This past weekend, I took my first visit to Citi Field. Overall, I liked the ballpark. The difference in atmosphere at Yankees and Mets games is definitely noticeable, despite the fact that the Phillies were in Queens for a three-game set. However, I got into a deep discussion with my friends from Penn State about closers. I wish to share the gist of that with you all.
The Phillies and Mets entered the ninth inning tied 3-3. Francisco Rodriguez began his run from the bullpen to the mound, and I was excited to see him pitch in person for the first time in years. He didn’t exactly measure up to my expectations. After throwing 18 pitches, he managed to surrender five hits, three runs and only record two outs in the process. Tim Byrdak had to be called upon to stop the bleeding.
As Yankees fans, we’ve been absolutely spoiled since a certain someone took over the helm in 1997. Mariano Rivera is truly one of a kind. Think about it, he has been so good that everyone is genuinely surprised when he blows a save. And the fact that opposing teams have yet to figure him out after 17 years is mind-blowing.
Rivera primarily throws two pitches: a fastball and a cutter. These pitches travel, on average, at approximately the same velocity as one another (90-91 mph). However, his cutter moves in on left-handed hitters and away from right-handed hitters and Rivera lives on the inside and outside parts of home plate.
Let’s take a look at some of the most notable closers over the past five years (2006-2010) and their stats for innings pitched/saves/blown saves/converted save opportunity percentage and ERA.
| Brad Lidge|
Here are some quick conclusions I can draw from this chart. First of all, these are eight of the most consistent closers over the past five years that I can find (yeah, I realize that they aren’t exactly perfect examples) with 300 innings of closing, which averages out to 60 innings per year. Over that time period, Rivera has proven to be the most reliable in converting his save opportunities into saves. He’s pitched more innings than anyone except Cordero , and blown less saves than anyone listed. Sure, there are variables on how large of a lead each pitcher’s team had when entering into the save opportunity. But Rivera has come on and easily done his job more effectively than any other closer over the past five years. The sad part is that Mariano was more dominant from 2001-2005, compiling a WAR of 13.0 (compared to a WAR of 11.4 from 2006-2010). To chart the past 10 seasons would be nearly impossible due to the fact that teams simply don’t have a guy that’s been closing for that long.
He’s repeated the same effortless motion, flawlessly, thousands of times. He’s never suffered a serious injury and is a true gentleman. I was at the game last Wednesday when he made his 1,000th career appearance in a baseball game. The fans gave a nice round of applause, as they should have. And thankfully, there will be more appearances to follow.
The bottom line is that it’s very difficult to find a closer that has longevity. Teams are lucky to get a guy for five years that produces numbers that are similar to anyone on that chart above. The thing is, those numbers simply aren’t good enough for Yankees fans. It’s going to be a tremendously harsh wake-up call when Rivera is no longer pitching in the ninth inning. I feel bad for whoever takes over for him, because they’ll be unfairly compared to the greatest that has ever lived.
My advice: Take advantage of all the opportunities you have to see Rivera in person or on television. Enjoy the ride, because it’s going to be over before you know it.
Weekly prediction: Last week, I incorrectly predicted Derek Jeter getting four extra base hits by Monday (he only had one). However, he’s been hitting the ball with authority! This week, I’ll go with the Yankees winning a regular season series out in Anaheim for the first time since September of 2009.