The Mariano Rivera Fact Sheet

Late last week the Yankees (and really all of baseball) got some bad news when Mariano Rivera tore his right ACL shagging fly balls before Thursday’s game. It’s been part of his pre-game routine throughout his entire professional career, but it wasn’t until now that he took a misstep and hurt himself seriously. Rivera did announce that he will return to pitch next year — “I am coming back. Write it down in big letters … I’m not going out like this,” he said on Friday — but the Yankees will still have to weather the storm without him this summer. Luckily for them, David Robertson and Rafael Soriano are more than adequate replacements in the late innings.

The injury and the shock factor that came with it — was this going to be end of his career? — spurred me on to dig up some interesting nuggets about the greatest relief pitcher in baseball history. We all know about the 608 career saves, but save totals alone do not do the man’s career justice. Without further delay, the Mariano Rivera fact sheet…

– The Yankees signed the 20-year-old Rivera out of Panama for $3,000 back in February 1990. He pitched for the team’s Rookie Level Gulf Coast League affiliate that summer, posting a 0.17 ERA in 52 innings. He struck out 58, walked seven, and allowed just 17 hits. In his only start that year, the team’s final game of the season, he threw a seven-inning no-hitter.

– Rivera was supposed to undergo Tommy John surgery in August 1992, but the doctors found that his elbow ligament did not need repair once they cut him open. To use his word, they simply “moved” the ligament instead.

– In his first career big league game (May 23rd, 1995), Rivera allowed five runs on eight hits and one walk in a 3.1 IP start against the Angels. He allowed a two-run single to Greg Myers and a three-run homer to Jim Edmonds. It was the tenth of Edmonds’ 393 career homers.

– Rivera made nine more starts that year, his best coming against the White Sox on Independence Day. He allowed just two singles and four walks in eight scoreless innings, striking out 11. Rivera was moved to the bullpen permanently later in the 1995 season, in early-September.

– At 4.4 WAR, Rivera’s 1996 season was the seventh best season by a reliever in the last 50 years. He posted a 1.88 FIP in 107.2 IP and allowed just one homer, to Rafael Palmeiro in late-June. His 8.0 BB% that year is the highest full-season walk rate of his career, a rate he matched in 2000. He’s never been over 6.9 BB% otherwise.

– Rivera took over as closer in 1997 after John Wetteland was allowed to leave via free agency. He blew three saves by mid-April and then-manager Joe Torre was being asked if he would remove the 27-year-old from the ninth inning. “I think sooner or later, hopefully sooner, I will be out of this thing and be okay,” said Rivera that month.

– From 1997 through 2012 (min. 300 IP), Rivera has the best ERA (2.02), the most WPA (50.30), and the most WAR (34.7) among relievers. He’s sixth in FIP (2.68), second in homer rate (0.46 HR/9), fourth in walk rate (5.2 BB%), and tenth in BABIP (.258). Rivera has thrown the most relief innings during that time (1,045 IP), more than 100 innings more than second place David Weathers (936 IP) and nearly 200 innings more than anyone else.

– Rivera’s best season as a closer was either 2001 (3.3 WAR), 2005 (3.2 WAR), or 2008 (3.1 WAR). I believe it’s 2008 — WAR isn’t accurate enough for differences of 0.1 to settle arguments — when he struck out 29.7% of the batters he faced while walking just 2.3%. That’s six unintentional walks to 259 batters faced. He allowed 41 hits that year for a .165/.190/.233 batting line against. NL pitchers hit .139/.177/.175 that season.

– For his career, Rivera has allowed 940 hits and 277 walks in 1,219.2 IP for a 0.998 WHIP. Only Addie Joss, who pitched from 1902-1910, has a lower career WHIP (0.968) than Rivera (min. 1,000 IP). Ed Walsh, another early-1900s pitcher, is the only other guy with a sub-1.00 career WHIP (0.9995).

– Rivera’s career ERA is 2.21, good for a 49 ERA- and a 206 ERA+. Pedro Martinez ranks a distant second in both categories at 67 ERA- and 154 ERA+ (min. 1,000 IP). The next best ERA- and ERA+ among career relievers belongs to Dan Quisenberry at 70 and 146, respectively. The only pitcher in baseball history with more career WPA than Rivera’s 54.70 is Roger Clemens at 76.15.

– Rivera’s strikeout-to-walk ratio has been, quite literally, off the charts throughout his career:

– Rivera has thrown the final pitch of the World Series five times: 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, and 2009. The only other pitchers in the expansion era to throw the final pitch of the World Series on multiple occasions are Sandy Koufax (1963 and 1965), Bob Gibson (1964 and 1967), Rollie Fingers (1972 and 1974), and Will McEnaney (1975 and 1976).

