Late last week the Yankees (and really all of baseball) got some bad news when Mariano Rivera tore his right ACL shagging fly balls before Thursday’s game. It’s been part of his pre-game routine throughout his entire professional career, but it wasn’t until now that he took a misstep and hurt himself seriously. Rivera did announce that he will return to pitch next year — “I am coming back. Write it down in big letters … I’m not going out like this,” he said on Friday — but the Yankees will still have to weather the storm without him this summer. Luckily for them, David Robertson and Rafael Soriano are more than adequate replacements in the late innings.
The injury and the shock factor that came with it — was this going to be end of his career? — spurred me on to dig up some interesting nuggets about the greatest relief pitcher in baseball history. We all know about the 608 career saves, but save totals alone do not do the man’s career justice. Without further delay, the Mariano Rivera fact sheet…
— The Yankees signed the 20-year-old Rivera out of Panama for $3,000 back in February 1990. He pitched for the team’s Rookie Level Gulf Coast League affiliate that summer, posting a 0.17 ERA in 52 innings. He struck out 58, walked seven, and allowed just 17 hits. In his only start that year, the team’s final game of the season, he threw a seven-inning no-hitter.
— Rivera was supposed to undergo Tommy John surgery in August 1992, but the doctors found that his elbow ligament did not need repair once they cut him open. To use his word, they simply “moved” the ligament instead.
— In his first career big league game (May 23rd, 1995), Rivera allowed five runs on eight hits and one walk in a 3.1 IP start against the Angels. He allowed a two-run single to Greg Myers and a three-run homer to Jim Edmonds. It was the tenth of Edmonds’ 393 career homers.
— Rivera made nine more starts that year, his best coming against the White Sox on Independence Day. He allowed just two singles and four walks in eight scoreless innings, striking out 11. Rivera was moved to the bullpen permanently later in the 1995 season, in early-September.
— At 4.4 WAR, Rivera’s 1996 season was the seventh best season by a reliever in the last 50 years. He posted a 1.88 FIP in 107.2 IP and allowed just one homer, to Rafael Palmeiro in late-June. His 8.0 BB% that year is the highest full-season walk rate of his career, a rate he matched in 2000. He’s never been over 6.9 BB% otherwise.
— Rivera took over as closer in 1997 after John Wetteland was allowed to leave via free agency. He blew three saves by mid-April and then-manager Joe Torre was being asked if he would remove the 27-year-old from the ninth inning. “I think sooner or later, hopefully sooner, I will be out of this thing and be okay,” said Rivera that month.
— From 1997 through 2012 (min. 300 IP), Rivera has the best ERA (2.02), the most WPA (50.30), and the most WAR (34.7) among relievers. He’s sixth in FIP (2.68), second in homer rate (0.46 HR/9), fourth in walk rate (5.2 BB%), and tenth in BABIP (.258). Rivera has thrown the most relief innings during that time (1,045 IP), more than 100 innings more than second place David Weathers (936 IP) and nearly 200 innings more than anyone else.
— Rivera’s best season as a closer was either 2001 (3.3 WAR), 2005 (3.2 WAR), or 2008 (3.1 WAR). I believe it’s 2008 — WAR isn’t accurate enough for differences of 0.1 to settle arguments — when he struck out 29.7% of the batters he faced while walking just 2.3%. That’s six unintentional walks to 259 batters faced. He allowed 41 hits that year for a .165/.190/.233 batting line against. NL pitchers hit .139/.177/.175 that season.
— For his career, Rivera has allowed 940 hits and 277 walks in 1,219.2 IP for a 0.998 WHIP. Only Addie Joss, who pitched from 1902-1910, has a lower career WHIP (0.968) than Rivera (min. 1,000 IP). Ed Walsh, another early-1900s pitcher, is the only other guy with a sub-1.00 career WHIP (0.9995).
— Rivera’s career ERA is 2.21, good for a 49 ERA- and a 206 ERA+. Pedro Martinez ranks a distant second in both categories at 67 ERA- and 154 ERA+ (min. 1,000 IP). The next best ERA- and ERA+ among career relievers belongs to Dan Quisenberry at 70 and 146, respectively. The only pitcher in baseball history with more career WPA than Rivera’s 54.70 is Roger Clemens at 76.15.
— Rivera’s strikeout-to-walk ratio has been, quite literally, off the charts throughout his career:
— Rivera has thrown the final pitch of the World Series five times: 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, and 2009. The only other pitchers in the expansion era to throw the final pitch of the World Series on multiple occasions are Sandy Koufax (1963 and 1965), Bob Gibson (1964 and 1967), Rollie Fingers (1972 and 1974), and Will McEnaney (1975 and 1976).
— His postseason performance — 96 games and 141 IP — amounts to two full regular season of work. Rivera’s pitched to a 0.70 ERA with a 0.759 WHIP in the playoffs, allowing a grand total of four runs from 2002-2011. Post-2009 calculations estimated his career postseason WAR at a hair more than 24.0 considering the differences in leverage, run environment, etc.
— The most successful batter ever against Rivera (min. 10 PA)? That would be Edgar Martinez, who tagged him for a .579/.652/1.053 batting line in 23 plate appearances. Aubrey Huff owns a .400/.429/.800 career batting line against Rivera in 21 plate appearances. Martinez, Huff, and Palmeiro are the only players to hit multiple homers off Mariano, and they each did it twice.
— The least successful has to be Ray Durham, who went 0-for-26 against Rivera in his career. He only struck out three times though. Ty Wigginton, Randy Velarde, Dustin Pedroia, Alex Rios, Marty Cordova, Tony Clark, and Brian Daubach are also members of the 0-for-Rivera club (min. 10 PA).
— As a whole, batters have hit .210/.262/.290 against Rivera in 4,847 plate appearances. That’s approximately what Brandon Inge hit for the Tigers last season (.197/.265/.283). Mariano Rivera has faced nearly 5,000 batters during a mostly offensive era while playing his home games in a hitter’s ballpark in a tough division, and he’s turned them all into 2011 Brandon Inge.