Milwaukee Brewers Relief Options: Rafael Soriano

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The Milwaukee Brewers need bullpen help, it’s no secret. Following last week’s trade of Yovani Gallardo, the Brewers freed up $9 mil of payroll space, and Doug Melvin tipped his cap to the fact that the Brewers need relief help at “Brewers on Deck.” Earlier this week, the Brewers were linked to Jonathan Papelbon, the embattled Phillies’ closer who has been on the block for some time. While it appears financial issues may have stalled that deal (much to my ire), the Brewers have recently been linked to a familiar face in Francisco Rodriguez, last season’s closer. While it seems that the Brewers are in danger of ignoring my warnings about K-Rod from earlier this offseason, there is still time for them to make the right decision to bring in Rafael Soriano to solidify the back end of the bullpen.

Overall, the 35 year old Soriano had a pretty strong season last year. Despite second half struggles that eventually ended up costing Soriano his closer’s job in Washington, Rafael managed a 3.19 ERA in 65 games, posting 32 saves and a 3.11 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He was nearly unhittable in the season’s first half, posting a 0.97 ERA and a .153/.222/.226 batting line against. He gave up only four home runs in 62 innings while holding hitters to a 19.3 line drive percentage.

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Soriano did struggle in the second half, but he shouldn’t have been near as bad as the numbers say. Despite a 6.48 ERA in 25 innings, he posted a much more palatable 4.08 FIP. He was hurt by truly unfortunate marks of a .358 BABIP (league average was .300) and 60.9% strand rate (league average 73%). He still maintained a strikeout-to-walk rate of nearly 3-to-1, and his walk rate in the second half was actually lower than it was before the All-Star break.

Soriano holds several advantages over K-Rod which lead me to believe he would be a better fit as a Brewer. Soriano still averages 91.5 MPH on his fastball, almost a full MPH faster than Rodriguez. Soriano has the more dominant put-out pitch, with his cutter rated at 10.4 runs above average, while K-Rod’s changeup rates at only 6.3 runs above average. K-Rod’s outstanding 93% strand rate and .216 BABIP marks from 2014 are no doubt unsustainable, and it’s no secret Rodriguez had a home run problem last season. In fact, Frankie has seen his home run rate rise dramatically over each of the past three seasons, while Soriano’s has fallen every year since 2011. On the whole, Soriano performed right about where he should have, with his 3.08 FIP besting his 3.19 ERA slightly, and while K-Rod posted an ERA 25% better than league average in 2014, his FIP was nearly a run and a half higher (3.04 verses 4.50). In terms of Wins Above Replacement, Soriano was worth more than an entire win more to the Nationals than Rodriguez was to Milwaukee (0.7 to -0.6 fWAR).

Signing aging relief pitchers can definitely be a tricky business, but in this case it’s pretty clear cut. While the Brewers have expressed interest in Francisco Rodriguez, his success last season appears to have been a mirage and he seems more than likely due for a rude awakening this season. I’ve tried warning the Brewers about this before, so hopefully this time they listen. Of the remaining free agent closer options, I believe that the numbers show Rafael Soriano to be the most attractive. If the Brewers are truly “out” on Papelbon, the wise move would be to add Rafael Soriano on a one year deal to lock down the back end of the bullpen for the 2015 Championship Season.

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