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And the White Flag Is Raised

[ 57 ] July 13, 2011 |

Really good trade for both teams, at least assuming that the Brewers let Axford continue to close and don’t let K-Rod’s option vest.

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  1. howard says:

    when k-rod first showed up, he had such a smooth delivery and such aplomb on the mound that i put him on my shortlist of “relievers who just might have almost as good a career as mariano;” his decline just helps to reinforce how rare and special mariano’s talent is.

    p.s. papelbon also made my list, but he too is no longer looking like someone who can be a dominant reliever for the next 10 years.

    • Erik Loomis says:

      How many fewer titles do the Yankees win if they only have above-average closers instead of being lucky enough to have the greatest closer in the history of baseball come up through their farm system?

      • howard says:

        erik, my own belief is they might have won 1 or 2 instead of the 5, and it is certainly my belief that mariano is the key man, and with a more average closer, they not only might not have won any, they probably wouldn’t have made the series as often.

        • actor212 says:

          Giving three or four championships to a guy who throws maybe fifteen pitches a game?

          Really? I can see maybe the 2000 World Series. Maybe. MAYbe.

          • howard says:

            not just any ol’ 15 pitches, though: 15 extremely high leverage pitches.

            and game in and game out in the postseason (with the exception of indians ’97, diamondbacks ’01, and sox ’04), mariano delivered.

            when you look at the combined closing record, for example, of the losing teams in the 5 yankee championships, and compare it to mariano’s, i have no problem at all in ascribing major value to him for winning titles.

            p.s. which is one of the reasons i have trouble with wins-above-replacement for relievers: your typical war assessment of mariano vastly understates his value in my estimation….

            • mark f says:

              It’s not just playoffs that factor in. How many fewer wins do they have during the regular season if they have someone else? Does that affect their homefield advantage in the playoffs? What’s the ripple effect through the rest of the bullpen? Etc. The Yankees have never been the only team with a great offense or great starting rotation. Calling Rivera the key piece to all those rings is not at all far-fetched.

              • The league average for winning pecentage with a lead entering the final frame is roughly 96% in the last 50 years or so. The Yankees’ int he Rivera era is about 97%.

                I might be muffing the particulars, but the general point is that team’s win an overwhelming amount of games they enter the last half inning of with a lead, and even the all-time great closes don’t substantially improve the numbers any.

                • Erik Loomis says:

                  “The league average for winning pecentage with a lead entering the final frame is roughly 96% in the last 50 years or so. The Yankees’ int he Rivera era is about 97%.”

                  OK–but it would be more useful to look at numbers in save situations (which I know is a problematic statistic), numbers with 1 run leads, and numbers with 1 or 1-2 run leads in the playoffs. I don’t really know where to get those numbers myself.

                • You’d need a Play Index subscription and an even larger amount of time. You’d also have to control for different bullpen usage eras I’d assume.

                • Erik Loomis says:

                  And it’s clearly not worth the time to find all this out, but I have to believe that Rivera has a bigger impact than improving holding a 9th inning lead from 96 to 97%.

                • mark f says:

                  Well, I consider myself schooled by Brien and Anon21. I’ll agree with Erik that my unsubstantiated hunch is that Rivera is better than 1% better than the league, but conceded that my previous (unstated and pulled out of my ass) estimate of 5 wins a season was way high.

                • actor212 says:

                  1% over 100 wins is 1 game. That sounds about the value of Rivera to the Yankees.

                  There might be intangibles, like not getting flustered in the post-season, that would give him credit. Those intangibles are why you even credit him with winning one World Series more than they Yankees would have without him.

                • actor212 says:

                  Erik,

                  A Yankee fan did the math so you don’t have to.
                  Even she thinks he’s only worth two championships of five (six now)

                • Erik Loomis says:

                  Without any real numbers to back it up on my part, I’d say that 2 championships makes sense.

                • Bill Murray says:

                  I’m not sure Mariano is worth any WS titles over a normal closer.