– His postseason performance — 96 games and 141 IP — amounts to two full regular season of work. Rivera’s pitched to a 0.70 ERA with a 0.759 WHIP in the playoffs, allowing a grand total of four runs from 2002-2011. Post-2009 calculations estimated his career postseason WAR at a hair more than 24.0 considering the differences in leverage, run environment, etc.

– The most successful batter ever against Rivera (min. 10 PA)? That would be Edgar Martinez, who tagged him for a .579/.652/1.053 batting line in 23 plate appearances. Aubrey Huff owns a .400/.429/.800 career batting line against Rivera in 21 plate appearances. Martinez, Huff, and Palmeiro are the only players to hit multiple homers off Mariano, and they each did it twice.

– The least successful has to be Ray Durham, who went 0-for-26 against Rivera in his career. He only struck out three times though. Ty Wigginton, Randy Velarde, Dustin Pedroia, Alex Rios, Marty Cordova, Tony Clark, and Brian Daubach are also members of the 0-for-Rivera club (min. 10 PA).

– As a whole, batters have hit .210/.262/.290 against Rivera in 4,847 plate appearances. That’s approximately what Brandon Inge hit for the Tigers last season (.197/.265/.283). Mariano Rivera has faced nearly 5,000 batters during a mostly offensive era while playing his home games in a hitter’s ballpark in a tough division, and he’s turned them all into 2011 Brandon Inge.




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Mike writes about the Yankees at River Ave. Blues and baseball in general at CBS Sports.


62 Responses to “The Mariano Rivera Fact Sheet”

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  1. Mel says:

    Fantastic article. We all know he’s Superman. This just shows it in a variety of ways that many haven’t considered.

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    • wrighteous says:

      seems sort of disingenuous not to mention the steroid possibility, tho. No doubt about it, it is the elephant in the room right now, considering the unusual nature of his injury and his unique career path.

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      • awy says:

        what in the world does the injury have to do with roids?

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      • Rob says:

        Disingenuous is a word wrighteous fanboys know quite well.

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      • Havok9120 says:

        Eh? How is a guy who came into the league at 180 and is currently 185 someone we should be looking at? Someone who’s been losing velocity steadily with age. Someone who hasn’t suffered a general breakdown of ability or a total change in playstyle that is so prevalent in guys who were/are on steroids of some sort. Someone who’s body has held up almost perfectly throughout his career.

        What in his career, specifically, sends up a red flag that makes steroids the elephant in the room?

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      • MoB hostile^^ says:

        Quite possibly the stupidest thing I’ve read on FanGraphs.

        Rivera and Steroids..LMAO

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      • Jonathan says:

        I think his injury is more indicative of the fact he’s old as dirt than steroids.

        He doesn’t have the build, velocity or injury history (He’s been hurt, what, once ever before? 2002?) of a guy one could reasonably assume is doing steroids.

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      • Peter 2 says:

        Don’t mean to state the obvious here, but it seems 108+ of you have officially been trolled.

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  2. Peter says:

    This makes me wanna cry again. Please, please, please come back one Mo’ time!

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  3. J-Doug says:

    Great post.

    One qualm: FIP and fWAR don’t matter much for a player with a 0.262 BABIP who probably won’t be regressing to the league average anytime soon.

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    • Peter 2 says:

      You’re right, since FIP undervalues some of Rivera’s greatest strengths. He systematically induces weak contact as well as anyone—I find it hard to believe that anyone in history has broken bats at a higher rate. His compact delivery, all-hard-stuff repertoire, and pinpoint command make it very difficult to run on him. And, he has always fielded his position tremendously.

      His FIP does remain somewhat low, despite unspectacular K rates, since he gives up very few walks and homers. But it doesn’t include all the little things that have made him an elite talent.

      By the way, I can see there’s another Peter who has posted above. So from now on I’m going by “Peter 2.”

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  4. Marver says:

    The best closer of all-time, though it’s interesting to see such a granular study of his career without once mentioning the ~0.75-0.8 World Series title he cost the Yankees in 2001 with that one outing. It’d be interesting to see precisely how much he increased the Yankees actual World Series Title odds in all his other outings, in order to see what his overall contribution ended up being.

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    • BronxBaumer says:

      I don’t think it’s accurate to say that Mariano “cost” the Yankees most of a World Series Title.

