Tuesday, January 31, 2012


1996 version of Rivera is ideal for relievers-FanGraphs

1/30/12, "Reliever Usage Redux: A Follow-Up," FanGraphs, Dave Cameron

"The ideal usage pattern is not simply increasing the number of innings thrown by the best relievers by allowing them to stay on the mound after a game has been decided, but in using them for as many high leverage innings as possible throughout a season. Stanley should not be held up as the model –

At age 26, Rivera appeared in 61 games and faced 425 batters, 269 fewer than Stanley faced in 1982. Still, at 6.96 batters faced per appearance, he was staying on the mound about 60 percent longer than a traditional ninth inning reliever. For comparison, Rivera faced 4.56 batters per appearance in 1997, the year he replaced John Wetteland as the Yankees closer, despite being just one season removed from showing he could handle a heavy workload

Rivera’s gmLI in 1996 was only 1.36, lower than that of Stanley. But because they essentially let him regularly work the 7th and 8th innings of close games, his pLI was 1.56, meaning that the situations got more important when he was on the mound. While Stanley came into close games, kept them close, and then racked up innings while the outcome was no longer in as much danger, Rivera was used almost exclusively in situations where the game was on the line. And, because of his ability to get everyone out, he racked up 107.2 innings, putting up a +4.4 win season

Now, I know that’s easy to just dismiss everything Rivera does as a massive outlier and write off anything that he’s done as impossible for other mortals to repeat. However, 1996 Rivera posted a FIP- of 40, which 13 relievers have matched or done better than in a season with at least 50 innings pitched since 1982. Rob Dibble maintained a FIP- of 38 while facing 384 batters in 1990. Duane Ward faced 428 batters in 1991, and his FIP- was 43. Even more recently, Eric Gagne (2003), Francisco Rodriguez (2004), and Craig Kimbrel (2011) have faced 300+ batters in a season while performing as well or better than 1996 Rivera did on a rate basis.

While Rivera’s 1996 season might be the best example of how a non-closer relief ace can be deployed to maximum value, he’s not the sole example of a pitcher who was able to carry a significant workload while performing at an extremely high level in critical situations. While asking a pitcher to be that dominant while facing 600 to 700 batters in a season appears unrealistic, we have evidence that elite relievers can succeed while facing 300 to 400 batters in high leverage situations during a single season.

Last year, the 30 pitchers with 15 or more saves averaged 262 batters faced and 4.04 batters per appearance. These usage patterns aren’t just limited to the closer’s role either; the top four relievers in baseball by ERA- last year – David Robertson, Eric O’Flaherty, Scott Downs, and Mike Adams – each faced fewer than 3.89 batters per game, despite the fact that each showed they could get out batters from both sides of the plate and didn’t need to be used as specialists. Still, the evolution of set bullpen roles has led to not only limits on how many batters the closer faces,


Goose Gossage: “"It's an insult to me to even be compared to Mariano Rivera, it really is."

Jan. 12, 2006, “Gossage Beyond Compare,” Denver Post, Jim Armstrong

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