The 2012 season may be the last for some of the best players of this generation. Yesterday we focused on Chipper Jones in the first part of a series celebrating these players. Jones has a contract possibility of playing in 2013, but it seems likely that this will be his swan song. Mariano Rivera of the New York Yankees is another player who we could be seeing for the last time. Despite seeming ageless and continuing his dominant pitching even at the age of 41, his current contract runs out after this season and the gut feeling here is that this will be it.
And it seems astounding to actually type that. He's been such a fixture for so long that it's hard to imagine Major League Baseball without him. Love or hate the Yankees, everyone respects Rivera. Despite the bad rep "closers" have an the analytic community, all number-crunching writers have nothing but positive things to say about the Sandman. He is the exception to the antipathy of the save rule. To some, he is the number one reason the Yankees won five titles since 1996. To others, he's just a great player in a great situation. Despite which side of the fence you sit, no one will say that Mariano Rivera doesn't have a spot guaranteed for him in Cooperstown.
Let's forget about the save record for a moment. Very few people like that statistic. This writer doesn't happen to be one of them, but understands the displeasure others have for the save. So this post will only this one time mention Rivera as the all time save leader. He also holds the record for games finished. But if you'd rather have another statistic rather than the save, consider that since he started in 1995, Rivera has the highest WPA of ALL pitchers (starter or reliever). And since 1961, only Roger Clemens has a higher WPA. That Rivera, a "closer" has the second highest WPA in the last fifty years has been remarkable.
A relatively new measurement is the weighted pitch value. We can now rate pitchers fastballs, cutters, curves, sliders, split-fingered, change ups and knuckle balls. While the statistic only goes back to 2002, since that time, Mariano Rivera's cutter has been the fifth most valuable pitch in baseball behind only Roy Oswalt's fastball, Randy Johnson's slider, Johan Santana's change up and Roy Halladay's curve. You'll notice all those guys are starters.
Mariano Rivera has faced 4,814 batters in his career. They have a combined batting average of .210, an on-base percentage of .262 and a slugging percentage of .290. Right-handed batters have a career OPS against him of .583. Left-handed batters have an OPS against him of .522. In his last 404.2 innings pitched, he's walked a total of 60 batters. He walked only six batters in all of 2008 and only eight batters in all of 2011 (two were intentional). Rivera's home run per nine inning rate for his career is 0.48.
Rivera has had a season ERA under 2.00 in eleven of his seventeen seasons. In five seasons, his FIP has been under 2.30. His career SIERA is 2.58.
It didn't matter where Mariano Rivera pitched. His ERA at home is 2.48. His ERA on the road is 1.99. His OPS against in day games is .571. In night games, it's .540. In domes, it's a surreal .464. It also didn't matter what part of the season you faced him. There isn't a single month of the season when his OPS against was over .600 in his career.
In nine of Rivera's seventeen seasons, his WHIP has been under one. He has a streak going of four straight such seasons. His career WHIP is 0.998. People always associate Mariano Rivera for save situations. But he's actually pitched 327 times when there wasn't a save situation. In those games, Rivera is 54-32, a .628 win percentage. And he's compiled an ERA of 2.35 in such situations. His OPS against in non-save situations is .567. Rivera didn't just close out wins the Yankees needed, he also won games at the end of the game. He's been a multipurpose weapon.
And we haven't even covered his post season records. In the biggest games of all, he has a 0.70 ERA with 42 saves and an 8-1 record. His WHIP in the post season is 0.759. Sure, the Red Sox stole a run off of him in 2004 and the Diamondbacks dinked their way to a win off of him in 2001. But otherwise, he's been money.
There has never been a pitcher like Mariano Rivera. Among a skill-set often discounted, he is the exception. He's been so good for so long that it's big news when a team scores a run off of him and he blows a save. His pinpoint control, his ability to repeat his easy motion time and time again have set him apart from all peers. There have been relief pitchers who have had better years than Rivera. But Mariano Rivera's overall body of work will stand the test of time and sets him apart from all others. Take the time to celebrate his career in 2012. It might be the last time we get to do so.