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Tampa Bay Rays Deal Jesse Chavez for Rafael Soriano

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After a full day of speculation, we finally reach resolution. Jon Paul Morosi is reporting the Rays will trade Jesse Chavez for Rafael Soriano. In effect, the Rays will deal the ghost of Akinori Iwamura for Rafael Soriano, barring anything else being added to the deal.

As for Chavez, well, we barely knew ‘ya Jesse. Take care in Atlanta. He's a decent get for Atlanta considering they held little leverage in this situation. Almost the opposite of the original deal that landed Chavez with the Rays.

Now, for Soriano.

Let's start from the top.

Soriano will turn 30-years-old on December 19th. He signed with the Seattle Mariners as an amateur free agent in 1996 and made his Major League debut on May 10th, 2002. On December 7th, 2006, he was traded to the Atlanta Braves for Horacio Ramirez. For his career, he's pitched 332.2 innings, struck out 365, and walked 104. All told, he has a career FIP of 3.31 and xFIP of 3.65. Soriano was eligible for free agency this season, however he decided to accept arbitration rather than testing the market, and gave the Braves permission to trade him immediately afterwards.

He throws your garden variety power closer pitches. A 92-94 MPH fastball that reaches 96, a slider that sits in the low-80s, and -- in the rarest of instances - a low-80s change-up. His fastball produced a 12.1% whiff rate last season while his slider sat at 16.4%. For comparison, J.P. Howell's curve generated 19.5% empty swings, which is to say Soriano's stuff is filthy. Soriano is a career fly ball pitcher, which isn't desirable, but when you pack the heat he does, pitching up in the zone without getting slammed is an acceptable way of life.

Soriano isn't without his questions either. He has missed most of three seasons since 2004, including 2008 most recently with a mixture of injuries - some shoulder soreness, a groin strain, and a side strain. He's also dealt with a concussion, oblique strains, and Tommy John surgery.  The exact costs in which he'll require are unknown as well. Yes, there's a strong chance he will repeat as a Type-A free agent next off-season, but as the Braves found out this year, that isn't always a guarantee; especially with non-elite free agent relievers.

So how good is he?

Over his last three healthy seasons (2009-6, minus 2008) he's posted FIP of 2.54, 4.17, and 3.43. Obviously a repeat of 2009 would be fantastic, but also unlikely. Of those, 3.43 is almost exactly in the middle and probably what most people will go off.  If you apply the 5-3-2 weighing to his last three healthy seasons FIP you get an average of 3.2. Add in another 2 for league average adjustment - note: this is seriously just a league average reliever, so this projection is actually a bit more conservative than it could be - and you get 3.39 - or basically J.P. Howell's 2008, which is great.

League adjustment is going to be something I feel we'll discuss a lot. Scouts think he has the stuff to succeed in baseball's toughest division - and I would agree - and based on his previous AL seasons in the bullpen it would seem like he can step right in and post a sub-4 FIP, but those seasons were a long time ago and while they aren't 100% irrelevant, they shouldn't be weighed nowhere near as much as the most recent seasons. Below is a list of 2009 relievers who came from the National League and how they fared in at least 40 innings worth. This is FIP and xFIP so as to neutralize whether it was luck or worse pitching:

Pitcher 2008 xFIP 2008 FIP 2009 xFIP 2009 FIP xFIP Net FIP Net
Wuertz 4.35 4.3 2.61 2.37 -1.74 -1.93
Springer 4.32 3.51 4.62 4.06 0.3 0.55
Lyon 4.1 3.84 4.24 4.06 0.14 0.22
Wood 3.07 2.32 4.11 4.15 1.04 1.83
Saito 2.98 2 4.86 4.25 1.88 2.25
Fuentes 3.05 2.24 4.94 4.42 1.89 2.18
Cruz 4 3.62 5.52 4.92 1.52 1.3
Nelson 3.58 3.45 5.36 5.65 1.78 2.2

 

That's a small sample size, but the average shift in FIP is about 1.  Soriano is a better pitcher than quite a few of those on the list, so let's say he only feels a little bit of the change and posts a FIP around 3.7. That would be Howell's 2009 season all over again, which is good. If Soriano pitched like that on last year's club, he would've given the Rays three relief pitchers under 3.8 FIP. The Yankees had four; the Red Sox two; and the Blue Jays three.

How's this for coincidence. The Rays have Howell, who's entry we've taken to calling chill time. Well, as best as I can find, Soriano enters to a song called Fuego - Spanish for fire.