The greatness of Mariano


We don’t need numbers to know that Mariano Rivera is in a class by himself. We see it every season, every month, every game, every save. We see it as that cutter darts in and out to hitters, as another bat shatters, as another game ends at the hands of the Sandman. But, hey, the numbers look pretty amazing by themselves.

This morning on Twitter, a few baseball analysts found themselves tossing out some Mariano Rivera numbers, and since more people will read this article in the next hour than will see most of those Twitter posts, let’s delve in. Colin Wyers of The Hardball Times started things off with a note on relievers. Over the last 15 seasons, the average pitcher would, he said, “typically convert 70% of 1-run saves, 86% of 2-run saves and 94% of 3-run saves.” Overall, based on the frequency of each type of save, Wyers found that an average pitcher saves 82 percent of all games.

Cork Gains from Rays Index jumped into the fray as well. His number is simply awe-inspiring. Rivera has converted all nine of the save situations in which he enters the game with the tying run on base. The average closer converts in that situation 55 percent; the average reliever escapes with the lead just 22 percent of the time.

On the one hand, these numbers underscore how many overvalue relievers. If an average pitcher can save 94 percent of all three-run games, what is the incremental win value of adding a pitcher who can save 96 percent? 98 percent? Unless that pitcher is the best of the best when it comes to closing, a team will be paying far too much for far too little.

Sky Kalkman, an unabashed Mariano Rivera lover, picked on this thread. Since inheriting the closer role in 1997, Rivera has averaged 40 saves and 4.5 blown saves. The average reliever over that span would have 36.5 saves and eight blown saves. Over the last five seasons, Mo has been even better, averaging 38 saves and just 2.8 blown saves. The average reliever would have 33.5 saves and around seven or eight blown games.

In terms of wins, Kalkman estimates Mariano’s numbers at 3.25 wins above average and around 4.25 wins above replacement over the last half decade. He knocks that down a tad based on the belief that the Yanks would win some of those games blown by the average reliever. At Baseball Projection, Sean Smith offers up a similar take. Mariano Rivera’s career WAR is 49.9, and his average WAR over the last five years is 3.36.

So where does that leave Rivera? On Smith’s all-time pitcher WAR list, Mo is 76th overall with only a bunch of Hall of Fame starters in front of him. Other than Dennis Eckersley, a hybrid starter/reliever, Rivera is the highest ranked relief-only pitcher on the list. He truly is in a class by himself.

In a way, as I said before, we know all of this because we see it. But in another way, it helps underscore why Yankee fans are so obsessed with The Eighth Inning. At some point, Mariano Rivera will retire. He turned 40 a month ago and won’t be able to keep this up forever. Then, the Yankees will began the long process of replacing an all-time great. Maybe that responsibility will fall on the shoulders of Joba Chamberlain or Phil Hughes. Maybe it will fall on some other young stud pitcher asked to don the mantle of Mariano. It will not be easy, and we shouldn’t expect greatness from Rivera’s heir.

In the end, I’m going to do what I always do. I’m going to sit back, watch and love Mariano Rivera for what he brings to the table every day. His greatness as a one-pitch, three-out pitcher who just gets the job done may never be surpassed, and we shouldn’t expect it from the next Yankee closer whoever that might be and whenever he inherits the job.

Categories : Analysis
  • Charlie

    so what are mo’s percentages for 1,2, and 3 run save attempts? i was kinda expecting that after the average reliever’s pero no estan

    • Rob

      Me too!

    • Benjamin Kabak

      Good questions. I’ll run those numbers over the next few days and report back. In 2009, his two blown saves came with the Yanks up by two vs. Boston and up by one vs. Seattle. Otherwise, he was perfect in 3-run save attempts.

    • MattG

      I think they should offer 3 and 30. There is actually a reasonable chance he is still the Yankees’ best closing option in 2013. And if they only get 2 years out of the deal, there is a reasonable chance he’s worth the $15M for each of those seasons.

      That offer would be so far and away the best offer available that Mo can’t see it as a pay cut.

      I would take a similar stance with Jeter. Add on more years to get the AAV under control. 85/5, for instance.

      • MattG

        Oops, wrong reply button, sorry.

  • Rob

    3 wins over the average closer? Of course, that’s huge in the post-season. But it ain’t worth $15M in the regular season. Tough call next year on whether to squeeze Mo.

    • Benjamin Kabak

      Considering that it’s Mo, the Yankees will not and should not squeeze him. There’s no doubt that he’s overpaid, but of all the Yanks who are overpaid, I’m fine with Mo getting more than his true value.

