The Washington Nationals have had a lot of injury problems this year, with one third of their opening day roster on the disabled list: third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, left fielder Bryce Harper, and catcher Wilson Ramos, as well as starting pitcher Doug Fister. Injuries are one reason that the 14-12 Nationals are mired in third place in the NL East, closer to the fifth-place Marlins than to the division-leading Braves.
But another reason may be mismanagement of resources. Closer Rafael Soriano is making $14 million this year, more than 10 percent of the Nats’ $134 million payroll, and so far this season he has a 0.00 ERA. But the Nationals have brought him into more blowouts (three) than one-run games (two).
As a result, he trails all closers in baseball in one important measure: leverage index. That means that he’s been brought into less important situations than any other regular closer in the majors.
A pitcher’s leverage index (LI) tracks the relative importance of the situations they faced. Less than 1 is an unimportant situation (like bases empty in a blowout), greater than 1 is an important one (like men on base in a close game), and exactly 1 is average.
For the year, Rafael Soriano’s average LI is 1.1 — almost exactly average, and the lowest among all of baseball’s regular closers.
He’s a really good pitcher, but the Nationals didn’t need him to do much when they asked him to pitch the final inning of their 8-2 blowout of the Mets on April 3, or their 7-1 win over the Marlins on April 10, or their 11-2 loss to the Marlins on April 15. That’s mop-up work, not the kind of work that requires a relief ace.
On the other hand, the Nationals have lost three one-run games this year, April 4, April 11, and April 19, and Soriano didn’t appear in any of them. They lost another game on April 21 in which they held a one-run lead into the 8th inning, only to see it vanish.
On April 4, when the Nats were tied heading into the 8th, Tyler Clippard gave up the go-ahead run, and the Braves won 2-1. On April 11, the Nats led the Braves 6-5 going into the 8th inning, but Tyler Clippard gave up the tying run in the 8th and Jerry Blevins gave up the winning run in the 10th, and the Braves won 7-6.
On April 11, when the Nats were leading the Braves 6-5 going into the 8th inning, but Tyler Clippard gave up the tying run in the 8th and Jerry Blevins gave up the winning run in the 10th, and the Braves won 7-6.
On April 21, the Nats were leading the Angels 1-0 in the 8th, and then Tyler Clippard gave up four unearned runs. The Nationals scored a run in the 9th, and lost 4-2 without Clippard ever appearing.
That’s why Soriano’s leverage index is so low, and that could be one reason why the Nationals have lost more games than than they’d hoped.