Reviewing a reliever is not an easy task. There are plenty of ugly numbers that can jump out at you, but there are also some pretty numbers that can't be ignored; such is the case with Atlanta Braves closer Rafael Soriano. Raffy didn't start out the year as the closer, he was a co-closer with Mike Gonzalez, but he eventually won the job outright and became a big part of the team's turnaround.
First, we have to look and see if it's possible to ignore the ugly numbers. Soriano posted 1 win against 6 losses while converting 27 of 31 save attempts -- 4 blown saves. Those 6 losses versus just 4 blown saves tells us that he was also unsuccessful in tie games (3 of the BS resulted in losses, 3 were in tie games). In all we can attribute 6 losses directly to Soriano, but that's just 6 out of the 77 games he appeared in, of which he finished 52 of them.
Soriano had an 87% save percentage, while the Braves relief core (which included Soriano) had a paltry 63% save percentage. In converting saves, Soriano had a higher save percentage than Jose Valverde, Jonathan Broxton, Fancisco Rodriguez, and many others. Those 6 losses and 4 blown saves may look bad, but as far as late inning pitchers go Soriano was above average.
One of the knocks on the 2009 season of Soriano is that he didn't finish strong, and he didn't. While he took sole possession of the closer's role in July, saving 9 games, he also became a bit more unlucky starting that month. But it wasn't until the last two months of the year when the hits really caught up with him and his longball problems returned. His ERA progression can be seen below:
This could be attributed to the low workload that Soriano had last year, and his body perhaps not being ready for the added strain of all the accumulated innings. The numbers are somewhat alarming and make me wonder if this poor trend will carry over into the following year. In none of his other full major league season can I find this regression throughout the year.
So there is Soriano, a little bit of good, a little big of not-so-good, but this is the trouble with relievers. Looking too deep into the numbers can make you go blind trying to find the why of what went wrong or what went right. Relievers' numbers often do not come with a big enough sample size to really extrapolate meaningful trends. The one trend of increasing ERA that I highlight above could simply be overuse -- Soriano threw more innings and appeared in more games that any other year of his career. Or it could be something else. A mental lapse here or there at the end of a mentally draining season.
The Braves should want to bring Soriano back. Despite his 6 losses, he stabilized the closer's role and gave us a closer as good as many of the marquee names out there.