      • AndrewYF

        Isn’t the marginal win worth something like $5 million to the Yankees? So Rivera is getting paid what he’s worth. These numbers don’t even take into account the postseason, where we all saw every closer but Rivera fail.

        • Paul Canales

          I am still in awe whenever I look into that fact.

        • Rob

          How many years do you give him though? And when do you say “no”?

          • Tom Zig

            How many years Mariano wants, is how many he’ll get.

            You know he won’t ask for something stupid like 6 years. He’ll probably ask for like 3 or 4 years and the Yankees will oblige.

            • Rob

              That’s a huge mistake waiting to happen. He’s already been paid very well – better than 99% of starters. And $15M large is huge chunk, to say nothing of multiple years.

            • Ed

              Not really. Mo asked for 4 years last time but only got 3. Then said he would’ve accepted 2. The Yankees will start with a high offer and Mo will push things a little to see if he can get more, but in the end he’ll settle for whatever the Yankees offer.

      • Rob

        And if he wants another 3/45 deal?

        • Tom Zig

          If he wants 3/45? Fine by me

          • Rob

            Dear God, I hope this view isn’t prevalent in the front office.

          • OldYanksFan

            3/$45m is nuts. I mean, he is Mo…. but he will be 41 year old Mo. Unless he develops a killer knuckleball, 3 years at TOP dollar is CRAZY.

            The Yankees do have a budget.

            Just imagine if we are paying Jeter and Mo $35m/yr in 2012 and they fall to earth. Will you guys turn on Cashman?

        • All Praise Be To Mo

          Why not do a Wakefield type deal? 1 year @ 15 mil with continuous $15 mil mutual options where if the Yanks decline it’s a $5 mil buyout/going away present? This way he can still say he’s getting paid @ a premium level, and Mo forbid, when he does decline we can cut the cord after the year?

          • Rob

            That just delays the inevitable. It works great when Mo is Mo, but one down/injured year then you’re forced to play tough for the following season especially if Mo wants to come back and thinks he still deserves to be paid like he’s 30 or 35.

            Wakefield works b/c it was never about the money with him. And it still isn’t. He just had an off-year and he accepted a salary reduction.

    • Do Not Feed The Trolls!

      It would be great if Mo went year by year like Andy.I dont mind over paying him if he went year by year.

      • Rob

        And if he has a down or injured year? Do you squeeze him with an incentive-based deal?

        • Do Not Feed The Trolls!

          A down year for him would probably still probbaly make him a very good instead of great closer. He would have to see a severe decline for the Yanks ask him to take a pay cut or not resign him.

          • Rob

            Honestly, I see his shoulder coming up lame as a real possibility. I don’t see how they can give him anything but one-year deals with options going forward.

    • Bo

      Isn’t worth 15 mill?

      Maybe not to the Pirates.

      I guess someone hasnt watched Mo thru the yrs. And someone didnt watch every other reliever last October.

      • Rob

        No, $400k per inning is too much especially at a position where above average replacements are plentiful. The difference between Mo and Robertson, for instance, is one or two wins. They should have held firm at $10 or $12M/year. Now they should go year-to-year.

        BTW: Mo has earned over $100M since 2002. That period includes one ring.

  • Do Not Feed The Trolls!

    The day I never want to see is when he stops being dominant, as blasphemous as that sounds.

    • jim p

      Mo has 4 pitches he hasn’t even broken out yet, and they are all better than his cutter. I expect my great-grandchildren to see him get his 2,500th save.

      • Do Not Feed The Trolls!

        After getting all he could out of his right arm Mo will pitch with his left arm. Mo Rivera is secretly ambidextrous and has been practicing pitching from the left side so he can pitch until 60.

      • All Praise Be To Mo

        Mo taught Nick Swisher everything he knows about pitching, there’s his eventual replacement since Justin Upton will be manning RF for the Yanks in 2013 when Mo hangs them up….

  • Neon Noodle

    I know Mariano is a great RELIEVER and all. But remember, he was worth less to the Yankees in 2009 (2 WAR), than Aaron Harang was worth to the Reds (2.5 WAR).


    • Do Not Feed The Trolls!

      Ooh no you didnt.

    • All Praise Be To Mo

      This is a great stat for all those b-jobbers out there. An average starting pitcher is worth the same if not more than a stud reliever.

      • Evil Empire

        One of my favorite anti B-Jobber stats:

        In 2008, Jamie Moyer out WAR’d Brad Lidge.

        But then again, most B-Jobbers probably don’t give a damn about WAR.

      • lenNY’s Yankees

        Although I agree with your general point, it could also mean WAR is not a good statistic to compare a starter with a reliever. Anyone who thinks Rivera and Harang carry the same value is out of their mind. Do you think Harang could do as well as Rivera as a closer? I didn’t think so.

