WS Coverage: Mariano Rivera

Congratulations to the 2009 World Series Champion New York Yankees. They were clearly the best team in the league during the regular season and dispatched the Twins, Angles and Phillies with minimal drama to take the World Series. In the process, many of Joe Girardi‘s decisions have been questioned here and elsewhere, but one that has gotten near universal support (outside of Minnesota, Los Angeles and Philadelphia) was his heavy use of Mariano Rivera to get six outs an appearance and in non-save situations. Rivera’s performance justified that decision, as he gave up just one run on 10 hits over 16 innings.

It is easy to concoct a narrative of Rivera as Superman against whom there is no chance a run will be scored. MGL neatly dealt with this narrative.

For that matter, I don’t buy into the Rivera post-season mystique either.  He is a great reliever, regular or post-season.  That is why he has had such phenomenal success in the post-season – because he is a great pitcher!  However, there is no such thing as “magic” for any player.  There is nothing a player can do about the “Lady Luck” regardless of how good they are.  Mariano does not throw every pitch exactly where he wants to and he does not strike every batter out.  Sooner or later he is going to implode as any pitcher can on any given day, even when he has his best “stuff” (he seems to have the same stuff every outing).  One bad pitch, one bad call by an umpire, one batted ball that does not get caught or falls into the right spot, one batter that happens up square up a pitch, etc.

I like this viewpoint. Rivera is a great pitcher, so we should not be surprised when he has an amazing run of 16 innings. But that does not mean that he can will himself to pitch 16 one-run innings whenever he chooses. So in this post, when I look back at his amazing performance, I don’t want it to sound like I think this was inevitable and there was no way he could have given up any runs. Rather, I am just looking back and seeing how it happened.

Using the same method I used in the Lee post, I am going to look at those innings for a pitch location point of view. Pitches are color coded, those swung at full color and taken faded, strikes encircled, outs with triangles and hits exed. Full color pitches with no markings were fouled off.
As I have said before, the amazing thing about Rivera is how he can location his cutter on either edge and have few end up in the heart. Against LHBs he went all cutter and mostly pitched inside. The graph is a little busy, but you can see the few times he did go outside or hit the fat of the plate he got a good number of called strikes (faded for taken and encircled for strikes), so it looks like batters were looking inside. On those inside pitches he got tons of fouls and outs, but fewer swinging strikes than I would expect.
Again you see the bimodal distribution of pitches either along the inside edge or outside edge. Against RHBs he mixes in his fastball. Batters swung at it more often than his cutter and made contact at a good rate, but they were fouls or outs. With the cutter he got lots of whiffs up-and-in, called strikes down-and-in, and got more swings and contact, again mostly outs or foul balls, away.

Anyway that you look at it, another sixteen incredible innings in the career of the best relief pitcher ever.

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Dave Allen's other baseball work can be found at Baseball Analysts.

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