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:
- 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.
- If no situation presents itself by the 8th inning, Soriano pitches the 8th inning.
- 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.