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Color by Numbers: Measuring Success by Failure

Although it often seems otherwise, Mariano Rivera is not perfect. During his career, the future Hall of Famer has been tagged with 65 blown saves and 57 losses, so there are plenty of examples available to refute the notion of his infallibility. And yet, when he doesn’t come through, it still seems like a fluke. Such was the case on two occasions this past week.

Mariano Rivera’s Save Percentage, by Team

Note: NL entry includes three saves and one blown save against Brewers when they were part of the AL.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

On Sunday night, Rivera suffered his fifth blown save of the season against the Red Sox, the team against which he has by far the most. Considering Boston’s power-packed lineup, it’s easy to see how even the great Rivera might slip up, but what made Sunday’s blown save most frustrating was the chief antagonist: light-hitting Marco Scutaro.

Walk Off Home Runs Against Mariano Rivera

Date Opponent Batter Score Inn RoB Out P (cnt)
7/14/02 Indians Bill Selby ahead 7-6 b9 123 2 6 (2-2)
7/24/04 Red Sox Bill Mueller ahead 10-9 b9 1– 1 5 (3-1)
7/20/06 Blue Jays Vernon Wells tied 4-4 b11 1 2 (1-0)
4/15/07 Athletics Marco Scutaro ahead 4-2 b9 12- 2 3 (0-2)
9/18/09 Mariners Ichiro Suzuki ahead 2-1 b9 -2- 2 1 (0-0)

Source: baseball-reference.com

Then again, maybe Scutaro’s lead off double, which led to the blown save, shouldn’t have come as that much of a surprise? After all, the journeyman infielder owns one of only five walk off homeruns surrendered by Rivera. What’s more, Scutaro’s double on Sunday was his second against Rivera, giving him three extra base hits against the great closer in only 18 plate appearances.

Batters with at Least Three Extra Base Hits vs. Mariano Rivera

Edgar Martinez 20 3 0 2 6 0.625 0.700 1.188
Aubrey Huff 21 2 0 2 4 0.400 0.429 0.800
Juan Gonzalez 19 2 1 1 6 0.333 0.368 0.722
Ivan Rodriguez 22 2 0 1 3 0.300 0.364 0.550
Vernon Wells 21 1 1 1 3 0.316 0.381 0.632
N. Garciaparra 18 2 1 0 3 0.389 0.389 0.611
Marco Scutaro 18 2 0 1 3 0.250 0.333 0.563
Roberto Alomar 15 3 0 0 1 0.455 0.500 0.727

Source: baseball-reference.com

How significant is Scutaro’s relative success against Rivera? Over the course of his career, Rivera has faced 920 different batters, and of that total, only eight have recorded at least three extra base hits. For further perspective, 469 hitters, or 51%, failed to even record one hit, including teammate Dustin Pedroia, who has gone 0-10 in 13 plate appearances against Rivera. Finally, Scutaro’s .896 OPS against Rivera ranks 28th among the 156 hitters with at least 10 plate appearances versus the future Hall of Famer.

Most PAs Without a Hit vs. Mariano Rivera

Ray Durham 26 0 0 0 3 0.000
Alexis Rios 15 0 0 0 4 0.000
Marty Cordova 14 0 1 0 6 0.071
Dustin Pedroia 13 0 1 2 5 0.154
Carlos Pena 12 0 0 0 3 0.083
Ty Wigginton 12 0 1 0 3 0.250
Tony Clark 10 0 1 0 3 0.000
Randy Velarde 9 0 0 2 1 0.222
Rickey Henderson 9 0 0 2 1 0.444

Source: baseball-reference.com

After failing to close out a win in Fenway, Rivera’s next game ended in a loss to the Los Angeles Angels. This time, the culprit was Bobby Abreu and the damage was a rare home run, which broke a 4-4 tie. Since 1995, Rivera’s HR rate of 0.44 per nine innings is the lowest of any reliever with at least 275 innings, so when he falters because of the long ball, it’s even more startling. However, the gopher ball surrendered to Bobby Abreu was even more remarkable because the struggling DH entered the game with only four home runs. When you consider that Abreu had already hit his fifth earlier in the game, the chances of him going deep again, against Rivera no less, had to be slim, but when the Yankees’ closer gives it up, it often feels like a long shot coming through.

