It is no secret that Rafael Soriano was an important factor in the Rays run to their second division title in three years, converting 40 of his 43 save opportunities. That translated to a league-leading CLOSER+ of 107.
CLOSER+ compares a pitcher’s save total to that of an average closer, by classifying saves into three categories: Easy, Regular and Tough*. 100 is average and a number greater than 100 means the pitcher did better than an average closer.
We can then compare how Soriano performed in each of the three categories compared to the average AL closer…
Soriano’s conversion rate for easy and tough saves was about the same as closers in general meaning he converted the expected number of easy and tough saves. Where he excelled in 2010 was converting 19 of 20 regular saves (95.0%). AL closers converted only 82.8% of regular saves. An average AL closer would have only converted 16.6 of 20 regular saves.
If we compare Soriano’s actual number of saves (40) to his expected number of saves (37.3), we get a CLOSER+ of 107. That was tops in the American League among closers in 2010…
Soriano ranked just ahead of Joakim Soria and Neftali Feliz. At the other end, we see Fernando Rodney was the worst closer in the AL by a large margin, blowing one-third of his save opportunities, including four easy save opportunities.
As you can see, tough save opportunities are actually quite rare. It is just not that often anymore that managers will bring their closers into games with the tying run already on base. Jonathan Papelbon had the most tough save opportunities (6) and the most tough saves (4). Mariano Rivera had only 3 tough save opportunities, but he is now 7-7 in tough saves the last two years combined.
As for the Rays, we now have a better sense of what exactly they are losing from the back-end of the bullpen. For comparison, in 2009, JP Howell ranked 15th out of 16 AL Closers in CLOSER+ with an 83.
As fans, we were spoiled this past season. And it could be a while before we see that level of performance again.
*Two years ago, Joe Posnanski generated a new statistic to evaluate closers (CLOSER+) based on Bill James’ method of classifying saves. James breaks down save opportunities into three categories:
1. Easy Save. This is a save when the first batter faced is not the tying or go-ahead run.
2. Tough save: This is a save when the tying or go ahead run is already on base when you take over.
3. Regular save: Everything else. [Typically, a “regular” save is when a pitcher starts the 9th inning with a 1-run lead.]
While Posnanski compared closers to all relievers, we looked at just American League closers (any pitcher with at least 10 saves), and evaluated Soriano based on how the average AL closer fared in each category (full rankings are below)