No Mo’ Mr. Automatic?

On Tuesday night, the Yankees’ comeback was almost squandered by another subpar outing by Mariano Rivera. When Jorge Posada launched his walk-off home run, Rivera’s outing was largely forgotten.
While Rivera bounced back with a 1-2-3 9th last night, I want to take a look at his season. For the first time in a long time, Rivera has not been Mr. Automatic. The Sandman is not putting people to sleep anymore. On the surface, Rivera’s numbers look okay. He’s converted 7 of 8 save opportunities. So he must still be good, right?
On the season, Rivera’s peripherals are way off his usual numbers. After giving up one run in one inning of work last night, Rivera’s ERA is at 3.18. That’s over 0.80 runs higher than his career average. His WHIP is holding steady at 1.41 which is 0.35 higher than his career average. And he’s not striking anyone out. His K per 9 IP is at 4.24, a career low and almost 5 strike outs per 9 innings lower than his stellar numbers last season.
For some reason, hitters are putting the ball in play against Rivera, and it’s producing a cascade effect. More hitters are getting on base, more runners are scoring. We can see this effect through some graphs.

Clearly, Rivera’s K/9 IP is tanking. After a near-career high last year, it’s low. Very low. And as Rivera’s K/9 IP goes down, opposing on-base percentage goes up.

As strike outs go down, more balls are being put into play. Batting average against goes up.

With more runners on base, Rivera’s pitches per inning have also gone up as well.

So what does all of this tell us? Rivera is not as dominant this year as he has been in the past. Some claim this ineffectiveness is due to Torre’s not under-using Rivera this year, but I would like to challenge that contention. So far, Rivera has thrown 17.0 innings. He’s on pace for 72 innings which is definitely in line with his usage over the last three seasons.
Another theory bantered about on the Internet is that we’re witnessing the aging of Rivera much as we are seeing the potential end of the line for Randy Johnson. Again, I disagree with this hypothesis. As the graphs show, Rivera’s drop-off is sudden. As pitchers age, their stats gradually worsen. It’s rare to see a drop-off of 5.00 K/9 IP as Rivera has seen this year. I just don’t buy the aging argument.
The Yankees need Rivera to right his ship, but there is no obvious fix. Is he hurt or sore? It could be. Is he losing his effectiveness? After three years of utter domination following an injury plagued 2002, I find that hard to believe. The trends aren’t positive, and the results haven’t been devestating yet. Only time will tell what happens with Rivera.

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4 Responses to No Mo’ Mr. Automatic?

  1. Robby Bonfire says:

    Benjamin –
    The Yankees amaze me. Before the season began, I was of the opinion that any serious decline in effectiveness of either Johnson, Mussina, and/or Rivera, would take them down a notch. That they continue to roll despite Johnson’s and Rivera’s struggles boggles the mind. They are noticeably weaker with Sheffield and Matsui out of the lineup, but I think their success may have more to do with their just knowing how to win, more then anything else. The big comeback on Tuesday night showed their mettle. Pride can be a great asset as well as a liability. They see themselves as champions – BEFORE THE FACT – and never quit.

  2. Steven Yanis says:

    Even the greatest of players experience a dip in their games at some point in their career. And Rivera is no exception.

  3. John Carter says:

    You say that pitcher’s strikeouts rates do not drop suddenly as they age, yet you do not back that up with any study. Perhaps, strikeout rates do not drop as suddenly as Rivera’s has, but that could be due to a small sample size. Based on the studies I’ve read and in my experience most pitchers’ IMPROVED their strikeouts rates as they mature until some injury drops it down a notch or two. When a pitcher reaches his own physical age limit, then the wear and tear on his arm suddenly shows up.

  4. pete says:

    I saw your writing today, September 30. Your analysis shows why you shouldn’t put much stock on a small sample. May 18, what is that 1o appearances, 12 innings? You can’t compare an ERA on that body of work to a career or a season. Rivera remains Mariano the Great. 3.18 drops or rises in a hurry in May.

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