The Yankees’ signing of Rafael Soriano has met with some criticism, and rightfully so. The size of the deal and loss of a draft pick seem to outweigh his value as a set-up man, and his injury history adds a large dollop of risk to the equation. However, I have seen some doubts as to his possible performance, and I think they are being overstated. I feel fairly confident that if Soriano is healthy, he will perform on a high level. Let’s address some of the concerns.
1) He is a flyball pitcher moving to Yankee Stadium: This is undeniably true, as he has a career .62 GB/FB rate, with a 49.9% flyball rate. However, the impact of this fact is being vastly overstated. Soriano has a high FB rate, but much of that is attributable to an unusually high rate of infield flies. His career IFFB rate is 14%, a number that was beaten by just 4 qualified pitchers in 2010. This has lead to a low HR/9 (.89) for a flyball pitcher, and it is relevant to note that his ability to prevent the home run has improved over the last 3 seasons. Additionally, the Yankees are very strong defensively in the outfield, so that although Soriano does not fit the ballpark perfectly, his defense should serve him well. He is a flyball guy who is not giving up a lot of long flyballs, such that I do not see him being at risk for a huge blow-up in Yankee Stadium.
2) He got lucky last season: He had a .212 BABIP last season, which some have suggested means that he is due for a major regression in 2011. The problem with this is that it ignores that he has a low BABIP for his career, at .256, and that he has had an obscenely low one in 3 of the last 4 seasons. His BABIP has tracked well to his line drive rate, which tells me that this is likely not a fluke. When he is not getting hit for a lot of line drives, he will provide very low BABIP’s. He is not getting lucky, he is just a good pitcher.
3) He struggles against lefties: He is definitely worse against lefties than righties, but real concern over this issue requires a slavish devotion to FIP/xFIP despite the fact that there are doubts as to whether it is a great metric to use regarding relievers and that Soriano may be a good candidate to outperform his FIP/xFIP (due to his ability to induce weak contact, as evidenced by his low BABIP). Looking at the raw numbers, Rafael has a perfectly acceptable platoon split. Lefties hit .229/.296/.392 against him for his career, with the lone issue being the power that lefties show against him. If there is one valid concern in all of this, it is that his HR rate against lefties is a bit high. That said, for the weaker half of his platoon split, his numbers against LHB are just fine.
These are the issues that I have heard raised most often, and none of them strike me as being incredibly significant. If Soriano remains healthy, he will pitch well in 2011. That does not mean that the Yankees made the right move, but the problems with this deal have little to do with expected performance.
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