2011 Season Preview: Mariano Rivera

As we count down the days and weeks leading up to the season, we’re going to preview the 2011 Yankees by looking at each of their core players and many, many more. A new preview will go up every day, Monday through Friday, from now until Opening Day.

(Kathy Willens/AP)

One day Mariano will grow old. Years ago writers tried to predict his decline. A blip on the radar would inspire articles questioning whether he could continue dominating hitters. It still hasn’t happened. In fact, there have been fewer articles predicting his decline in recent years than there were wen he was in his mid-30s. He’s been that dominant in the past few years. 

In some ways, Mo’s 2010 was better than his 2009. His strikeout rate dipped, but so did his WHIP and home run rate. His numbers won’t stay this way forever, but he’s given no indication that he’s ready to slow down. 

Best Case

(Tony Gutierrez/AP)

Is there really a ceiling for Mo? Sure, he won’t pitch 80 innings and allow two earned runs, but his ceiling isn’t too far off from that. In an absolute best case, he’s probably good for 70 innings and a 1.50 ERA. That’s around his performance from 2008, when, at age 38, he produced the best ERA+ of his career. If anyone can repeat that task three years later, at age 41, it’s Mariano.

To hammer home the best case scenario, we can put Mariano’s performance at age 40 into context. Since 1980 there have been only 34 instances of a relief pitcher aged 40 or higher throwing 50 or more innings. Of those, only 19 have produced an ERA+ of 120 or higher. Mariano’s 238 ERA+ from last year ranks first on the list. That he could top that at age 41 boggles the mind.

Worst Case

Even the worst case scenario for Mariano this year isn’t devastating. Sure, there’s the minute possibility that he falls off a cliff, but that’s the case with every player. It’s the same thing with injuries. Any player at any time can suddenly decline in production or get hurt. But we’re looking for a more realistic worst case, rather than one that has Mo giving up homers and then getting hurt.

Mo’s worst case involves a few more blips than he’s had in the past few years. That is, maybe three weeks where his cutter isn’t cutting and he blows a few saves. Think 2007, but with a small blip mid-season and then another one later on, rather than him just starting slowly. The worst case also involves a few injuries. We know Mo is prone to soreness and spasms that keep him out for a few games. If things go wrong that could happen a few more times than it has in the recent past.

What’s Likely To Happen

The most likely scenario for Mo is far closer to his best case than his worst case. He’s been incredibly consistent in the past eight seasons, keeping his ERA under 2.00 in all of them except 2007. Even then he regained his dominant form after a rough April. Even at age 41, his most likely scenario has him pitching around 65 innings to a 2.00 ERA. Few closers will ever match that kind of production, never mind doing it year after year.

If this preview seems a bit lacking, it’s because there’s no need to dive into the case of Mariano Rivera. Since 1996 he has been the most beloved Yankee, and his folk hero status has only grown with time. What I find most striking is that while he is at an age where pitchers are watching games on TV, Mariano remains dominant. We’ve been lucky to watch him for the past 15 years, and I don’t think we can be reminded of that too frequently.

Mitre scratched with left oblique soreness

Updated (11:40 a.m.): Per Mark Feinsand, Sergio Mitre has been scratched from his start tonight and could be on the shelf for a while with what the Daily News scribe is calling “some type of ribcage/oblique type injury.” Mitre later said he woke up with soreness in his left oblique but expects to be pitch again by Thursday. Mitre missed considerable time last season with a left oblique strain, but his latest injury is reportedly in a different spot.

In the short term, the Yankees will instead send Manny Banuelos to the mound tonight to face the Boston Red Sox in their game airing on ESPN at 7:05 p.m. In the long term, though, an extended Mitre injury could all but end the rotation competition at least for April. If Mitre is out for a few weeks, Bartolo Colon, Freddy Garcia and Ivan Nova will share the fourth and fifth spots in the rotation while the odd man out will inherit the long relief role. If Mitre makes it back to the bump later this week, the race for the rotation continues.

To calm the masses ahead of time, Banuelos’ start is not an indication that the Yanks are considering taking the 20-year-old north. He was scheduled to pitch in relief today anyway, and the club wants their Number One pitching prospect to accrue more than just 15 innings of AA ball before he’s old enough to drink. He’ll arrive in the Bronx soon but not that soon.