    • Evil Empire

      Neon (and TSJC) are absolutely right though. Closers are vastly over-valued.

      Mo is the best ever at closing games, but there’s only so much impact that 70 innings worth of performance over a 162 game schedule can have.

      In the playoffs its different though, and closers have quite a bit more value since they’re used more frequently, and may pitch more innings in any given game. Combine that with Mo’s ridiculous October/November #s and he ends up deserving most of the praise we bestow upon him; its all about the post season.

    • Bo

      That is why you cannot go by stats like WAR alone.

      Because anyone who thinks an average starter is as good as Mo because he gives 80 more innings is talking nonsense.

      • Evil Empire

        Aaron Harang pitched 96 more innings than Mo, just FYI. He only made 26 starts though.

        But yeah, you really can go by WAR. Its not wrapped up in a pretty narrative backed up with things you’ve seen with your own eyes, but it provides an objective, solid analysis of player contribution.

    • AndrewYF

      Did any of you guys even read the post? Rivera’s estimated average WAR is actually something like 3.5, which is pretty valuable.

      WAR for closers is (should be) different than WAR for starters. They’re different positions, which take different measurable skills. The art of not blowing a save is tangible, and a measurable statistic. Unlike ‘clutch’ stats, there seems to be a consistent skill of not blowing leads in late-game situations. WAR as it stands right now is deficient in this area. It is certainly not the end-all and be-all of statistics, and can be improved. I see this study as an improvement.

      Aaron Harang was not more valuable than Mariano Rivera last year. When he was putting up #2 starter-like statistics, yes, he was more valuable. But he hasn’t been for the past two years. Let’s stop with all the nonsense.

  • Andy in Sunny Daytona

    Future closer (non-Melvin Division): Hector Noesi. BOOOM! Consider your mind, BLOWN.

    • MatyRuggz

      Melvin’s his own starter, set-up guy, and closer.

  • Allen

    Describing Rivera as a 3 out pitcher on a Yankee fan site is music to the ears of other modern era closers. The term diminishes Rivera and the way he has been used. It allows lesser relievers who’ve been used in easier ways to be lumped into the same category as Mo. Even ESPN employees were forced to make comments this year about Mo: “He’s worlds away from the 3 outs and hit the food spread type closers.” and “There is a huge gap between the best closer in the game and the second best.” I understand Rivera was just “lucky” to get all those post season stats, that anyone who gets in the post season automatically gets good stats. And that players who don’t have a lot of post season stats just aren’t as lucky, and if they did get more post season play, they would all get good stats. This is what is constantly written. Among other things, other teams always know there’s a chance Mo will come in before the 9th inning. He is a late inning reliever first. If one wants to minimize him, they call him a 3 out pitcher.

    • Benjamin Kabak

      It’s not meant as a slight. It’s just meant as his role. Since becoming a closer, Rivera has averaged 3.3 outs per appearance. That’s a three-out pitcher, and he’s absolutely the best at what he does.

      • yankeefanindc

        How does his 3.3 average stack up against his contemporaries? I would think he has a higher average than most. What is his average in the post-season? I bet this is yet another category in which he is probably godly.

        • yankeefanindc

          I meant those as actual questions. Does anybody know? This post makes me want to know a lot more about his superiority to his peers. I can’t wait to see him enshrined on the first ballot.

          • Benjamin Kabak

            That’s a good question. For comparison’s sake, Trevor Hoffman is at 3.11 outs per appearance. Mo might be a bit more than a three-out pitcher, but that’s still his specialty outside of the postseason.

  • steve s

    There are a few scenarios which I think would make 2010 Mo’s last year (pitch effective but with nagging injuries; relative ineffectiveness without injury (by relative I mean in comparison to the standards he has set); sustained injury;). If Mo is simply same old effective Mo in 2010 and he doesn’t decide to just go out on top (always a possibility) then he becomes a year to year sign as Yanks not likely to give him any more multi-year deals.

  • David in Cal

    This discussion is a reminder of why Joba and Phil should both be developed as starters. If they can succeed as a decent starter, they’ll be more valuable than even an outstanding reliever.

  • Wayne’s World

    And, he’s a class act as a person. My favorite baseball player. Ever.

  • OldYanksFan

    Question: Based on everything that is Mo, if he were a FA after 2010, what would his market value be? I’m guessing $10m or less?

  • FrankFernandez

    Great post. The smart and sane people among us realize you only get to watch one Mariano per lifetime.

  • Brendan

    It’s almost unbelievable to me that someday he won’t be out there in the pen. I followed the Yankees from the 1989 season on, but everything pre-Mo just seems irrelevant.