Late Saturday night in Philadelphia, Nationals closer Rafael Soriano leaned forward on the pitcher’s mound at Citizens Bank Park as he stared into the waiting mitt of Wilson Ramos. After getting the sign from his catcher, Soriano took a quick look at the ground, went into his motion and fired a 87 mph slider into the dirt, past the swinging bat of a fooled Cody Asche for the strike out.
Asche was Soriano’s third and final strike out-victim of the night as the Nationals’ closer struck out the side and preserved a 5-3, 10-inning victory for the visiting team. Saturday’s outing is the latest gem from Soriano, who has been phenomenal in his second season with the Nationals. The closer earned his 22nd save of the season and lowered his team-leading ERA to 0.97. Soriano also boasts a WHIP of .081 and has not given up a run since June 10.
With the stellar numbers that Soriano has posted this season, you would think he’d be one of National League manager Mike Matheny‘s first picks to pitch in this year’s All-Star game, right? Unfortunately, as we all know by now, Soriano won’t be in Minnesota for the Midsummer Classic on Tuesday. Instead, he’ll be going home, no doubt feeling robbed of an opportunity that was rightfully his.
Instead of Soriano, Aroldis Chapman of the Reds, Francisco Rodriguez of the Brewers and Craig Kimbrel of the Braves will take charge of relieving duties on Tuesday. While there’s no denying the talent that those pitchers have and the impact that they can have on a game in the late innings, it’s absurd that Soriano didn’t make the cut, especially when you consider that the three closers on the NL All-Star roster, all of whom were selected by player vote, have statistically performed worse than Soriano this season.
Chapman missed the first month and a half of the season on the disabled list and despite his recent success, the Reds’ flamethrower trails Soriano in saves with 17 and has an ERA of 2.20, which is substantially higher than Soriano’s. That being said, Chapman is still one of the best relievers in the game; his incredible 17.90 k/9 speaks for itself. But, despite his impressive strikeout numbers and a WHIP similar to Soriano’s, the Nationals’ closer deserves to be in the game as much as Chapman does, if not more.
The same can be said for Soriano when it comes to Rodriguez. The Brewers’ closer has more saves than Soriano with 27, but he has also had significantly more save opportunities (30) than Soriano (24). As dominant as a closer might be, he has no say in determining whether or not he’ll have a save opportunity at the end of the day. But based on Soriano’s performance so far this season, there’s no reason to believe his numbers wouldn’t be equal or better than Rodriguez’s if he had as many save opportunities.
While starters can allow a few home runs every once in a while and still win the game, home runs can be devastating for closers as they can be the difference between a save and a loss. Rodriguez, the All-Star, has given up seven of them on the season, while Soriano has given up just one. Now, the same argument can be made that Rodriguez has had more save opportunities and has, therefore, had more opportunities to give up home runs. But of the three closers on the NL All-Star roster, Rodriguez is the only one who has given up more than one home run, and Kimbrel has had even more save opportunities than Rodriguez. With World Series home field advantage at stake, I would rather have someone who can keep it in the park pitch the ninth inning. Also, Rodriguez has an ERA of 2.44 and a WHIP of 0.88, both of which are significantly higher than Soriano’s.
Even the infamous Kimbrel, who has been a perennial pain-in-the-neck for the Nationals, has failed to perform at Soriano’s level in 2014. The Braves’ closer has an ERA of 1.96 that, while impressive, is still almost a full point higher than Soriano’s. Kimbrel also trails Soriano in WHIP (0.90) and has given up twice as many runs as Soriano while pitching fewer innings, despite leading the NL with 28 saves.
Now, I have nothing against Chapman, Rodriguez or Kimbrel. All four of these closers deserve to be All-Stars. That being said, numbers don’t lie. Soriano leads all three All-Star-closers in most major pitching categories and though they’ve all been great this season, Soriano has, for the most part, out-shined all of them.
The All-Star Game is supposed to consist of the best players at each position from each league but, as Nationals fans have realized the hard way in 2014, that is not always the case. Soriano wasn’t the only National who got snubbed this year, as teammate Anthony Rendon probably deserved an All-Star nod more than anyone on the team. But Rendon lost in a fan vote — twice — and there’s nothing anyone can do about that. It’s a baseball democracy, and people tend to vote for their favorites; not everybody can win.
Soriano, however, was ignored by fellow players and by Matheny, both of whom know more than well that Soriano has had a better season than the three closers who were chosen instead. The fact that perhaps the best reliever in the NL will be watching the game from his couch at home not only demonstrates a flaw in the All-Star selection process, but it also leads to anger and frustration for fans who expect to see the very best players represent their respective leagues at the Midsummer Classic.
Ever since All-Star rosters were announced last Sunday, Nationals fans have been fuming over the fact that their closer won’t be representing the team in Minnesota. Reactions on social media have ranged from sadness to anger and some have even declared that they will boycott this year’s game — an incredible show of support from a fan base that hasn’t always been kind to its closer. It’s true, many people, myself included, have often times heavily criticized Soriano and his $28 million contract. But with the numbers he has posted this season and with all he’s done for the team, the feeling throughout the Nationals fan base is unanimous: Soriano is, without a doubt, an All-Star.
The fact that Soriano will not participate in the game not only hurts the NL as a team, but it also hurts the All-Star Game in the eyes of the fans. When players who have clearly played like All-Stars are denied participation in the game, some fans turn to the NFL mentality of “Oh well, nobody cares about the All-Star Game anyway,” and that’s a problem when you consider that the MLB All-Star Game is the only All-Star game that actually matters since the winner gets home field advantage in the World Series.
Thirty-four players will take the field for the National League Tuesday night at Target Field and, unfortunately, Soriano will not be one of them. But, just like everything else about this sport, the All-Star Game is unpredictable. For all we know, the three closers that were selected may very well be the best in the NL and could dominate in the All-Star Game.
One thing’s for certain, there are many All-Star-caliber players this year who won’t be making the trip to Minnesota, and Soriano is one of them. There’s no denying that the All-Star Game is a huge part of the sport and that it becomes more and more popular each year. But if the All-Star Game doesn’t truly consist of the best players in the game, then we have to ask — what’s the point?