                  1996 — not a closer, Yanks make the playoffs by 7 games, aren’t really challenged in the playoffs (3-1, 4-1, 4-2) and he only pitched half the playoff games although he pitched well. I’d give him one playoff game where he made a big difference (pitched important innings with the Yanks 2 runs (0.5 games) ahead or 1 run (1.0 games) ahead and the yanks won the game

                  1998 — Yankees dominate. Mitch Williams closing could have probably got them the WS.

                  1999 — Yankess make playoffs by 10 games, 2.5 games in the ALCS he made a big difference and 1 game in the WS, despite his series MVP.

                  2000 — Yanks made playoffs by 2.5 games, made a big difference in 1.5 games in ALDS, 0.5 games in the ALCS, 2-2.5 games in the WS.

                  2009 — Yanks make playoffs by 16 or so games, big difference in 1-1.5 games in ALDS, same in the ALCS and 0.5 gams in the WS.

                  So I think 2000 is the only year you can make much of a case for Mariano being the difference over an average closer

                • With a two run lead in the final frame, your win expectancy is ~90-93%, off the top of my head. With a 3 run lead it’s like 97%. So even if Rivera is markedly better than the average closer, it’s still not by much, and it’s certainly not by much over your average WS winning closer, I’d imagine.

                  And for point of reference, Mariano Rivera is probably my favorite baseball player ever, so I’m by no means trying to run him down.

        • c u n d gulag says:

          Yup, totally agree.

          Though Jeter’s been considered “The Man” by a lot of poeple, it is “The Hammer of God” who brought all of those titles.

          Without him, no ’96 WS if he didn’t set-up Wettland. Hell, they might not have made the playoffs. Maybe ’98 and ’99, because they were dominant. But I don’t think they make the playoffs in ’00 without him. They were an aging team with a mediocre record.

          Mariano’s really been “The Man.”
          And I think every Yankee fan knows what we’ve had and still have.
          And had for longer than almost anyone than Hoyt Wilhelm – and those two don’t campare at all except for the fact that they were both relievers. Mariano’s been on one team, and Wilhelm was on, what, 7, 8, 9?

          We all fear the day when he’s gone and the next guy comes along – and in a flurry of balls and strikes and wild pitches, has to deal with bases loaded almost every game – like so many other teams do.

      • In terms of playoff series won it’s pretty much impossible to say, because single games are impossible to quantify. In terms of overall seasons, not much, if at all. Great as Rivera is, he’s still a reliever and relievers just don’t have that much marginal value.

        • Anon21 says:

          Yeah, sorry, but Brien Jackson’s got the right of this. I know the Legend of Mariano Rivera is an attractive one, cause the guy is without doubt an amazing pitcher, but he’s just not worth all that much. Fangraphs has him worth about as much as Bartolo Colon, which sounds about right. For a reliver, it’s incredible, but that’s a huge caveat, inasmuch as relievers are approximately the least valuable players in the game.

          • c u n d gulag says:

            If you read the accounts of Managers though, and a lot of them, you’ll find that they felt pressure to get ahead in 7 innings when Rivera has a sompetent set-up man, since they know that they have little chance to score against him.

            I’m not sure that kind of pressure can be measured, but I think it takes teams off of their game and makes them feel more pressure, and to take more risks to score runs earlier.

            I don’t know how you’d check that though, besides anecdotally.

            • howard says:

              boy, you go off and earn a living for a few hours and a fight breaks out!

              so just to make a few points: i want to thank actor 212 for the link up there, because the link says, at greater length and better, some of the points i wanted to make (and notice that the link makes the opposition case, that the woman underrates mariano by only giving him credit for 2 world series).

              i think the important thing to keep in mind here is the sample size: mariano’s postseason sample size is the equivalent of more than 2 seasons.

              and in those more than 2 seasons, he has the lowest era in history and the second lowest whip/9 (the guy who is lower pitched 100 years ago, had a small sample size, and vastly outpitched his regular season record). he is much better in the postseason than in his superlative regular season (there are 5 yanks with a big enough post-season sample size to examine seriously: rivera is considerably better postseason; pettite is fractionally better; jeter is virtually indistinguishable; bernie was a little worse; and posada considerably worse).

