It wasn’t long ago that I made the case Washington Nationals closer Rafael Soriano was the best closer in baseball. He was coming off his 200th career save and had a 1.96 ERA with 40 strikeouts in 41.1 innings while having the most Base-Out Runs Saved, or RE24, of any closer in the league.
Since then, he has yielded five earned runs in 7.1 innings over eight games, including Sunday night’s debacle in which he blew a two-run lead in the ninth inning.
“The last three or four games I don’t be comfortable,” Soriano said. “It not be too easy for me. It happens sometimes. This year, at home, I think it’s the second time that happened to me.”
So what causes the best closer in the game to become so unreliable? His hard stuff – the four-seam fastball and sinker - isn’t as effective as it was earlier in the season. In August, batters are hitting .421 against his heat compared with .153 from March through July.
And while it is true August is the worst month of his career in terms of ERA (3.28), this is the worst we have ever seen opposing hitters mash his fastball.
To compound the problem, Soriano has just two strikeouts over 19 August at bats with his fastball, and none in the last seven days.
Soriano is indeed in a rough patch, but the small sample size of at-bats in high leverage situations may be making this look worse than it is. If this persists into September, there may be more cause for concern.
“He’s been our closer all year and I don’t see that changing as of right now,” Manager Matt Williams said.