Rafael Soriano had a bit of a rough night last night. It started with an embarrassing play in which neither her nor the infielders could catch a simple pop up behind the mound off the bat of Alexi Ramirez. It ended after he gave up another hit, a walk, and allowed a run to cross the plate, upping his season ERA to an ugly 6.75. He’s now allowed seven earned runs on the year after surrendering just 12 in 2010. What’s going on here? One thing I’ve noticed is a pitch selection issue.
Courtesy of Texas Leaguers, we can see that in 2010, Soriano used his four seam fastball 47.7% of the time, his slider 21.4% of the time, and his cutter 29.7% of the time. Going into last night, 2011 had much different data. 56.4% of the time, Soriano’s used his cutter (though I think there may be classification issues there, since that number is so high), his slider 27.9% of the time, and his four seamer only 15.7% of the time.
Last night’s game, though, saw a similar, non-fastball oriented breakdown: 42.86% sliders, 38.1% cutters, and 19.05% fastballs. His only swinging strike came on the slider. Forgetting for a moment about the cutter/fastball classification issue, let’s look at that increased slider usage.
It’s up 6.5% in 2011 and what’s worse is that it’s not getting the same movement or results. In 2010, we saw the horizontal movement of Soriano’s slider at 5.07. 2011 has seen the slider move just 3.97, though last night’s slider had a horizontal tilt of 4.61. Looking at pitch results, we also see a bit of contrast between 2010 and 2011.
In 2010, batters swung at a whopping 59.2% of the sliders Soriano threw. That percentage has fallen all the way down to 41.0% in 2011. This has, obviously, lent itself to a decrease in whiff percentage as well. Batters swung through Soriano’s slider 14.4% of the time in 2010. That mark sits at just 5.1% as we speak. In turn, the pitch has been called a strike less in 2011–61.5%–than it had been in 2010–71.1%. If we go by the pitch type values from FanGraphs, we can see that the slider has been Soriano’s LEAST effective pitch, coming in at -0.5 runs against average, not including last night. If we adjust that to be per 100 sliders, the mark is -1.05, down from +3.79 last year. Despite his apparently limited usage of the fastball this season, it has been his most effective pitch, coming in at +1.2 raw runs against average and +1.51 runs per 100 fastballs. The cutter has also been working for him at +.4 and +1.51. It’s worth noting, though, that both the fastball and cutter numbers are down from 2010′s per 100 pitches marks.
Rafael Soriano’s pitch selection has been much different than it was in his career year of 2010. It’s led to less-than-desirable results so far in 2011. It would be irresponsible to try to diagnose exactly what’s wrong with him, since I’m clearly not a pitching coach, but I’ll still offer some thoughts. Maybe he would be better served going with his fastball more often. It’s been effective so far and there hasn’t been a noticeable drop in velocity (avg. 93.0 in 2010, 92.4 in 2011). Using his fastball can only help his slider because if he doesn’t establish the fastball, why would batters offer at the slider? Soriano’s slider has been historically good for him, but there is too much of a good thing. Forget the slider every once in a while, Raffy. Give ‘em the heater.
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