              i spent a few minutes on baseball reference and checked the postseason careers of the next 9 pitchers with the most post-season saves: not a one of them has anywhere close to mariano’s postseason consistency (that is, all of them had at least one, and in many cases several, poor series).

              i don’t have the time to undertake the study myself, but i have also read, along the way, a study of opposition closers vs. mariano in all of those post-seasons series: the performance record wasn’t even close.

              now ok, he never had to pitch against the yanks (and it’s true that the sox, who over his career have been the most consistently offensively strong team among his opponents, he has had a tougher time than any other team), but the fact is, here’s a guy who over 2 full seasons of closing has been the best pitcher in post-season baseball history by record (i.e., era, whip/9), including multiple inherited runners and 4-or-more-outs-required situations, who has outperformed a sterling regular season record, and who has really never even had a poor post-season (unless you want to count his brief ’97 record against the indians – damn you sandy alomar junior!), and the consensus of opinion in this thread is that he’s barely more than jag?

              sorry: don’t buy it. of course he didn’t win the titles by himself; of course it’s possible that if rollie fingers or goose gossage or bruce sutter or one of the other handful of greatest relievers would have done as well (although, in practice, none of the other greatest relievers had the consistency or the post-season performance of mariano), but the question at hand isn’t “could one of the other greatest relievers in baseball history have replicated rivera’s outcome, if not his era and whip/9?”

              the question is how important was mariano to the yanks actually winning the damn thing, and the answer is: incredibly important.

              • Bill Murray says:

                but half of Rivera’s playoff games came with team 2+ runs ahead, where most any reliever would have gt the job done and only about 2 in 5 in one run games. And the years they won the WS, the Yankees even had fewer games within one run late.

                Rivera is a great pitcher and seems like a good guy, but it’s hard to make a case for his criticality to WS wis outside of 2000

                • howard says:

                  bill murray, all i can say at this point (without taking the tedious time to go through each and every post-season game – and i’m not just limiting my discussion to the world series, but to the entire post-season) is that we aren’t overloaded with examples that any ol’ reliever could have done what rivera has done, given that even the greatest of other relievers haven’t equalled mariano’s performance.

  2. CJColucci says:

    I assume the “white flag” reference is to the Mets. If so, I say not just yet. The Mets are in a very awkward position: if their record was worse it would be clear what to do, and if their record were better it would be clear what to do. But with their record as it is, the team is like Buridan’s ass, mid-way between haystacks and liable to starve to death for lack of a reason to pick one haystack or the other. This trade fits that picture. They have reason to think they can get reasonable replacement closing ability cheaper, so this could be a pure economic move, not the beginning of a sell-off.

    • actor212 says:

      Beltran is next. Reyes is a conundrum.

      CJ, you don’t hold onto a closer if you project your team might finish .500 with him and .470 if you don’t. The Mets made a rational decision: give the kids a chance. They have their next seven games against the Phillies and the Cardinals (and a make up against the Marlins).

      With Jesus batting clean up, they might win 4 or 5. They’re done for the season. They’re primary hope is to salvage third place and spoil the Braves.

      • Marek says:

        With Jesus batting clean up, they might win 4 or 5.

        Are you predicting Montero-for-Reyes? Or did you mean the other Jesus?

      • Reyes isn’t a conundrum. He’s an awful candidate for a huge deal, but someone is going to to give one to him anyway. Use his current value to get a big haul from someone like San Francisco now, then let them get stuck with him when he inevitably becomes a Helton-esque burden.

        • actor212 says:

          Reyes is a conundrum precisely because with his injury predilections, no one is just going to give the Mets a farm team.