      While Mariano blew the 2001 World Series in the 9th inning of Game 7, he also saved the 2001 World Series by throwing 6 scoreless innings in one run or tied games prior to that inning (their 3 victories and the 8th inning of Game 7). With another closer in there, there’s a good chance the Yanks don’t even make it to the 9th inning of Game 7.

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      • Marver says:

        Right, which is why I want us to examine the increased odds of winning the World Series in his previous outings matched against the decrease in odds of winning the World Series that he also contributed. However unrepresentative of his overall talent that one outing is, we shouldn’t throw out any outings when evaluating the overall contributions of a player; especially when it’s one of the most consequential relief outings of all-time.

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      • Cidron says:

        he neither cost them, or gave them the titles.. no more than an umpires call cost teams games. If the team allows itself to be put in a position where a single call makes that difference, than its the teams fault.

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      • Marver says:

        No, he certainly contributed to their titles. Just as he significantly hindered their 2001 efforts with that one outing.

        I cannot find WPA for all his postseason appearances…but I’d love to be able to find that and multiply it by the amount it increased the Yankees’ odds of winning the World Series, in order to come up with his true postseason value. I suspect it isn’t nearly as pretty as the overall numbers.

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      • BronxBaumer says:

        Whether or not it is “short of legitimate” it is still obtuse. He got beat, which nobody should deny nor downplay. But the Series was only prolonged because of three crazy Yankee wins, wins enabled by his shutdown relief with no margin for error.

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    • BronxBaumer says:

      Baseball Reference has postseason game logs with WPA. I’m sure tastes vary, but to me, there’s no prettier baseball stats than Mo’s in the postseason.

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    • Mike says:

      He “blew” the world series on a bloop hit that wouldn’t have been a hit had the infield not been playing in…it’s not like he gave up a walkoff hr.

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      • Marver says:

        That’s one way of looking at it, I suppose. The other way to look at it is that he gave up three hits in the ninth, hit a batter, and committed an error on a bunt attempt. And then gave up a bloop after already surrendering the lead.

        Baseball Reference has his WPA at -0.625 for that game. As it’s game seven, it is nothing short of legitimate to say that Mariano cost his team 62.5% of a World Series Title in that one outing.

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      • BronxBaumer says:

        Whether or not it is “short of legitimate” it is still obtuse. He got beat, which nobody should deny nor downplay. But the Series was only prolonged because of three crazy Yankee wins, wins enabled by his shutdown relief with no margin for error.

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  5. Ethan says:

    I wonder where Jason Kubel falls in the list of hitters. It seems to me he had a few big moments against him. Could be the big moments overshadow his overall line too.

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  6. Well-Beered Englishman says:

    Wow. That last image really sums up the genius of Mariano Rivera.

    Also, let’s hear it for Edgar Martinez. The Chosen One.

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    • robbbbbb says:

      If Mariano Rivera is a Hall-of-Famer (and I believe he is), then so is Edgar Martinez.

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      • Tom says:

        Ummm… no….

        Arguing Edgar Martinez is a HOF’r is one thing, saying well if Mariano is, then Edgar has to be is a whole different story.

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  7. jim says:

    baseball needs him to come back

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  8. BillWallace says:

    Great compilation. The stats say closers aren’t as valuable as other players and that’s true, but as far as the narrative value of baseball goes, Mariano is one of the greatest of all time.

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  9. Brian S. says:

    Mo is cool and all but the Yankees would be dumb to give him another 15 million when they will have more pressing needs at C, RF, and SP this upcoming offseason.

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  10. Baseball Bob says:

    There is some temptation to want him to not come back and blow some of those awesome rate numbers. If he can’t truly recover his form, a few bad outings could put his WHIP above 1, for example. Still, almost anyone would like to see the Sandman toe the ML rubber again.

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    • TFINY says:

      A great season could drop his ERA below 2.00…

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      • Don W says:

        That would have to be a hell of a season considering his career ERA is 2.21 over 1219.2 innings! He’d have to thow 131.1 scoreless innings to get under 2 for an ERA. :)

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      • WinItForMo says:

        The guy has over 1,200 innings pitched. Even if he’s back to normal and pitches his 60-70 innings next year, his numbers aren’t changing much. Hell if he doesn’t give up a run all year his career ERA will “only” be ~2.10. While he clearly has some of the most ridiculous stats you’ll ever see, I (and most Yankee fans I’m sure) only care about watching Mo get the last out of the World Series one more time…

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  11. Keith says:

    Great piece. I’d be interested to know whether the Yankees scored at a higher-than-usual rate in the bottom of the ninth of tie games after Mo held the other team scoreless in the top of the ninth. It seems that way, that he had a motivational effect (is there a metric for that?). Moreover, it seems the sight of him warming in the bullpen in the bottom of the eighth of tie games had a similar effect.

