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Mariano Rivera Still Cuttin’ Them Down

This offseason there was much speculation that the Yankees were going to lose Alex Rodriguez, Jorge Posada, and Mariano Rivera to free agency. All three returned with shiny new contracts. Rivera, widely considered the greatest closer of all time, may be getting up there in age but his current stats would surely disagree.

Last year he experienced what was determined to be his “worst” season as a closer. In 67 games he posted a 3.15 ERA. Oh god that’s terrible! His ERA was the highest it had ever been as a closer and that, combined with his 4 blown saves and age resulted in many wondering what he had left in the tank. Well, he is off to a tremendous start this year and, by all statistical accounts, last year wasn’t as bad as the media made it out to be.

His 2007 FIP came in at 2.65, suggesting his ERA leaned on the unlucky side. He struck out 74 batters in 71.1 IP, walking only 12, which greatly aided his 1.12 WHIP. Additionally, he wasn’t throwing any slower—93.6 mph compared to 93.8 the year before. Take ERA out of the equation and what exactly did Rivera do wrong last year?

Anyways, back to this year. In 23 games Rivera currently has a 0.36 ERA, 1.32 FIP, and 0.52 WHIP. The FIP and WHIP are just about one-half of his 2007 totals. In 25 innings he has given up 11 hits and two walks while striking out 24. His BB/9 of 0.72 is the lowest it has ever been and he has stranded 92.3% of the runners that reach base; his career LOB% is 79.3%.

Batters are hitting just .135 against him with a .191 BABIP. Pizza Cutter discussed Troy Percival’s knack for posting low opponent BABIPs and Dave Studeman commented that it isn’t that unlikely for elite relievers to follow suit. Rivera’s career BABIP is .278 and, since 1997 (when he became the full time closer) he has held it under .280 in seven different seasons.

Rivera’s career rates of balls in play are 16.4% LD/54.2% GB/29.4% FB. This year, he is posting the same 16.4% LD but has traded in seven percent of his grounders for flyballs; flyballs that stay in the park as evidenced by his no home runs allowed.

Interestingly enough, Rivera’s gmLI, which measures the leverage index at the time of his entrance is 1.88, the highest it’s been since 2002. The difficulty level clearly has not phased him yet as his 2.49 WPA dictates a contribution of 2.5 wins in just 23 games.