          I think the key to a Reyes deal is what they get for Beltran. Reyes is a player you can hold onto (if you can afford him) and build around. If the Mets can land a few young players to bolster what has now become a showcase team for their farm system…pretty impressive considering how badly it was ranked at the beginning of the season…you have the makings of a pretty good team: Wright, Reyes, either Ike Davis or possibly Prince Fielder (his dad mentioned the Mets as a possible destination) at first, Thole catching, Bay and Pagan and ? in the outfield.

          Your weakest hitter in that line up is Thole and he’s a .275 (career) hitter with a little pop. Give me a second baseman with a better than .250 average and a right fielder whom can spell Pagan in center in terms of range, and that’s a competitive line up.

    • efgoldman says:

      Wow, my first Buridan’s Ass reference of the year. And in a baseball thread no less.

      Srsly, if this is the beginning of white flag season for the Mets (and it might have everything to do with the Madoff trustee and nothing whatever to do with baseball), the rumors are already flying about a possible Beltran to the Red Sox move.

  3. Kurzleg says:

    You have to hand it to Melvin. He’s an aggressive GM. As a Brewers fan, I’m conflicted about this move. K-Rod’s an obvious upgrade in their pen, and his high k/9 makes him a perfect candidate for high-leverage situations prior to the ninth. But I just can’t believe the guy will be happy in that role, which will prevent him from vesting that enormous option. He won’t get a better deal as an free agent. The only way I can see it working out has the Brewers going on a huge tear and winning the NL Central (and perhaps home field advantage throughout the NL playoffs). A tight race will probably bring the vesting issue to a head.

    (And all the above assumes that the Brewers will resist the urge to replace Axford with K-Rod after a few of Axford’s trademark roller-coaster-ride saves. I could easily see the Brewers saddled with that salary, with Melvin justifying it as worth the risk in order to try to “win it all.”)

    • actor212 says:

      The Brewers are essentially getting K-Rod rent-free for the next three months. The Mets are even throwing in his buyout money. That’s a decent insurance policy to have in your bullpen.

      When he’s been on this year, he’s been unhittable, Rivera-unhittable. He’s blown a few saves but he also had the baggage of the criminal (and soon, civil) investigations here. A fresh start could make him what he was when he first got here.

      I’d take the gamble if I was Melvin.

      • Kurzleg says:

        Rent free if he doesn’t vest. I’m not confident they’ll be able to resist using him to close if Axford gets flaky in a tight pennant race. Been a long time since the Crew’s had a team with the potential to win it, and Melvin’s very aggressiveness tells you he’ll use K-Rod to close if things get tight.

        And as I said, I’m not sure K-Rod will accept a non-closing role all that well unless the Brewers get on a roll. That’s a lot of money to leave on the table.

  4. I’m not sure I’d call this a “white flag.” Regardless of their playoff odds or how serious of a push they want to make, ridding themselves of K-Rod’s 2012 option is a huge plus, especially given their financial issues.

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      Well, as you can see, I agree, but still — if you were serious about winning you wouldn’t trade a decent closer for nothing. (The Mets are correct not to take their postseason chances this year seriously, but that’s what the deal indicates.)

      • I get what you mean, but I still think it’s wrong to characterize getting rid of the option as “nothing.” Obviously you mean “no players who can help them this year,” and your point isn’t without merit, but it’s not really possible to shed the option AND get major league players who can help you in the short term. Especially since even a quality reliever like K-Rod is probably only going to be worth somewhere between 0.5 and 1.0 fWAR the rest of the season. Losing one win over a replacement player, especially if you can replace him with another above replacement level player, is certainly not so bad that you wouldn’t want to get rid of a $17.5 million liability for next season.

  5. Ken Houghton says:

    The guy who is underappreciated in all this is Mike Effing Scoscia, who got out of K-Rod what no one else ever could.

    (Papelbon was injured, btw.)

    The strange thing about Mariano is that he probably gets fame a year earlier, except for the Cuzziesque “HR.” And there’s an alternative world in which Steinbrenner’s “baseball people” tell him to trade the man before he starts asking for Wetteland’s job.

