Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Tigers Don’t Need Rafael Soriano

A few weeks ago, Dave Dombrowski said that the Tigers weren’t interested in Rafael Soriano to be the Tigers closer, praising prospect Bruce Rondon.  Recently, there have been reports that super-agent Scott Boras slyly bypassed Dombrowski and went straight to owner Mike Ilitch about the possibility of signing Soriano.  This isn’t the first time that Scott Boras has done this.  Just last year, the Tigers at first weren’t interested in signing Prince Fielder, until all of a sudden Ilitch approved a raise in payroll to make room for Fielder.  Boras seems to be doing the same thing this year with Soriano as the Tigers seem to be a perfect fit.  The Tigers have a need for a closer after Jose Valverde left via Free Agency, Ilitch is willing to spend money and the Tigers are in a “win now” mode, falling just short of a World Series title in 2012. 

The real question is, how much of an impact will Rafael Soriano really make?  He had a really good year for the Yankees last year, taking over for Mariano Rivera as their closer and pitching 62 2/3 innings, 2.26 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 9.18 K/9, 3.19 BB/9, 3.32 FIP, 3.75 xFIP.  Last month, Collin made a post on the Tigers bullpen construction for next year and the potential is there to be really good.

2013 Bullpen Options:

Al Alburquerque – Only pitched 13 1/3 innings in 2012, but over his 2-year career, he has 56 2/3 innings with a 1.59 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 13.50 K/9, 5.88 BB/9, 2.11 FIP, 2.82 xFIP.  However, he’s an injury concern.

Brayan Villarreal – He did awful in 2011 with a 6.75 ERA in 16 IP, but had a decent year in 2012: 54 2/3 IP, 2.63 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 10.87 K/9, 4.61 BB/9, 2.98 FIP, 3.96 xFIP.

Bruce Rondon – 53 IP, 1.53 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 11.2 K/9, 4.4 BB/9 in 3 levels for the Tigers’ minor leagues in 2012.  Lack of experience is a concern.

Octavio Dotel – 58 IP, 3.57 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 9.62 K/9, 1.86 BB/9, 2.30 FIP, 3.22 xFIP.  Has closing experience, saving 22 games as recently as 2010. 

Joaquin Benoit – 71 IP, 3.68 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 10.65 K/9, 2.79 BB/9, 4.26 FIP, 3.29 xFIP in 2012.

Phil Coke – 54 IP, 4.00 ERA, 1.65 WHIP, 8.50 K/9, 3.00 BB/9, 3.47 FIP, 3.65 xFIP in 2012.

Those are 6 of the 7 spots that will be filled.  Other pitchers that could see some time with the Tigers next year are Duane Below (3.92 ERA in 43 2/3 IP in 2012), Darin Downs (3.48 ERA in 20 2/3 IP in 2012), Luis Marte (2.82 ERA in 22 1/3 IP in 2012), Adam Wilk (2.77 ERA in 24 starts in AAA in 2012), Casey Crosby, Andrew Oliver and Luke Putkonen.  Some are better options than others and as the old saying goes, you can’t have enough pitching.

The Tigers do lack some experience and depth but there is more than one solution to this problem.  Joakim Soria and Ryan Madson are both coming off of Tommy John Surgery and will likely only command a 1-year deal to reestablish their value.  Both might be out until May, so that will give the Tigers some time to see if one of their internal options are capable of closer duties.  If the Tigers are still struggling in the 9th, then they’ll have someone waiting with closing experience.

This approach would be similar to the Tigers second base problem of last year.  There was a glaring hole at 2B and instead of addressing it, the Tigers chose to go with Ryan Raburn and Brandon Inge.  Neither one worked out and the Tigers had to make a trade for Omar Infante.  If the Tigers still have a need for a closer mid-season, then they could still get one at the trading deadline. 

This isn’t a money situation; Ilitch has the money and is willing to spend it.  This is how much impact Soriano will have on the Tigers.  And the answer is likely not much.  Several studies have been done on the impact of closers, one done by David Smith at Retrosheet took 73 years of data and found that teams won after having the lead after 8 innings 95% of the time, no matter who was pitching the 9th inning.  The Tigers have 4 relievers with closer potential in Alburquerque, Dotel, Rondon and Villarreal, so the likelihood that they already have pitcher capable of closing next year is very high.

We all saw firsthand how a reliable closer can turn bad when Jose Valverde fell apart in the playoffs.  Rafael Soriano is looking for a 3-year deal.  If he suffers from any struggles, it’ll be hard to replace him after all the money they committed to him, as opposed to someone internally (say Rondon wins the closer's job out of Spring Training.  If he struggles, replacing him with Al Alburquerque wouldn't be a problem).  Also, an unlikely closer emerged in Phil Coke when he took over closing duties in one of the highest pressured situations, the playoffs against the Yankees.  After the year that Coke had during the regular season, no one would’ve thought that he would be able to close games, let alone in the playoffs.  All the left-handers in the Yankees lineup helped, though, as Coke is much better against lefties than righties, which could also prove that the best way to handle the 9th inning is by situations instead of having one designated closer.

It’s not that Soriano would be a bad signing.  In fact, he’d probably be a really good closer for the Tigers.  However, it’s likely the Tigers already have a really good closer and therefore adding Soriano wouldn’t have a huge impact to the Tigers.  

Update: I must've missed it, the Angels have signed Ryan Madson.

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