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Mark of New Jersey

Mark is a Founding Editor of The League of Ordinary Gentlemen, the predecessor of Ordinary Times.

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  1. Avatar Kazzy says:

    A cool moment, yes. But judging from my Facebook, you would have thought Rivera cured cancer. He was a baseball player. And barely that. A closer? A FRICKIN’ CLOSER?!?! Yes, the best closer ever… but that’s like being the best long snapper ever. The save is the worst stat in sports because it dictates how the games are played, and in a way that leads to suboptimal uses of players. ARGH!!!

    Someone on ESPN had the balls to pen a “Rivera is overrated” piece. And he was spot on. Rivera was undoubtedly phenomenal at what he did. But what he did simply wasn’t that hard in the grand scheme of baseball things.

    Kudos to the Yankees for doing it well. But let’s all take a step back, can we?Report

    • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Kazzy says:

      Rivera has a lifetime 56.6 WAR. making his career value to the Yankees roughly the same as Whitey Ford’s. I completely agree with you about closers in general and the save rule, but if you pitch 1200+ innings with an ERA of 2.21, you’ve done a lot to help your team win.

      There’s also the oddity that baseball statistics omit the postseason. Because of the Yankees’ success over the past 20 years and the ever-increasing bloatedness of the playoffs, Rivera got to pitch 141 postseason innings, and his ERA there was a ridiculous 0.70, with an insane WHIP of 0.759 (that is, in the average inning he pitched, there was only a three-quarter chance he’d put anyone on base), and this against the other best teams of that year.

      You can’t dismiss what Rivera accomplished. It was valuable, he was the best at it, and he got even better when it mattered most.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Mike Schilling says:

        There’s another way in which he affected games, which doesn’t show up in stats. Every team, particularly in the post season, knew that if they got into the 9th, or even late in the 8th, trailing the Yankees, the game was over. So they behaved in the 6th, 7th, and 8th innings more like they were in the 7th, 8th, and 9th innings against other teams. I don’t think I’ve seen another closer have that kind of effect on a game.

        Plus, he’s got a WHIP right at 1, which is the lowest since 1917 or something like that (I read it the other day, and can’t remember the exact year, but it was in the 10s).Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Mike Schilling says:

        I don’t disagree with any of that. But Jeter, Posada, and Pettite were all more valuable than him. And only Jeter is likely to get the same or similar treatment.

        Rivera handled himself admirably, though much of that was a function of his quiet demeanor. He simply avoided getting into trouble, which is enough to be considered a great guy in the current sports landscape. He did what he did phenomenally well and, as you said, was a great playoff performer, for whatever that is worth. He deserves to be recognized for his accomplishments… but he is not the best Yankee ever, the best pitcher ever, or even the best reliever ever. He excelled at a job that is reserved primarily for guys who couldn’t do a much tougher job well. Maybe Rivera would have been a great starter, but he wasn’t. And a great starter is far more valuable than a great closer. Even a good starter.

        So as great as Rivera was at closing out baseball games, I just can’t get behind an endless stream of Facebook tributes to a man who threw a baseball about 1000 times a year.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Mike Schilling says:

        The chart for career WHIP is here. The top 3 are:

        Addie Joss .9678 1902-1910
        Ed Walsh .9996 1904-1917
        Mariano Rivera 1.0003 1993-2013

        Pedro Martinez and Trevor Hoffman are also in the top 10.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Mike Schilling says:

        But WHIP is a stat that is skewed towards smaller sample sizes. That is the nature of rate stats. Not only because it is easier to put up an extreme number in a smaller sample size, but also because Rivera only had to pitch one inning most nights. That meant he could dial it up in a way that a starter couldn’t, because he had to pace himself over 6 or 7 innings.

        While hypotheticals are just that, couldn’t we assume that Pedro or Randy Johnson or Roger Clemens or Bob Gibson or Sandy Koufax could have put up even greater numbers if they were told to go out and pitch one inning 3 times a week?Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Mike Schilling says:

        Posada’s lifetime WAR is 42.7, so by that measure Rivera was worth more. Pettite’s is 60.5, which is slightly more than Rivera, and Jeter at 71.6 is far higher. (Jeter’s offensive WAR is 94.1, which shows how much they gave up playing him at shortstop. Also what a joke the Gold Glove is.)

        Going by WAR, Rivera was the second-best reliever ever, after Eck. Jeter is the tenth-best shortstop, and you know what the accolades will be like when he retires.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Mike Schilling says:

        John Smoltz is probably a good comparison. He went from a good-to-great starter to a good-to-great reliever.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Mike Schilling says:

        1200 innings isn’t a small sample size.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Mike Schilling says:

        I believe he meant small as in each sample, whereas the 1200 is a sampling distribution.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Mike Schilling says:

        I assume you are using bWAR, which last I checked acknowledged they didn’t really know how to account for catcher defense, meaning catcher’s numbers are inherently skewed downward.

        1200 innings amounts to about 5-7 seasons for a starter. Take Pedro’s 1997-2002 seasons and you find he threw 1221 innings with a 2.20 ERA, .925 WHIP, and 1555+K. He also accumulated a WAR of 49.2. With the exception of WAR, those are all superior to Rivera. And he did that throwing 6, 7, or 8 innings at a time, turning lineups over multiple times, employing 3 or more pitches.