Lowest HR/9 Rates, Relievers Since 1995 (min. 275 IP)

Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9  HR/FB
Mariano Rivera 1144.1 8.27 1.98 0.44 0.061
Javier Lopez 344.2 5.85 4.05 0.47 0.074
Carlos Marmol 371 12.66 5.56 0.49 0.052
Brian Wilson 315 9.51 3.91 0.49 0.060
Chad Bradford 515.2 5.46 2.39 0.49 0.078
Derek Lowe 381 7.06 2.36 0.52 0.000
Heath Bell 464 9.27 3.03 0.52 0.070
Saul Rivera 279.1 6.19 4.06 0.55 0.065
Mike MacDougal 357.1 7.58 4.89 0.55 0.087
Paul Quantrill 741.1 5.32 2.25 0.57 0.050

Source: fangraphs.com

Since he first emerged as a dominant force in the 1995 ALDS against the Mariners, Mariano Rivera’s successes have far surpassed his failures, which, ironically, is why the latter seem to better define his greatness. When Rivera blows a game, it inspires shock. When he blows two-in-a-row, it induces panic…in everyone but Rivera himself. Perhaps that’s why Mariano has had only one stretch of three straight games with either a blown save or loss (August 1997)? So, let the Chicken Littles have their say. You can’t blame them for thinking the sky is falling. In fact, it’s a testament to the greatest closer of all time.


1 Shaun P.   ~  Aug 11, 2011 11:37 am

How long has RLYW been identifying annual (almost always August) WWWMW (What's Wrong With Mariano Week)? It feels like since at least 2003 or 2004.

This was an interesting compilation of numbers concerning Mo's failures, William. Thanks!

2 Jon DeRosa   ~  Aug 11, 2011 1:05 pm

[0] William, great information, thanks!

I remember some of my first comments on Banter ever were responding to people taking a Mariano stumble too seriously. Many years ago.

Granted maybe this isn't the best forum to gauge reaction, but I never read or hear anyone worrying about Rivera anymore.

When you mentioned "it induces a panic" did you have something in mind?

3 William J.   ~  Aug 11, 2011 3:54 pm

[2] As Shaun referenced above, whenever Mo goes through his occasional two-game run, the usual round of "Is this the end for Rivera" articles start to pop up. In some ways, when Mo struggles we are all forced to confront his mortality.

4 Jon DeRosa   ~  Aug 11, 2011 5:06 pm

[3] Can you post a link to one of those articles? I'd like to read their arguments.

5 Jon DeRosa   ~  Aug 11, 2011 5:17 pm

I just read the Kepner article from today, though I don't know if that's an example of what you mean.

Even though he mostly acknowledges that Mariano is pitching well this year, still it comes off as fairly ignorant. He focuses way too much on Scutaro's fly ball and Abreu's homer, as if nobody ever is supposed to hit the ball hard off him.

If there's reaction to decline, that's fine. Reaction to imperfection is idiotic.

6 Jon DeRosa   ~  Aug 11, 2011 6:55 pm

also just read RAB comments after today's homer. even on a good site like that, they get a level of nonsense that makes this place look pretty good.

7 William J.   ~  Aug 11, 2011 7:55 pm

[4] [5] [6] If you go to Google news and search "Mariano Rivera near the end", you'll come across at least a half dozen recent examples.

8 Jon DeRosa   ~  Aug 11, 2011 7:59 pm

There's a distinction between being near the end, which he is, and no longer being great, though, right? Who is arguing that he still isn't great?

9 William J.   ~  Aug 11, 2011 10:00 pm

[8] Definitely, but the articles that come up under that search imply that Rivera's greatness is what's near the end, not his relative effectiveness.

Because he has been so great for so long, these slumps inspire a lot of reaction similar to waiting for the other shoe to drop. Rivera has proven such speculation wrong in the past, and I strongly expect him to do so again this year.

10 Jon DeRosa   ~  Aug 11, 2011 10:14 pm

As alex would say, "we can take that to the Yankee bank"

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