The LoHud Yankees Blog

A New York Yankees blog by Chad Jennings and the staff of The Journal News


Pinch hitting: In Mo We Trust

Posted by: Peter Abraham - Posted in Misc on Jan 19, 2009 Print This Post Print This Post | Email This Post Email This Post

January is traditionally a slow month for baseball news. So for the second year in a row, we will showcase other blogs with a series of pinch hitters.

Next up is Brian from In Mo We Trust.

Brian has been blogging since December of 2006 when he started Depressed Fan. He recently joined forces with Mike from Green Pinstripes and created In Mo We Trust. Brian grew up watching the Yankees in the 80′s, and says he still sheds a tear every time he sees the Don Mattingly Yankeeography, He also believes Mariano Rivera is the best baseball player he’ll ever have the pleasure of watching

Here’s his post:

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Over the past five years or so, Billy Beane has tried to exploit what he sees as a flaw in baseball’s valuation of players. His data reveals that saves are a meaningless stat and closers are generally over-valued. His method is to take a decent pitcher, make him a closer, drive up his value, then trade him. It’s a brilliant economic theory, and a strategy that has served him well. I agree, wholeheartedly, with Beane’s assessment of the closer market, as well as his thoughts on the value of a save. If you need convincing, check out K-Rod’s career stats. 2008 was his worst season, statistically, yet he accumulated a record 62 saves.

There is a distinction we need to draw, however. Just because saves are overrated, does not mean that closers, by definition, are as well. You have to look at the other stats to get a true measure of a pitcher’s value, and with closers it goes even deeper than that. For example, there are certain closers whose managers will only use them in save situations, other closers won’t come in unless they’re starting an inning. Then there’s my favorite, the closer who can only pitch the ninth inning.

The exquisite value of Mariano Rivera, throughout his career, has been that none of these silly rules have applied to him. No situation has ever been too dicey to bring Mo in, he’s never shied away from a six-out save. Rivera’s dominance hasn’t come under ridiculously controlled circumstances; he’s dominated in the most high-pressure situations possible in this game.

Which brings me to the reason why I believe Rivera has been the most important Yankee over the past 12 seasons. What happens on a baseball field can be sliced and diced into millions of statistical categories. On the field, however, the game remains largely psychological. Rivera looming in the bullpen forces opponents to change their approach.

Opposing teams know they have, at best, eight innings to get a lead. This means opposing managers will pinch hit earlier than they typically would. They’ll bunt to move runners into scoring position, they’ll send runners when they typically wouldn’t. The threat of Rivera forces teams into risky strategy, meaning Rivera’s influence affects not only the eighth and ninth innings of close games, but the sixth and seventh as well. Mo’s pressence looms even larger in the playoffs when runs are truly at a premium and the Yanks will stretch Rivera’s pitch count even further.

Think about that for a second. The widely held notion has always been that starting pitchers are more important, and more valuable, than closers because they pitch so many more innings. While that holds true in virtually all cases, has anyone really quantified the Rivera Effect properly? Over the past 12 seasons, Mo has either saved or won 550 out of 1,170 Yankee wins, 47% (not including the post season). It wouldn’t be outrageous to say that having Rivera in the bullpen has affected, either directly or indirectly, over 2,200 innings of play in those wins.

Honestly, I don’t think we’ve begun to scratch the surface of what Mariano Rivera has meant to this team, I don’t think we’ll fully understand until he’s gone.

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Thanks for the post, Brian. Personally, I think years from now it will be Rivera who will emerge as the greatest player of this generation of Yankees.

Coming tomorrow: Emma from Bronx Banter.

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