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)

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13 Comments

  1. Bring back MFIKY! I don't care about losing Comp picks... Durham is already stocked. Do it, Stu!

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    • Andy says:

      You don't lose comp picks for re-signing your own guys...only if they player is on another team, is offered arbitration, and declines does that rule kick in.

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      • MJ says:

        But you lose the picks you would receive if he signed elsewhere, i believe is what he is saying.

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        • Andy says:

          Unless he signs with New York, it seems unlikely we'd net a 1st rounder out of him at this point. I agree with his sentiment. It may actually work for him to go on another one year deal, and to try the market again next year.

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  2. Beth says:

    What I find fascinating here, however, is how rare the "tough" save is. We think of the closer as that rare guy who can come in to those tense, do or die moments and prevail. More typically, closers come in the start the 9th with no one on base. It's in important role, as there's little margin for error. But these guys aren't routinely coming in with bases loaded. So....given how many saves are "easy" -- are we over valuing what the closer does?

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    • I know what you're saying, but I do believe it's important to have a 9th inning guy who can get guys out from both sides of the plate and knows he's coming in. I still don't think there's a good way to statistically analyze a closer's value.

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  3. Don says:

    If you went to the "best" 100 pitchers in ML baseball....and asked..
    "Do you think you could get 3 outs without the other team scoring a run in one (1) inning ...How many (what %) would you think would say yes?
    So...How much is a 9th inning reliever worth?...

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    • lroy10 says:

      Guess we could ask the 2003 Red Sox. The 03 Cubs, and don't give me the Bartman crap because if they had something other than Prior they would have gone to the bullpen faster than they did. I was pretty young but didn't the Phillies have some closer that good until he ran up on the Blue Jays and Joe Carter in the World Series, he used like fall off the mound or something like that. What about the Asian guy for the Diamond backs that blew at least 2 saves in the WS after 9/11, if Torre doesn't move the infield in and let Gonzo beat them with a bloop single everyone in Arizona is still bad mouthing that guy. What about the Indians, Vizquel blasted the guy after the series, he wishes they had a better closer. Thats just what I can think of right off the top of my head. No one is talking about giving Mifky K-Rod money, if someone was offering him that he wouldn't be a free agent still.

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  4. Gus says:

    The blown save demoralizes a team more than anything else -- it snaps a win from the starter, it breaks the heart of your fans and batters. Having that confidence that the 9th inning is likely going to be positive is invaluable, ESPECIALLY FOR A TEAM THAT IS GOING TO WIN WITH PITCHING.

    The ability for the 2011 Rays to blow teams out seems rather smaller than it has in past years with the departure of so much of the offense. They, more than the Yankees or Red Sox, need a closer. It can be McGee, it can be Soriano, it can be Balfour. But they need somebody in that role (and in the 8th inning role too). And they need to figure that out now. Otherwise 2011 is going to look and feel a lot like 2007 (when the Rays were leading 90+ games after 6 innings and ended up winning 72(?)).

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    • Sarah says:

      Yes, I well remember 2007, and how it felt to watch leads slip away. But actually, if I recall correctly, Al Reyes did a reasonably decent job as closer that year (I just checked the stats and he had close to an 87% save percentage, and 4 blown saves, which puts in the middle of the pack). The problem in 2007 was everyone who came between the starters and the closer.

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      • Gus says:

        It was an entire bullpen problem for sure in 2007; the other problem was that Reyes got hurt and wasn't the closer all season. But yes, you have less blown saves if you have nobody to get you from 6th to the 9th. But the "blown games" is the stat that we have to look out for in 2011.

        My view of the Rays is that they have enough young arms that combined with the Padres guys, Howell, McGee they could patch together a decent bullpen if they'd spend on quality (Soriano if the market comes back to them or maybe Fuentes) rather than the approach of $2M here and there on rehabbing vets and guys looking to boounce back (i.e the Chad Qualls of the world). Be thrifty with my 4th outfielder and my DH, not my closer.

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  5. Jeremy says:

    The table seems to have flipped Rivera and Jenk's lines. A 4.44 ERA for Mariano Rivera jumped off the screen as wrong to me.

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