July 04, 2009

One pitch: "Have faith in the Yankees, my son," Hemingway's old man says to the boy. "Think of the great DiMaggio." If Ernest Hemingway was alive and writing today, those words would be: "Think of the great Rivera."

posted by justgary to baseball at 01:07 AM - 14 comments

Can't get the link to work, justgary.

posted by BoKnows at 01:31 AM on July 04

Hmm, should work now.

posted by justgary at 01:47 AM on July 04

The link works fine now, and it's a great story, fitting of a player like Rivera. His consistency and dominance over the years has been incredible. And it's been nice watching a closer who doesn't have to act like he's on a steroid-fueled rampage on the mound after getting the final out of a game. Rivera has always gone about his job with class and respect for both himself and opponents, win or lose. He has never whined, complained, or made an ass of himself, all while spending his career under the microscope in New York. All other closers (and players, actually), both current and future, should take their lead from Rivera.

posted by dyams at 10:06 AM on July 04

The thing I like about Rivera is that as great as he is, he has been just hittable enough to make things interesting.

Rivera is truly awesome, but not totally invincible, so if a hitter brings his A game to the plate in the ninth, that hitter's team has a small chance to make something happen. Once in a while, those chances get cashed in.

Some of Rivera's stumbles have been as historic as his triumphs. He's been in the middle of a lot of high-level moments, win or lose. That's part of his greatness.

posted by beaverboard at 11:14 AM on July 04

Rivera is truly awesome, but not totally invincible, so if a hitter brings his A game to the plate in the ninth, that hitter's team has a small chance to make something happen. Once in a while, those chances get cashed in.

That's kind of the point. With Rivera, there's no guesswork; the hitter knows what pitch is coming and where it's going to be. I mean, if Pedro (or even Hoffman) threw nothing but changeups, they'd be pummeled weekly. So, if Rivera's even slightly off, the hitter wins every time because there's no guess work. Bat. Ball. Done.

Over his long career, it's amazing how rare he was off. A four pitch pitcher can get away with losing a pitch; Rivera can't. It's all or nothing, and it's usually all.

posted by dfleming at 01:27 PM on July 04

It really, in the end isn't as much about the numbers (though they are in some cases, very impressive), it's about the one pitch. For me, that's what makes his career legendary. Even Tim Wakefield throws a damn "fast"ball and curveball occassionally.

The thing I like about Rivera is that as great as he is, he has been just hittable enough to make things interesting.

He has those three big postseason failures, but for the most part - he HAS been unhittable.

However - I still have to say that closer is the most overrated position in baseball. Rivera has a distinct advantage in that everyone gets but one crack at him.

posted by WeedyMcSmokey at 12:27 PM on July 05

I still have to say that closer is the most overrated position in baseball

It's overrated until your team doesn't have a trustworthy closer to count on. With today's over-reliance on relievers, and the importance of pitch counts (with starters rarely making it past five or six innings), a dominant, reliable closer is still vitally important to any team with championship aspirations.

posted by dyams at 03:04 PM on July 05

Yes, it's amazing that he does it with one pitch, but he can because that one pitch is that good. Thrown hard, late break, it's tough to square up. But he's normally only throwing 1 inning, so that helps also. It wouldn't work as a starter. What's amazing to me is that no one else has been able to duplicate the pitch. If you can throw a cutter as well as rivera, you've got it made. And I imagine many have tried, but obviously no one's succeeded. Rivera's a freak.

I don't really care that rivera is such a cool customer after saves. That's his personality. I might as well complement someone for being tall. But I do wonder if that trait, not getting too up or down, is the reason for his longevity, which is what's most impressive about rivera.

It's overrated until your team doesn't have a trustworthy closer to count on.

Yes, it sucks to not have enough quality relievers to finish a game. But there's no doubt the closer is easily the most overrated position in baseball.

Check out this study by Dave Smith of Retrosheet. He researched late-inning leads over 73 seasons, from 1944 to 2003, and an additional 14 seasons prior to that span. What he found is that the winning percentage for teams who enter the ninth inning with a lead has remained virtually unchanged over the decades. Regardless of the pitching strategy, teams entering the ninth inning with a lead win roughly 95 percent of the time. That was the exact rate in 1901 and that was the rate 100 seasons later. In fact, the rate has varied merely from a high of 96.7 percent in 1909 to a low of 92.5 percent in 1941.

