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Friday, November 6, 2015

Mariano Rivera: analyzing his throwing error in the biggest blown save in baseball history - game 7, 2001 World Series.

Mariano Rivera lost game seven of the 2001 World Series in large part due to Rivera's own throwing error.

The video above is the entire game but it's easy enough to move the slider to the 9th inning, which is what I did.

2001 World Series (4-3): Arizona Diamondbacks (92-70) over New York Yankees (95-65)
Sunday, November 4, 2001, Bank One Ballpark
Attendance: 49,589, Time of Game: 3:20
Diamondbacks 3, Yankees 2

Bottom of the 9th, Diamondbacks Batting, Behind 1-2, Yankees' Mariano Rivera facing 7-8-9

Rivera couldn't have had an easier task: simply retire the bottom of the order and his team wins the 2001 championship.  Instead it turned into the biggest blown save in baseball history by the greatest relief pitcher in baseball history.  Rivera had breezed through the 8th inning (SO, SO, 1B, SO) and wound up throwing a total of 28 (21 strikes) pitches in the game even after blowing both the save and the game all in the bottom of the 9th. The only out Rivera recorded was given to him on a sac bunt.

Mark Grace led off with a single and David Dellucci pinch ran.  The next batter was the slow running catcher Damian Miller. Miller tried a sacrifice bunt to advance the tie run from first to second. Miller bunted the second pitch directly back to Rivera, who fielded it quickly and cleanly right in front of the mound. Rivera turned towards second and threw hard but off line on the first base side. Dellucci arrived at second soon after the ball sailed past Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter, who got tangled up with Dellucci and was slightly injured. So instead of one out and the catcher Miller on first base, Arizona had zero outs and runners on first and second down one run.

Should Rivera have taken a more sure out and thrown to first baseman Tino Martinez? But if Rivera made the same type of bad throw to first that he had made to second, could Martinez have caught it and gotten the putout?

The video shows clearly that Dellucci would have been out at second had Rivera's throw been more accurate or even if it had it missed on the side away from the runner. Maybe Jeter could have adjusted toward third base and caught it. It was such a bad bunt that had Jeter gotten a good throw he might even have had a chance to throw to first and double up Miller. In freeze frame from behind home plate Rivera has the ball in his glove and righty batter Miller is on the first base side of the lefty batter's box and Jeter is already at second waiting for the throw. Jeter would have definitely had time for a double play if he could make a throw to first with Dellucci bearing down on him.

In assessing the distance of the actual throw to second and the possible throw to first remember that the center of the diamond is about 63 feet, 7 inches, not 60 feet, 6 inches to the back of home plate and about 63 feet, 7 inches, to the back of second base. Try not to get too anal about the geometry.

My guess is that Rivera's throw is about six feet off line. What do you think?

A throw to first would have been about 65 feet.  The actual throw to second was made from about a step towards home plate from the front of the pitcher's mound.

The distance from the front of the mound to the front of home plate is 48 feet, 7 inches plus 17 inches for the plate = 49 feet, 12 inches.  Let's say about 50 feet, which means that the front of the mound is about 76 feet from second base.  Let's place Rivera another six feet away from second.  That's about 82 feet.

So, the difference in distance on the two choices that Rivera had are:
65 feet to first
82 feet to second.

If Rivera's throw is about six feet off line, that would form a right angle at second base.  If we shorten the length of the throw we should get the distance away from first that a shorter but equally errant throw would have been.

82 is 20.7% longer than 65.  Check my math but I think a throw to first would have been off: 6-(6*.27) = 4.38 feet.

Let's call it four feet.  So, would Rivera have been better off throwing six feet off to Jeter or four feet off to Martinez?  A throw on the runner's side to Martinez could have been an even bigger disaster.  If Martinez can't even get leather on it, there's no fielder directly behind him as there was for Jeter.  Dellucci would have gone at least to third and Miller to second.

Making this question even more bizarre is some people saying that the subsequent bunt that failed in a force out at third could have been a double play had Yankee third baseman Scott Brosius thrown 127 across the diamond to first and not held the ball.  In other words some are more comfortable with a third baseman throwing 127 feet than a control pitcher throwing 82 feet.  Personally, I think both should have been aggressive: Rivera did the right thing in throwing to second, he just made a very bad throw.  And Brosius should have tried for the double play and thrown for first.  I don't agree with the idea that Rivera throwing to first was substantially safer, if at all.  If you're too afraid to make basic fundamental plays, get off the field and concede.  You're certainly not a Yankee.

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