    • c u n d gulag says:

      He was almost traded in ’95 until he started throwing 95+ mph and the great, and under-rated, Gene Michael was able to stop it.

      • howard says:

        my first serious exposure to mariano (and c u n d gulag, you may remember this too) was july 4, 1995, when he started against (and dominated) the white sox (8 innings, 2 hits allowed, 4 walks, 11 Ks, no runs). inning after inning, he just rolled along, and from that moment on, i knew that he was something special (although no, i’m not going to claim that i knew he would become the greatest reliever in history).

        box score here: http://www.retrosheet.org/boxesetc/1995/B07040CHA1995.htm

        • c u n d gulag says:

          Way late coming back here, but yeah, howard, I remember that game clearly.
          I thought we had found a great, and much needed, new starter. (Remember how horrendously bad the late ’80′s and early ’90′s starting pitching was?)

          And despite all of what been said above, let me ask a everyone a question – would anyone rather have had him as a starter, or as a reliever?
          How may starters are/were still around at age 41 who are pitching as well as Rivera is as a reliever? I mean those not on PED’s?
          Spahn.
          Ryan.
          Help me out here!

          If you look at long-term impact, and overall consistency, and quality (thanks, howard, for the analysis), it’s hard to argue that Rivera is NOT one of the absolute best pitchers in history. Especially if you factor it over the 15-16 years.

          • It isn’t that hard at all. He pitches ~65 innings a year, mostly in one inning per game performances. He doesn’t face the other team’s best hitter every game, doesn’t turn the lineup over, doesn’t have to mix pitches etc.

  6. c u n d gulag says:

    The Mets fans would have been happy with a bucket of warm piss for this guy.
    They can’t stand him.
    They never really loved him. And last year,in the Family area at Citi after the game, he punched out the father of the woman who had his child, and they were ready to tar and feather him.

    • actor212 says:

      I don’t know that we hated him before the fistfight (which came after a brutal run out outings on his return from an injury).

      We were frustrated with him, to be sure, but by the time the fight happened, we had a lonnnnnnnnng list of grievances, starting with Beltran, Reyes and Minaya and ending up at Jason Bay and K-Rod to work through. His fight merely bumped him up the food chain.

      • c u n d gulag says:

        Yeah, you might be right about that.

        But I remember listening to WFAN in NY, and the ESPN radio affiliate, and while they were disappointed in Bay, and the injuries to Reyes and Beltran, I seem to recall a lot of animosity toward Minaya and K-Rod – besides some of the usual awful anti-Hispanic bullshit about Minaya and his “boys” that you heard.

        • actor212 says:

          I’m not sure I’d judge the entire Mets audience on kids who call into sports radio! :-)

          Seriously, Bay was a frustration, particularly on the heels of the two collapses. He was sort of seen as a “turn the page” move and when he hurt himself in May of his first year, a lot of wailing took place.

          The thing about Minaya and the Hispanic stuff was really more about Tony Bernazard and the whole “Over Willie Randolph’s head” invitation the players (which included some of the black players…I don’t know if many white players went over Randolph’s head but then, apart from Wright, the Mets didn’t have many talented white players at that point).

          It’s true Minaya bulked up the Hispanic contingent of the team but there was a motivation beyond talent involved. The surrounding Corona neighborhood was (still mostly is) Hispanic and those were the people who filled out the unsold seats. Too, the Yankees had a stranglehold on that market up to that point city-wide, with Posada and Williams and Rodriguez and Rivera. He tried to slice a bit of that off.

          Can’t say I blame him. It’s a knowledgable and enthusiastic demographic.

  7. Jim Lynch says:

    Dr. Hook, the man who “sparked” (ha ha) the short inning specialist revolution, stated he believed managerial decision-making accounted for (at most) 10-12 games a year. All you stat junkies should stick that in your pipes and smoke it. The imponderables of the game will forever remain outside your cast iron deductions.

  8. [...] has been an interesting discussion in the comments about the value of Mariano Rivera to the Yankees.   On one level, I don’t [...]

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