With the image of Mariano Rivera crumpled on the grass at the warning track at Kauffman Stadium seared into the collective mind of all of Yankee-dom, panic rose in the Bronx. What would the Yankees do without their iconic closer whose production simply could not be replaced? Well, the Yankees went and did just that by promoting Rafael Soriano to his former role, and he shined, and began a glorious campaign of “Untucks.”
For the first time since he signed his three-year deal prior to the 2011 season, Yankees fans (and probably the front office) felt that the veteran was finally earning his $12 million annual salary.
He had a sparkling 2.26 ERA in 69 games, recording 42 saves in the process. In over 67 IP, he allowed just 17 runs and 55 hits, finishing with a 2-1 record. Soriano averaged over a strikeout an inning, logging 69 Ks on the year. More impressively, especially for those who assumed that Mo was simply irreplaceable, Soriano was practically Mo-like as closer, blowing only four saves over the entire season. (That said, when one looks back at Mariano Rivera’s career, there will likely be no one who will have the same outstanding success for such a long time.)
Such success shouldn’t be entirely shocking to anyone; Soriano led the majors in saves in 2010 during his last season in Tampa, and his success there likely had something to do with his seemingly overblown contract. In 2012, Soriano had WHIP of 1.167, and issued only 24 walks, four of which were intentional. He also had a 2.6 WAR, a very respectable figure considering that Soriano only pitched 67 innings on the year. This is even more remarkable when observing that Soriano’s gmLI was 1.6. (Note: An average pressure situation is 1.0; above 1.0 is high pressure, while below 1.0 is lower pressure.) In other words, Soriano achieved his success over the season in some of the highest-leverage situations possible. This was also probably aided by the Yankees late season struggles that placed increased importance on every single game down the stretch in an effort to win the division.
Soriano’s RAR rating was 23; for purposes of comparison, in 2011, Rivera was worth an RAR of 24 over 61.1 IP. Pretty solid numbers for Soriano. He did a terrific job of making Yankees fans forget about a future that will not include Rivera as closer, even if was for only one season. (It isn’t fair to look at Soriano’s postseason; he only pitched in three games and pitched 4.1 innings- way too small of a sample size to get an accurate appreciation of his contribution, though the reasons for that lie on the Yankees’ woeful postseason.)
One thing of note that changed for Soriano from his first season with New York was an apparent attitude adjustment. During his first season in the Bronx, when he would give up runs to cost the Yankees the game, Soriano would exit the locker room without speaking to the media — a big no-no in big-market New York. He was more accountable during his second season, and showed a little fire that appealed to the fans with the “untuck” after a successful save. Though it may be overblown, perhaps Soriano is one of those players whose role (setup man versus closer) is a much bigger mental component of his game than other players.
The biggest problem for Yankees fans regarding Soriano is maybe that he was too good. He has not re-signed with the team, and opted out of the third year of his contract. He will probably seek closer money and a longer deal than what the Yankees would be willing to offer, given their salary cap parameters for 2014 and the SBF: Scott Boras Factor. If Soriano would be willing to come back as a much, much cheaper setup man, I doubt anyone would be opposed, but overall, he will probably ask too much. Other than that, there’s not a whole lot to complain about with reference to Soriano.
– Showed remarkable improvement with interpersonal skills
– Creative; see, “The Untuck”
– Extremely productive and efficient in work
FINAL GRADE: A
Conclusion: Soriano was one of the few Yankees who shined in nearly all aspects of his game throughout the course of the season. His numbers alone are exceptional, but his ability to do so with the specter of constant Mariano Rivera comparisons is something worth noting. More importantly, his contributions (42 saves, 4 blown saves), helped the Yankees secure a playoff series berth without a play-in Wild Card game. Just think- two more blown saves and it’d be a playoff for the Yankees and Orioles to decide who would have gotten into the Wild Card game. And, let’s be honest, the way the Yankees played this postseason that is almost a guaranteed loss. Rafael Soriano was spectacular for the Yankees in 2012, though it might ultimately cost them his services in 2013.
**Be sure to check out the rest of the Grading the Yankees series.**