Mariano Rivera: A Legend

I know it is the Evil Empire and we aren’t supposed to like any of them, but I do have one I’ve always liked. Mariano Rivera. The BEST relief pitcher in MLB history. You can argue with me in the comments, but I’m pretty sure I can trump it.

Mariano, as he has always done, was shagging flyball during Yankees batting practice when he tore his ACL at Kauffman stadium on Thursday, May 3. I’d love to see him rehab and come back for one more go, but my feeling is, we’ve seen the last of him. What an amazing career. IMO, he should be a first ballot hall of famer. Yes, he’s a relief pitcher, but he was simply dominating his whole career.

Let’s go all the way back to when he first played professional ball. The year was 1990. Mariano was a 20 year old in the rookie league, signed as an amateur free agent by the Yankees.

He pitched 22 games in 1990, one start and the rest as a reliever. He went 5-1 with a 0.17 ERA…. I repeat, a 0.17 ERA. One ER in 52 IP. He walked just 7 and allowed just 17 hits for a WHIP of 0.452. He struck out 58. He earned his ONE AND ONLY minor league save.

He progressed to A ball in 1991, pitched well (not as well as 0.17, but still pretty good). In 1992, he progressed to A+ ball, but threw just 59 innings in 10 starts, the rest of the season was cut short by injury. So in 1993, he was back, started out in Rookie ball for a bit, then back to A ball in Greensboro.

1994 is the year he really took off. He made 7 starts in A+ ball before earning a promotion to AA. He made 9 starts there and was promoted again! He finally leveled out a bit, but assured himself of starting next season in AAA at least.

He started 1995 in AAA, but was moved up after a few solid starts. His major league debut was May 23, 1995. It wasn’t pretty. He started against the California Angels, who torched him for eight hits and five runs in 3 1/3 IP as the Yanks were two hit by Chuck Finley.

In fact, most of the season was not pretty for Mariano. His first major league win came on May 28, tossing 5 1/3 against Oakland, allowing just one run. His only really good start came on the 4th of July, against the White Sox. He tossed 8 innings, walked four, allowed two hits and struck out 11.

He even made one start against the Royals, on July 26, 1995. The Royals won 6-5 as they erased a 4-0 deficit. Mariano lasted just five innings, the first five were scoreless, but he came out after starting the top of the sixth with a single to Tom Goodwin, 2-run HR by Wally Joyner, a single to Gary Gaetti and a walk to Keith Lockhart. Gaetti would score on a sac fly by Greg Gagne. The Royals won the game when Joyner led off the bottom of the 9th with a single, was sacrificed to second by Gaetti and scored on a walk-off single by Gagne.

Anyways, enough about that, back to Mariano. He finished 1995 with a record of 5-3 and an ERA of 5.51 and 11 HR given up. It would be almost double his next highest ERA for the rest of his career.He would give up more than 5 HR only once more in his career (7 in 2009)

In the 1995 postseason he would pitch 5.1 innings of scoreless relief, even earning a win in game two of the ALDS when Jim Leyrtiz hit a 2-run walk-off HR in the bottom of the 15th inning.

So in 1996, I don’t know what possessed the Yanks to do so, but they moved him to the bullpen. He became the setup man for John Wetteland, a pretty decent closer himself. Mariano responded by having one of the greatest relief seasons EVER.  He saved five games and record 26 holds. His record was 8-3 with an ERA of 2.09 in 107.2 IP with a WHIP of 0.994. He struck out 130 and allowed just one HR all season long (Rafael Palmerio hit a 2-run go ahead HR in the top of the 9th off Rivera).  He was good enough to finish THIRD in the CY Young voting as a middle reliever and posted a 5.4 WAR (the highest of his career).

In 1996, the Yanks made him the full time closer. He’d hold that job for 17 years. 17 amazing years.

In those 17 years:

  • An ERA over 3.00 only once (in 2007 at the age of 37). Many “this is the end” stories were written. He followed that up by posting a 1.40 ERA, a ridiculous 0.665 WHIP with just 6 walks in 70 IP in 2008. Remarkable.
  • He’s save 608 games, blown 73 games. That’s an 89% conversion rate. Closers can have a good year or two or three (See Eric Gagne, Brad Lidge, etc, etc.). He’s had 17 of them.
  • He’s given up just 65 homeruns in his career. 11 of those in his rookie year. The ENTIRE AL Central has hit 12 HR’s off him in his entire career. Wally Joyner hit the only one he’s ever given up at Kauffman.
  • Only three players have hit more than one homerun off of him. They each have TWO. Rafael Palmerio, Edgar Martinez and Aubrey Huff. That’s it. 
  • Only four players have double digit hits against him. Jason Varitek (12), Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz and Edgar Martinez (11). Not a bad group of hitters. In fact Edgar was probably the best hitter against him, posting a .579/.652/1.053 line in 23 PA against him. Ben Zobrist is 3-3 with a double and two triple off of him… he must know something.
  • Ray Durham is 0-26 lifetime against Rivera. Grady Sizemore is 0-9 with 6 strikeouts. Russ Davis (mariners) was 0-7 with 7 strikeouts.  He held Frank Thomas to a .136/.167/.136 line in 24 PA. We could go on, but you get the idea.
  • His career WHIP is 0.998. He was never higher than his first season as closer when it was 1.186 (except his rookie year)
  • Opponents have hit .210/.262/.290 lifetime against him. If you throw out his starts, it’s .205/.256/.280.
  • His postesason stats are unreal. 16 Years. 96 Appearances. 8-1 (2001, Arizona beat him in Game 7 of the WS) with an ERA of 0.70. 141 IP, 86 H, 11 ER, 2 HR, 21 BB, 110 K and a 0.759 WHIP. 
  • His two HR given up in the postseason? First was Game 4 of the ALDS against Cleveland. He gave up a game tying HR to Sandy Alomar in the bottom of the eighth. The second was in the 2000 World Series, he gave up a 3-run HR to Jay Payton of the Mets to pull hte Mets to 6-5 in game 2. He would strikeout the next hitter looking. 
  • The Royals? in 58 games and 264 PA, they have hit .200/.263/.250 against him. Just six extra base hits (3 doubles and 3 HR). The three HR? Joyner in 95, David Dejesus in 2008, and Jose Guillen two days after Dejesus. Both of the latter were in tie games in the top of the ninth. The Royals lost the Dejesus game and won the Guillen game. 
  • The Detroit Tigers are the worst team against him. 52 games and they have a line of .131/.172/.192. He’s face every team in MLB (except the Yanks of course), the Astros and Cardinals are hitless. 15 of them have BA less than .200. All but 1 (the Cubs), have an OPS of .678 or less. 
  • He’s never saved a game against the Pirates.  
  • He’s only given up one HR in a domed stadium.

We could go on for hours, but there is no need. If this has been the last we get to see of Mariano Rivera, then it is a sad day in baseball. Even as a Yankee, I wish him luck and a speedy recovery. He has been the scariest closer in history. His entrance to Enter Sandman, is a must see. If it doesn’t give you chills, then you are simply made of stone.

He says he’s coming back in 2013 and I sincerely hope he does. I’ll be watching for sure.


1 Comments Say Something
  • I’m right there with you, Tom. I was just talking with a friend yesterday – Rivera probably has the best pitch in MLB history – A cut-fast ball. That ONE pitch has earned him 608 saves and a no-doubt bust in the Hall of Fame.

    I truly hope he returns in 2013. If nothing else, to pitch on opening day (or whenever he returns), then to retire the next day. A pitcher this great should not en his career shagging BP.

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