Fan Confidence Poll: March 14th, 2011

Record Last Week: 4-5-1 (28 RS, 45 RA)
Spring Training Record: 7-10-2 (59 RS, 90 RA)
Schedule This Week: @ Red Sox (Mon. on ESPN), Tues. OFF, @ Orioles (Weds. on YES), vs. Rays (Thurs.), @ Blue Jays (Fri.), vs. Blue Jays (Sat. on YES/MLBN), @ Phillies (Sun. on MLBN)

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Report: Yanks scouting Carlos Silva

Carlos Silva looks sad as he delivers a pitch. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

At a certain level, the Yankees’ scouts are always going to be looking at someone somewhere. That’s just the nature of their job, and the team wouldn’t be prepared for its opponents or trade contingencies if the scouts didn’t stop looking. But on another level, with pitching at a premium and the Big League club’s hope that scotch tape and rope will hold the back end of the rotation together, the scouts are scouring the league trying to find a pitcher.

As Brian Cashman has repeated said during Spring Training, he has nothing doing right now, and this does seem to be the rare time of the year when he’s not hiding the truth. March is a tough time to make a big trade, and teams aren’t looking to do many favors for the Yankees right now. That said, the scouts are out there, and right now, they seem to be keeping half an eye on Carlos Silva.

Per Bruce Levine of ESPN Chicago, the Yankees have been scouting Silva this spring as he competes for a job in the crowded Cubs’ rotation. Silva is one of many vying for a rotation spot with the Northsiders, and as he is owed $11.5 million this year, Chicago would prefer to ship him out for cheaper options. So should the Yanks be interested?

To put it nicely, Silva is an interesting character. At 6’4″/250, he’s another huge pitcher, and he has a temper. Already this spring, he and Aramis Ramirez went at it in the dugout, and Carlos Zambrano had to calm down the large righty. When Zambrano is the anger management specialist, eyebrows across the world should go up a bit.

On the field, his results have been decidedly mixed. Overall, he is 70-70 with a 4.68 ERA and a 93 ERA+. His career K mark sits at a very low 4.0 per 9 IP, but he is the active leader in keeping his walk rate down. He issues just 1.7 BB/9 IP, and outside of one very disastrous season in Minneapolis, he isn’t prone to the longball. In a sense, he gets by as Chien-Ming Wang with ground balls and few extraneous baserunners.

Despite his less-than-impressive career numbers, he has enjoyed success in bits and spurts. In 2004, 2005 and 2007, he posted WAR totals above 3 while pitching with the Twins, and despite struggling badly in Seattle, he rebounded with a 2.1 WAR last year. He might not be worth the $11.5 million owed to him, but he could get more than halfway there. The problem with Silva, though, is also one of durability. He hasn’t reached 200 IP since 2007.

Also raising a red flag are Silva’s Spring Training numbers. He’s been absolutely lit up in this March. After 8.1 innings, he has allowed 15 earned runs on four home runs and 18 base hits. He’s issued just one free pass but has just two strike outs as well. Even if we don’t put much stock into Cactus League stats, those are some scary, scary numbers.

So Silva lurks in the background. The Yanks will, as they should, kick the tires. They’ll watch his Spring Training starts and find out if they can land him for nothing more than a wing and a prayer. If they can’t, they’ll move on to someone better. That’s the Front Office doing its job.

Open Thread: A loss and more cuts

Pretty swing. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

The race for the Yanks’ rotation grew more interesting after the club lost an ugly game to the Twins this afternoon. The final was 9-2, and it was never really close. Freddy Garcia needed 28 pitches to escape the first inning, and he lasted just 2.2 innings, giving up four earned runs on six hits and two walks. It was by far the worst outing of the Grapefruit League for a Yankee starter, but Joe Girardi still spoke during the game as though Garcia will be around come Opening Day.

Meanwhile, after Freddy’s short outing, the wheels fell off. Derek Jeter lost a pop-up in the bright Florida sun, and the Twins plated four unearned runs in the fourth. A-Rod hit a towering home run to center field for the lone Yankee offensive highlight, and he’s now at .440 on the spring with two round-trippers. Also of note was Mariano Rivera‘s spring debut. He said he wanted to throw 12 pitches, and he did. Nine of them were strikes, and he K’d the side in his one frame of work.

After the game, the Yanks announced another round of cuts. Daniel Brewer, Bradley Suttle and Austin Krum were all sent back to the Minor League camp while Rule 5 Daniel Turpen has been returned to the Red Sox. Fellow Rule 5er Robert Fish landed in Kansas City earlier in the day. Turpen had made five appearances and was awful. In 3.2 innings, he had allowed 3 earned runs on six hits and four walks. That ain’t gonna cut in a big league pen.

Anyway, here’s your open thread for the evening. The NCAA brackets are out, and we’ll probably set up a RAB group soon enough. The Knicks and Pacers started play an hour ago.