Soriano is up for it, he can always pitch the end of the 7th inning into the 8th, should the situation call for it.

Its really a pretty simple plan: use Soriano in the first really important situation in a close game instead of as a Torre-era setup man in the 8th inning only. This is how the Yankees can leverage a strong bullpen to make up for weak starting pitching. 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. Please Girardi, use Soriano the smart way. You’re paying too much on a deal too lopsided not to.

17 Responses to “Use Soriano as a Fireman, not the 8th Inning Guy”

  1. Great post. I totally agree. I think Girardi will use Soriano in high leverage situations in the 7th and on, but not earlier. It’s not as ideal but he’s still pushing everyone else up an inning. There will be more than a few games where Giraridi goes to Joba, Drob, Feliciano or Logan in the 5th inning. I also think we’ll see Soriano and Mo split the last 9 outs from time to time.  (Quote)

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  2. I don’t know.This isn’t what you’d call a TEAM player.He might have issues with that unlesss of course he changes his spots.If not, he might prefer to “close” the 8th, to keep himself looking like a cloer if he opts out.  (Quote)

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    Moshe Mandel Reply:

    Joe Maddon said all of that stuff is false, and he had no issue with Sori and actually tried to call him to tell him that he had no idea where those reports came from.  (Quote)

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  3. I hope this is how they choose to use him, but I wont hold my breath. The state of bullpen usage league wide is one of horrible inefficiency.  (Quote)

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  4. I think we have a good enough ‘fireman’ situation without worrying whether he’ll be used there. Girardi’s BP management isn’t anything like Torre’s, though he does tend to use a lot of pitchers (too many?) in some games.

    I know not using one guy as the closer or 8th inning guy is popular among folk like me (circa 1985 Bill James fans), but I think it’s a lot like making better line-ups: the difference between doing it as it’s currently being done (sans overuse and burying guys) and the method described in the original post is minimal,  (Quote)

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  5. As I mentioned in another post, Mo’s best season IMO was 1996, because he wasn’t slotted into the closers role. Sure, we all tend to remember him as Wetteland’s “8th inning” guy, but I think the big key was that Torre was often willing to use him in the 7th IF CIRCUMSTANCES WARRANTED. Meaning he wasn’t an automatic for the 7th – he only came in if the pitcher got the team in a jam. So in other words, he was the team’s 7th inning fireman. Since most starters went 5-6 innings, it left a relatively small window of opportunity for a team to exploit the soft-middle relief underbelly. This is why teams acted as if the games were only 6 innings – because they knew if they had a chance to score in the 7th, Mo would be there to shut the door.

    I always thought this was the role Mo was best used for. Sure being a closer has reduced his innings, given him fewer high leverage innings, and likely lengthened his career. It has also put him into the Hall, almost certainly on the first ballot. But I’ll never understand why so many people insist everything in baseball is unpredictable and players and managers need to adapt to the situation, except when it comes to the 9th inning.  (Quote)

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  6. Glad you are beating the drum on this important topic; it needs to be said again and again. The Yankees, with Soriano, and the Red Sox, with Bard, both have the luxury of using firemen in closer situations.  (Quote)

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  7. I respectfully disagree with Mr. Fagan’s premise. If used correctly, Soriano should always pitch the 8th inning and Rivera should always pitch the 9th, period. That way, Girardi can best use Feliciano, Logan, Robertson and Joba in the appropriate high-leverage lefty-righty matchups and situations for which they are best suited, which in turn assists in preserving the starters and their leads. Following Mr. Fagan’s logic, starters would never be allowed to pitch their way out of a jam. That’s no way to shorten games or preserve leads; that’s just a way to shorten the opponents’ path to our bullpen – the primary goal of every lineup when facing a starting pitcher. Soriano’s switch to setup man is enough of an experiment. Let’s not create “Alfonso’s Rules” and tempt disaster yet again.  (Quote)

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    EJ Fagan Reply:

    If you look closely, I’m not actually arguing for pulling starting pitching early. I think the situation changes fundamentally once a starter is out of a game (or really close, hence “gassed”), and you’re all of the sudden using relief pitchers for a few batters at a time.

    Rafael Soriano is clearly better than Logan, Feliciano, Robertson, and Joba. Those guys are going to occasionally get themselves into jams. When they have a little bit of breathing room – when there’s only 1 guy on base, there’s 2 outs, the Yankees are up/down by 3 runs instead of 1 or 2 – the Yankees should let them pitch out of jams. But in close games, you want your best available guy to pitch out of those jams.  (Quote)

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  8. Constantly warming a pitcher up whenever there “may” be a “high leverage” situation will ultimately lead to “Scott Procter Arm”. Too many “dry humps”, the reason that the top paid relievers don’t get used like this perfect world scenario is that their arms fall off. The cheap guys the organizations don’t care about when it really gets down to it. The top relievers know this and won’t allow their expensive arms to get burned up in this manner. Yes, pitchers were used like this years ago, but they weren’t being paid what these guys are. Not gonna happen.  (Quote)

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    EJ Fagan Reply:

    Fair point, but I think this is playing scared and being overly risk averse. It hasn’t killed David Robertson and Pedro Feliciano. But yeah, another reason here not to pay relievers 11 million dollars per year. You either risk injury or have to use them in sub-optimal ways.  (Quote)

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    Kevin Ocala, Fl Reply:

    EJ, on response #11 you’ll see that we agree on the subject of “managing scared”. For whatever reason my edited response came out along w/ my original at the same time….  (Quote)

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  9. Constantly warming a pitcher up whenever there “may” be a “high leverage” situation will ultimately lead to “Scott Procter Arm”. Too many “dry humps”, the reason that the top paid relievers don’t get used like this perfect world scenario is that their arms fall off. The cheap guys the organizations don’t care about when it really gets down to it. The top relievers know this and won’t allow their expensive arms to get burned up in this manner. Yes, pitchers were used like this years ago, but they weren’t being paid what these guys are. Not gonna happen. Torre didn’t invent this “trap”, bullpen management evolved over thousands of “seasons” being played out….  (Quote)

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  10. Once again the Yankees overpay for a free agent to enrich themselves and screw a small market team. I guess I understand after we punked you guys for the AL East title for the second time in 3 years. May Soriano suck for you and your $200 million payroll. Go Red Sox.  (Quote)

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    Kevin Ocala, Fl Reply:

    As a life-long Floridian I can only say that your talking loser’s crap. People don’t go to baseball games in Fl (name your excuse), even after the Marlins won two WS people wouldn’t poney-up. Baseball takes decades to build a following, like it or not…See you in Tampa  (Quote)

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