Soriano Should Replace Rivera

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Mariano Rivera was likely lost to the Yankees for the season after tearing his knee—NY Times Story.

A decision will have to be made as to whom is going to record the saves for the Yankees.

All things considered, the best bet to take over in the ninth inning is Rafael Soriano.

As great as Rivera has been, his reputation has been built in the post-season and not in the regular season. Any team can find someone to accumulate the negligible save stat. In certain cases, there have been pitchers—Brad Lidge in 2008 with the Phillies—who were the difference for their team making the playoffs or not because of one brilliant year. During the Yankees’ run with Rivera as their closer, they were so deep and talented that if they didn’t have Rivera, they still would’ve been in the playoffs. What they would’ve done when there is in serious debate and it’s unlikely they would’ve won 5 titles without Rivera—he was the main difference between the Yankees and their World Series opponents during that time.

But this is a situation in which the misinterpreted WAR is a useful stat.

It shouldn’t be lost on anyone that Rivera’s highest WAR was in 1996 at 5.4. That was his one full season in the big leagues when he wasn’t the closer. Setting up for John Wetteland, it was Rivera who did the old-school, heavy lifting the type which the naysayers of the new era of save-collectors have ridiculed as being totally different from what they used to do.

Goose Gossage has been the most vocal in this vein.

And he’s been right.

Without Rivera in 1996, the Yankees weren’t making the playoffs. Much like the Rivera knee injury that may have ended his career, it was an accident of circumstance that led to Rivera’s rise from failed starter to Hall of Fame reliever under Joe Torre. Torre discovered a formula that had been partially used by the 1990 Reds with The Nasty Boys Randy Myers, Rob Dibble and Norm Charlton. The Reds’ mediocre starters were asked to get them to the sixth or seventh inning with a lead and the game was handed over to the superlative bullpen.

The 1990 Reds went wire-to-wire and swept the heavily-favored Athletics in the World Series.

The Yankees maintained that template after Wetteland was allowed to leave as a free agent following the 1996 season and brought in several set-up men to do the work Rivera did by himself.

Now, with Rivera gone, the conventional wisdom suggests that the Yankees will simply elevate David Robertson to the closer’s role and everyone else—Soriano, possibly Phil Hughes—will be used in the seventh and eighth innings.

But that’s a mistake.

It’s Robertson who’s doing the heavy lifting now. Rivera was a devastating weapon in the ninth inning, but Robertson might have become more valuable with his ridiculous strikeout numbers (12.2 per 9 innings) and an ability to magically get out of trouble that’s resulted in him being nicknamed “Houdini”.

For him to enter in the ninth inning as if by rote would render his skills relatively useless.

I suppose they could leave the current configuration as is and do something outside-the-box (that would probably work) and use Hughes as the closer, but the Yankees have shown no evidence of going so completely against the grain and their own misguided organizational rules and regulations for their pitchers to think that they’d do that.

Soriano has successfully closed before and has never gotten comfortable with pitching in the earlier innings. Perhaps giving him the ninth inning will revert him back to what he was with the Rays in 2010 when he saved 45 games, made the All-Star team and was eighth in the Cy Young Award voting.

Soriano can’t handle post-season pressure and has been disturbingly susceptible to the home run ball. That would lean me in the direction of Hughes as the closer. Either way, the heavy lifting should be left to Robertson without the onus of the save stat hanging over their heads and dictating strategy in lieu of doing what’s right to win the game in the now.

Worrying about what happens in the post-season isn’t as great a concern as getting there. Without Rivera, the stiffer competition in the American League and the resulting shifting of the pieces due to his loss, a playoff berth is no longer a guarantee for the Yankees.


6 thoughts on “Soriano Should Replace Rivera

  1. Most managers these days seem to think that the closer should always be the “best” reliever you’ve got at your disposal. What exactly they mean by best is anyone’s guess, but that’s the way they look at it.

    That wisdom suggests that, if Robertson is the 8th inning guy, then he must be better than Soriano. So everyone will probably just move up one spot.

    It doesn’t actually make a lot of sense, but it’s the world we live in.

    1. Managers use the designated closer whether he’s the “best” reliever or not. Mostly it’s because they don’t want to do something they can be criticized for. This is an opportunity for the Yankees to shun the save stat and do what’s best for the team with Robertson doing the heavy lifting and Soriano accumulating the saves. Robertson’s not in a position to complain about it and Soriano might pitch better as the closer than he has as the set-up man.

      1. I would think The Binder would say to use Soriano, but Girardi only listens to The Binder in certain circumstances and the upper management wields more power than Girardi or his Binder.

  2. I don’t understand. You say Soriano can’t handle the postseason. You say he has been susceptable to the HR. You say Robertson has a fantastic K rate.

    So doesn’t that mean Robertson would be the choice?

    Your argument is based on Rivera’s WAR? Whats Soriano’s? Whats his WHIP? Which is a much more telling stat for a reliever?

    1. WHIP is a stat based on a myriad of factors such as the types of hits he allows and how his control is. Robertson has a history of losing the strike zone; he wriggles his way out of trouble, but the trouble is still there. Soriano is susceptible to the home run ball, but control has never been an issue.
      Currently, the Yankees are not—under any circumstances—guaranteed a playoff spot the way they’ve been in the past. They have to get there first and the best way to do that would be to use Robertson when he’s going to be pitching more important innings rather than coming in in the ninth regardless of the situation with no runners on base and possibly the weaker part of the opposing team’s lineup coming to the plate. His strikeouts are negligible if he’s coming in when the game’s not on the line.
      I used WAR to explain why Rivera in 1996 and Robertson were more valuable pitching before the ninth inning. For example, last season Robertson’s WAR was 4.0; Rivera’s was 3.7.
      That’s not to diminish Rivera, but to show how important it was to have someone like Robertson pitching between the starter (or Soriano) and Rivera.
      The Yankees’ have to worry about getting into the playoffs before thinking about what they’ll do when they’re there. They won’t feel comfortable with Soriano closing by then, but they won’t have to worry about it at all if they don’t make the tournament. The best way to get there is to leave Robertson alone and move Soriano to the ninth. Best case scenario, maybe Rivera can possibly come back by the playoffs. It’s unlikely, but possible.

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