Buster Olney mentioned in his blog yesterday that the great Mariano Rivera has lost some velocity on his cutter and it is not moving as much. According to Olney, that makes Rivera more vulnerable this year than in the past. Olney also points out that the pitcher is now 39 and this is to be expected. Is Rivera simply not that great anymore? Is this the beginning of the end for the great closer?
If you look at a couple of statistics, it certainly looks like Rivera isn't the same pitcher as last year. He has given up 26 hits in 23 innings of work, which is certainly higher than in the past. Plus, he has already given up more homers this year than all of last year. But you have to go beyond just those two stats to get the total picture.
The Fan already showed in a recent post that Rivera isn't the same pitcher and never has been in non-save situations as he is in save situations. For whatever reason, he has never been as successful when a save wasn't in the equation. For his career, opposing batters have a 88 OPS+ against him in save situations and 106 in non-save situations. In other words, they are far less than average when facing Rivera in save situations and better than average hitters when he is not in a save situation.
Last year, that statistic was even more exaggerated. Batters had a staggeringly light OPS+ against Rivera in save situations, coming in at 58. But they had stunning success in non-save situations with an OPS+ of 162. This year is the similar with a 75 OPS+ in save situations and 137 in non-save situations. One of the major differences was that last year those non-save situations made up 38% of his appearances. This year, 43% of his appearances have been in non-save situations.
BABIP or Batting Average for Balls in Play can also be instructive. First, it takes away the home run as part of the equation. For his career, Rivera has a BABIP of .259 in save situations and .272 in non-save situations. Last year, Rivera was just incredible and had a BABIP of .191 in save situations. That could indicate that he pitched better or it could indicate he was luckier than in the past. This year, his BABIP in save situations is .261, which is pretty close to his career average. But his BABIP in non-save situations is .337, which could indicate either a problem with his pitching location or a bit of bad luck.
Last year, Rivera had his best strikeout to walk ratio of his career at an incredible 12.53 to 1. He only walked six batters all year. This year's ratio is even better at 14 to 1. Last year, he struck out 9.8 batters per nine innings. This year, it's 10.8. And he has walked only one unintentional batter, and reports indicate he was unhappy about intentionally walking Longoria the other night when he lost the game in a non-save situation.
Lastly, let's discuss Olney's contention that Rivera has lost a step on his cutter. Perhaps the other night when he lost that game, his cutter was clocked at 89 to 91 MPH. But the Fan has watched quite a few of Rivera's performances. Last night, he was hitting 94 and in a game last week, he topped out at 97 and was throwing regularly in the 93 to 94 range.
Rivera can't top last year in what was one of the best years in closer history. He led all relievers in Win Shares last year, so you can't go by save total alone. Sure K-Rod set the record last year, but all stats indicate Rivera had a much better year. And Rivera did have shoulder surgery in the off season, so that could be a factor this year. But except for his hit total and the homer total, all of Rivera's stats are impressive and if he pitches in less non-save situations the rest of the year, his demise could be highly over-stated. In other words, the Fan predicts he will be just fine.