The premise here is that, although Rivera preformed his role very well, his role wasn't nearly as important as it was perceived during his career (1995-2013). Another way to look at it is that just a few years after Rivera retired, there seem to be many pitchers like Mariano Rivera and they seem to be on steroids, metaphorically speaking.
Rivera's best Strike Outs per 9 innings (SO9) (10.9) was in 1996 when Rivera was not a closer but the setup man to John Wetland. Rivera also pitched by far his most innings in 1996: 107. His second most innings was 80.66 in 2001 at age 31. His second best SO9 was 9.8 in 2008 at age 38.
Pitchers are part time performers and relief pitchers are part time pitchers, especially the closers. Excluding 2012 when Rivera was injured, in his 18 seasons Rivera pitched these innings these number of times:
>= 100 1 in 1996
80-89 1 in 2001
40-49 1 in 2002
Rivera topped 9 SO9 in six of his 18 seasons, only one third. 2008 was Rivera's best such season as a closer. Here are the tops in 2008 with at least 60 innings and zero starts.
In 2016 32 relief pitchers had SO9 better than Rivera's best as a closer (9.8). 13 did better than Rivera's best when he was the setup man: 10.9.
The SO9 for Betances was about 50% better than the best for Rivera.
But there's more.
The Myth of the Closer
By David W. Smith
Presented July 29, 2016
SABR46, Miami, Florida
Every team spends much effort and money to select its closer, the pitcher who enters in the ninth inning to seal the deal and nail down a win. Of course, this now universal use of a closer only became the norm relatively recently and the reason given is simple: teams feel their chance of winning is increased by having this ace specialist. I decided to look at this assumption more closely and came to a probably startling conclusion: it isn’t true that closers increase the chance for a team to win, or at least it is marginally true at best...
Others have addressed the use of closers: Bill James suggests that using an ace in the 7th inning in a crucial situation may be more important; I agree. Mike Emeigh believes that closers are more important in extra innings. Wayne Towers has a presentation tomorrow afternoon on the possible changing meaning of high save totals.
1. The entry of a new pitcher to start the 9th inning has increased dramatically since 1980.
2. The presence of this new pitcher has had almost no effect on a team’s chances to win.
3. Ace closers bring slightly more wins than other 9th inning pitchers (92% vs 88%)
4. Performance of 9th inning pitchers is almost indistinguishable between closers and others.
5. Increased use 9th inning pitchers correlates with overall increase of relief pitchers.
6. Pitchers have had progressively shorter stints for over 100 years.
7. Current pattern of closer usage is not justified by their contributions to team wins.___________________________
Radical Baseball Wednesday, February 20, 2008
June 9, 2006
1. Start the closer.
Last night the Yanks were leading the Red Sox 3-2 in the sixth, bases loaded, no outs. Starter Jaret Wright was done. With the game on the line manager Joe Torre called for not his best relief pitcher, Mariano Rivera, but his third best (at best) Scott Proctor. Proctor did an OK job allowing two of Wright’s runs to score. Unfortunately, in the next inning Proctor allowed three of his own.
Torre should have brought in Mariano Rivera, his best. Since Tony LaRussa created this nonsense called the closer with his use of Dennis Eckersley in the late 1980s, managers have adhered to this formula like their jobs depended on it. Part of the orthodoxy is: who will pitch the ninth inning? The closer is used almost exclusively to pitch one and only one inning, which he starts, and only with a lead. Save the game in the sixth and take your chances in the ninth. Is Scott Proctor more likely to allow runs entering a game with bases loaded and no out or when starting an inning?
This brings up another piece of nonsense. The closer is the only pitcher who probably will not need to pitch with runners on base. Why doesn’t he wind up? The starter is the only pitcher who winds up, yet he is the most likely to pitch with runners on base because he pitches the most innings. About 25 years ago people realized that relief pitchers often pitched with runners on base, so relievers abandoned the wind up. But the closer could and probably should wind up. How come nobody has realized that? It’s pretty simple.
In another recent game Torre announced before the game that he would pitch Rivera no matter what because Rivera needed work. Aside from the silliness that a pitcher needs to play catch in a game rather than just do it on the sideline (hey, it’s nothing like a batter needing to face game pitching), why wait until Rivera’s usual time in the ninth? Start him! Here are three advantages:
- Rivera pitches to the top of the order. The batters in the ninth are random. Rivera is as likely to face the bottom of the order as the top. Pitch Scott Proctor against the bottom.
- In the first inning the game is almost always close. Always at home. On the road it might not be close if the closer’s team scores a bunch in the top of the first inning.
- Rivera can pitch more than one inning. If Rivera retires the side in the first inning on six pitches, he did not get the work that Torre wanted. However, Rivera can pitch at least one more inning. If Torre waits until the ninth inning, Rivera may throw those six pitches, get little work and Torre may have already used Scott Proctor for an inning or two when he may have avoided using Proctor at all. Let pitch count dictate how long Rivera works, not the arbitrary wall of the ninth inning. You know, like they do for starters.
Rivera pitches in about 70 games and throws about 80 innings in a season. Why not start him every other game? He would get regular rest and the three advantages listed above would apply in every appearance. I’ll bet that Rivera’s contribution to the Yanks winning would be at least as great as it is with Torre blindly following the formula. OK, now it’s time for you to run around and scream: he blasphemes!___________________________
Thinking Man's Guide to Managing a Pitching Staff Wednesday, February 20, 2008
December 10, 2007
December 10, 2007
... the Tony LaRussa orthodoxy of designating his best relief pitcher as the closer. The closer is used almost exclusively to pitch one and only one inning (the ninth), which he starts, and only with a lead. The set up man is the second best relief pitcher who pitches only the eighth inning. The set up man is removed no matter how many pitches he threw and no matter how well he pitched. It's like Russian roulette, looking for the pitcher who does not have his good stuff that day.
This is exactly backwards ...
Outs are the currency of baseball. Since pitchers are on pitch counts, pitches are the currency of individual pitchers. The manager should attempt to get the optimum number of pitches from each pitcher in each game constrained only by the game situation and the needs of the long 162 game regular season...
The best relief pitcher available should be the first to enter the game. The second best relief pitcher available should be the second to enter the game. And so on...
The reason for using Mariano Rivera, the Yankees best relief pitcher, first is to get the maximum number of pitches from him in that particular game. If Girardi waits until the ninth inning, Rivera may retire the side on six pitches when he could have thrown 24. Twenty-four pitches may have equated to two or even three innings thus eliminating the dreaded middle inning relievers, the worst pitchers on the staff. Not waiting until the ninth inning also allows Girardi to use Rivera in a game saving situation: bases loaded, sixth inning, cleanup hitter at bat. Waiting until the ninth deprives Girardi of discretion as to which batters Rivera faces. The bottom of the order is as likely to bat in the ninth as the top of the order.
Using this technique the pitchers most likely to be short changed, i.e., throw the fewest pitches, are the worst pitchers, not the best as is the case now. Each succeeding pitcher in order of value is increasingly more likely to throw fewer pitches...
If Joe Girardi does anything like this he will be different from Joe Torre. Otherwise he is like all the other MLB managers.