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  12. jarrodc says:

    I saw a quote the other day (on a WEEI blog nonetheless) which I think summed up Mo best – “no other player in history has a firmer grasp at greatest ever at any position”. Enough said as far as I am concerned.

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    • Ian R. says:

      I’d argue that Honus Wagner has an equally firm grasp at his position.

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      • Peter 2 says:

        …but no firmer!

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      • YanksFanInBeantown says:

        But (incorrect) people do argue in favor of Ripken or even Jeter because Wagner played pre-integration. There is no one else even in Mo’s stratosphere.

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      • Peter 2 says:

        Well, Wagner played a very long time ago which makes any claim to “best ever” inherently more controversial. You’ve got to compare players across several eras, which is hard to do.

        Rivera’s “position” hasn’t really even been around for that long. He holds the regular season saves record, and then when you look to the postseason to put the icing on the cake, he simply embarrasses any other closer (perhaps all of them combined?) in terms of postseason performance. If you argue for someone else being the greatest ever, you just get a puzzled look in response, and people assume you’re just trying to stir up controversy where none exists.

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      • Havok9120 says:

        To Peter 2:

        I think that most such comments would be more in relation to relief pitchers as a whole, not just closers.

        Mo probably still wins out, but the field is much larger.

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      • Matt says:

        Arod? I know everyone hates him but he was an 8-10 win player for 8 years at ss

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    • Phrozen says:

      I think very compelling arguments could be made for Gehrig at 1B, Ruth at RF, Bonds at LF, Schmidt at 3B. But, yeah, “no firmer.” Probably.

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      • Andrew says:

        I wouldn’t go as far to say that nearly half of the positions in baseball have a clear greatest player ever. Jimmie Foxx was also pretty damn good at first base, and when all is said and done, Albert Pujols may rank among them as well. Schmidt is probably the greatest third baseman ever but he doesn’t really blow Brett, Boggs, or Mathews out of the water. Bonds and Ruth were otherworldly, obviously, but their runners-up in Williams and Aaron would probably still rank in the 10 or 15 greatest baseball players of all time. The gap between Rivera and any other closer is just insane.

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      • delv says:

        Pujols??? No way. Pujols will likely end up in Frank Thomas territory, decline taken into account. Go compare their wOBA graphs.

        It’s between Gehrig, Foxx, and Musial.

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  13. WinTwins says:

    I hate the Yankees and I think it takes a near superhuman to warrant a HoF vote for a reliever.

    That being said Mo is awesome and is first ballot in my book.

    I really hope this isn’t how it ends for him.

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    • Cidron says:

      I can agree with your entire post there WinTwins.. I too hate the Yankees, have since late 1970′s (being a Royals fan). But, class and talent are still class and talent. Mo has both in abundance. Never, Never did you ever hear a negative word about Mo, in the press, on tv, or even in the tabloids. Even though he is/was the enemy, I can appreciate that. HoF easily. Dude is the gold standard of closers. All others have to measure against him.

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  14. JKP says:

    I pretty much hate everything about the Yankees…except for Mariano Rivera. He is a class act, and THE baddest-a$$ relief pitcher of all time.

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  15. James says:

    Marver, this is an attempt to calculate Mariano’s postseason WAR, with leverage taken into account. I haven’t got my head fully around it yet but the short answer at the end is 24.
    http://riveraveblues.com/2009/11/how-many-championships-has-mariano-rivera-been-worth-19746/

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    • James says:

      Oh wait duh. I was thinking how odd it was that you asked that question and I’d just been reading an article about it, then realized the coincidence can be explained by the fact that it’s referenced – and linked – above.

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  16. bstar says:

    One reason Mariano Rivera looks to be miles ahead of every other pitcher in MLB history as far as ERA+ goes is because Billy Wagner did not quite pitch enough innings to qualify for the all-time leaderboard. You need 1000 career IP, and Wagner only pitched 903. Had he pushed forward a couple more years, Wags’ 187 career ERA+ would easily put him in second place, way ahead of Pedro Martinez at 154 but still shy of Mo at 206. Would Wagner’s ERA+ have slipped in his final years? Doubtful, as in his final year with the Braves, Billy posted a 275 ERA+.

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  17. G says:

    The fact that in a post-season career that totals to two regular season’s worth his WAR is 24.0 is sheer insanity. If you look at it as 2 seasons, that’s 12 WAR in a season as a reliever.

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