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January 28, 2014 posted by Chuck Anderson

2014 Fantasy Baseball Better Off … Parnell v. Soriano

2014 Fantasy Baseball Better Off … Parnell v. Soriano
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Taking 2012 and 2013 together only two pitchers have more saves than Rafael Soriano.  Carrying a 2.68 ERA over that span, he anchored plenty of successful fantasy bullpens.  He was successful with multiple teams and he’s only in his age 34 season. He is far from too old to offer 65 or so quality innings.  Bobby Parnell is a not-as-young-as-you-might-think 29, has fewer career saves than Soriano accumulated last year alone and is coming off herniated disk surgery.  For 2014 he also looks like the better pitcher.  To be thorough, some ADP ranks: 

ESPN Mock Draft Central FantasyGameday Mock
Soriano 11th RP, 126th player 14th, 127th Round 14, Pick 8
Parnell 21st, 189th 24th, 219th Round 17, Pick 1

A dropping strikeout rate is one of the biggest red flags a pitcher can show and Soriano’s decreased from 9.18/9 (24.7%) to 6.89/9 (18.4%).  His fastball velocity has been slipping since 2007, but it made its biggest drop in the last year.  Both his swinging strike rate and overall contact rate moved in the wrong direction.  2013’s numbers were too far away from his career norms to write off as random variation.  Brooks Baseball breaks down the declining whiff rates on all his pitches, noting the biggest negative change is on his sinker.

Rafael Soriano, RP Washington Nationals

Rafael Soriano, RP Washington Nationals

Aside from missing fewer bats, Soriano’s pitches are also being hit harder.  He allowed a line drive rate over 24% each of the last two years.  Eleven relievers fall into that category and Soriano’s .281 BABIP against is by far the lowest.  Francisco Rodriguez at .296 is the only other pitcher to keep it under .300.  With a ground ball rate consistently in the low 30%’s Soriano perpetually risks giving up a spate of home runs.

It is understood that relievers tend to outperform their ERA estimators, but the picture they paint of Soriano is still not pretty. With 100 as league average his FIP- was 97 and xFIP- was 107 in 2013.  His tERA was over 4.00 in each of the last three seasons.

The Mets wisely decided against retaining Frank Francisco this year and Bobby Parnell is ensconced as the closer.  Parnell’s 7.92 K/9 does not place him among the best relievers, but it was better than Soriano’s.  Parnell’s 2.16 BB/9 bested the Washington closer’s mark as well.  He makes his bones with a 95 mph fastball that is only average at getting whiffs, but generated 55.4% ground balls since 2010.  He started throwing a curveball instead of his slider in 2012 and Pitch Value calculations are split as to each pitch’s relative effectiveness.  The curve tends to get more ground balls and fewer line drives, but does not generate as many whiffs.  Parnell’s 3.55 career ERA is inflated by a 7.93 mark as a starter.  In only his relief innings it is 2.97 with a matching 2.97 FIP and 3.41 xFIP.

Parnell’s off season surgery was the first in his professional career.  That stands in stark contrast with Soriano’s troubles, he missed 30+ games five separate times with right elbow injuries.  Besides some gaudy save totals and the “proven closer” label Soriano does not have any clear advantages over Parnell.

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