But I know what you're thinking. That study applies to all leads, including big ones. But what about the slim leads, the ones defined as "save situations"? Glad you asked. Because Smith looked at those leads as well. And what he found is winning rates for those leads have also remained constant -- one-run leads after eight innings have been won roughly 85 percent of the time, two-run leads 94 percent of the time and three-run leads about 96 percent of the time.

...regardless of era, all stats point to this truth: The key is not who you have on the mound in the ninth but getting to the ninth with a lead.

And no matter how great the closer, if the team doesn't go into the 9th with a lead, he's useless. If your best pitcher is your closer, you could go a week or two without using him.

Don't get me wrong, I want a great closer on my team, but it's far down the list. Put rivera on the nationals and you still have a last place team.

posted by justgary at 05:50 PM on July 05

Doesn't that study only suggest that the average of all closers, good and bad, isn't terribly different from the average of all ninth inning pitchers in the pre-closer eras? Is that really eye-opening?

The difference between an 81 win team and a 90 win team is only 5.6%, so I would guess that the difference between a 98% closer and a 92% closer, or even a 95% closer, is actually pretty substantial, even if the numbers don't seem that far apart. Using the Nationals as an example is meaningless, since even Pujols would be unlikely to change the scenery all that much there. Put Rivera on a .500 ballclub with a previously-unreliable closer, though, and they are in the playoff hunt.

posted by EnglishSpin at 03:02 AM on July 06

Doesn't that study only suggest that the average of all closers, good and bad, isn't terribly different from the average of all ninth inning pitchers in the pre-closer eras? Is that really eye-opening?

If someone believes differently, yes.

Using the Nationals as an example is meaningless, since even Pujols would be unlikely to change the scenery all that much there.

It may be a bad example since no one player will make the Nationals a playoff team. But Pujols would be a far better addition than Rivera.

A closer makes a difference in games where his team has a one run lead or is tied. 2, 3 run leads and the game is essentially over. Throw Rivera or any MLB level pitcher and out there with a 2/3 run lead and you're going to win, almost every single time.

Calling closers overrated doesn't mean they're not important, or can't be the difference between 2 similar teams. It simply means they're overrated. If Rivera was as good a starter as a reliever you make him a starter.

posted by justgary at 03:50 AM on July 06

If someone believes differently, yes.

Well, closers are only overrated if somebody is overrating them. What are these people who are overrating closers saying, exactly?

posted by EnglishSpin at 11:40 PM on July 06

They're saying "Hey BJ Ryan - how does $11 mil a year sound?"

A .500 team with a good closer, I would think, is a .500 team.

posted by WeedyMcSmokey at 05:52 PM on July 07

Well, closers are only overrated if somebody is overrating them. What are these people who are overrating closers saying, exactly?

I find it an interesting debate on a closers importance. I'm not sure if I really see the point in proving that they're overrated in the first place. I see it everywhere. From baseball 'experts', former players. From fans calling in to sports radio wanting their star pitcher converted to a closing role.

But really, it's the save itself thats overrated. Pitcher A pitches 7 scoreless innings and leaves with a 3-0 lead. In the 8th he gets into trouble, loading the bases with no outs. Pitcher B relieves him and gets a pop-out and double play to keep the lead at 3-0.

In the ninth All-Star pitcher C comes in to finish the game to a rousing ovation, blaring music, a 3 run cushion, and the bottom of the lineup to face. He gets the save. The game wasn't saved in the 9th, it was saved in the 8th. There's nothing magical about the 9th inning.

Again, all things being equal, I'd want a shutdown closer on my team. Rivera's the best closer that ever lived, and he's a great pitcher. But I'll take everything that got me to the 9th with the lead over a guy pitching a single inning to protect it. So yeah, overrated.

posted by justgary at 01:49 PM on July 10

What stat isn't overrated? Seems unfair to pick on saves.

And yes, if I have to choose between 24 good players or 1 good player, I go with the former. I would also rather my team finished first than last, and I'd rather have ice cream than a punch in the nose.

posted by EnglishSpin at 11:06 AM on July 20

You're not logged in. Please log in or register.