        Smoltz’s numbers as a reliever were significantly better than as a starter. 3.40 ERA vs 2.41; 1.192 WHIP vs .976; 2.92 K/BB vs 5.60; 7.9 K/9 vs 9.6. And all his relief work came between the ages of 34-37, well past his prime.Report

      • I’ve got no problem with the idea that Jeter was more important to the Yankees over the years than Rivera, but there’s no way that Pettitte should rank above him. Pettitte’s career ERA is 3.86*, in about 3 times as many innings as Mo. If Mo put up all of his numbers (including post-season numbers) as a starter – his innings are roughly the equivalent of 6 years as a modern starter – he’d have numbers remarkably similar to Sandy Koufax at his 1961-1965 peak, who had a WHIP of .97 and and ERA of 2.19 during that period, albeit in about 200 more innings.**

        With that in mind, a really good way of thinking about this is whether you’d rather have peak Sandy Koufax for the equivalent of six years or 18 years (technically, only 15 with the Yankees) of steady and good, but far from outstanding Andy Pettitte. To me, that’s a no brainer- I’ll take 6 years of Koufax over 18 years of Pettitte every time. And if I can make it so that those six years of Koufax are somewhat strategically stretched out so that I can use him for 18 years as long as I limit his availability to critical games or parts of the game….well, so much the better.

        *I’m of the opinion that the win statistic is no more or less valuable than the save statistic.
        **I didn’t realize until today just how unremarkable Koufax was before his peak.Report

      • Also, it’s worth mentioning that while closers generally don’t have to pace themselves within games, it’s not exactly easy for a closer to remain consistently good for an extended period of time. Thinking of the closers that were in any way dominant over the last 30 years or so, almost all of them had remarkably short peaks before fading into Bolivian – the only exceptions I can think of were Hoffman, Eckersley, Lee Smith, Billy Wagner, and maybe John Franco (who was really quite inconsistent).

        Also, lest we forget: Mo put up most of his numbers during the height of the steroid era, and in the American League, which has to count for something.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Mike Schilling says:

        But Mark, Rivera wouldn’t put up those numbers as a starter. He had only two pitches. You can’t turn over a lineup 3 or 4 times with two pitches. Numbers inflate when guys move from reliever to starter. If they didn’t, then why wasn’t Mo turned into a Cy Young caliber starter? Why didn’t they trot him out for 200 innings of 2.20 ERA instead of just 80?Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Mike Schilling says:

        Mark,

        To your last point, I would contend that the unreliability of relievers is directly related to the general lower quality of pitcher who ends up there. Most teams put failed starters in the bullpen. That they get even 3 or 4 productive years out of those guys is remarkable, considering they were likely to get zero out of them as starters. There are exceptions, including those you name, who are no doubt good pitchers. I don’t doubt that Rivera could have been a good starter. But he wouldn’t have been a 2.20 ERA sort of starter. As I point out above, Smoltz’s ERA was a full run lower as a reliever, and that was in his mid-to-late 30’s. If Rivera put up 15 years of 3.20 ERA baseball, he would no doubt be a top notch pitcher. But no one would be using the word “greatest” with him.

        Rivera is the greatest closer of all time. But closing is a subset of pitching. And one likely easier than the primary subset (starting) and arguably no more difficult than other forms of relief work given modern usage patterns.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Mike Schilling says:

        almost all of them had remarkably short peaks before fading into Bolivian

        Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid had that same issue.Report

      • If Rivera put up 15 years of 3.20 ERA baseball, he would no doubt be a top notch pitcher. But no one would be using the word “greatest” with him.

        If he put up 15 years of 3.20 baseball in the American League in the middle of the steroid era, he obviously would not be considered the greatest of all time, but he’d still be a surefire Hall of Famer; if he did it with the Yankees, he’d probably be just as, or almost as, celebrated as he is now, since doing anything great with the Yankees automatically gets you all sorts of attention.

        Hell, Roger Clemens’ career ERA while pitching in the American League was 3.19 and until it became clear he was using PEDs himself, he actually was considered one of the greatest pitchers of all time.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Mike Schilling says:

        But that’s a big if, isn’t it?

        The best stats we have to go on are the new-fangled ones, unfortunately.

        bWAR puts Rivera as the 70th most valuable pitcher over the length of a career and the 209th most valuable player. On the former list, he is sandwiched by Eppa Rixey and Jack Powell. On the latter, he’s between Bob Johnson and Tim Hudson.

        Only twice did he rate as a top 10 pitcher in the league and never as a top 10 player. Because it is really, really hard to be that valuable when you only pitch 70-80 innings during the regular season, many of which are low leverage.

        And that’s with bWAR. I believe fWAR is considerably less favorable to him, pegging him in the 40’s. But I’m not as familiar with their methodology.Report

      • To your last point, I would contend that the unreliability of relievers is directly related to the general lower quality of pitcher who ends up there.

        In part, quite likely. But I think that’s far from the only factor. Also important is that closers often don’t get any recovery time in between appearances, so while they’re throwing fewer pitches overall, they’re putting stress on their arms far more frequently, and of course each of their pitches puts more stress on their arms than any one pitch from a starter since they’re putting everything they’ve got into every single pitch. In other words, they have to deal with a somewhat different type of physical stress than do starters, even if they have less of the type of physical stress that starters have to survive.

        Additionally, the mental fortitude needed to close is quite remarkable – not a lot of people have the ability to make a mistake that immediately and single-handedly costs your team the game (much less the season) and then come back the next night or the next season just as strong. The list of closers who fell apart after a blown save in a big game or never got their form back after a series of blown saves is well-known.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Mike Schilling says:

        Mark,

        Those are good points. But, in my opinion, they get too into the nitty gritty. And are really hard to measure.

        Should we credit Mo because he dominated with a relatively low-effort pitch? Or does that count against him because most relievers used high-effort pitches by comparison?

        Again, I’m not saying the guy shouldn’t be celebrated. Part of his lore is that he pitched on 4 WS teams, which hasn’t yet been mentioned. Just how crucial he was to those teams… or how many WS they would have one with Hoffman instead of Mo… is really hard to say. But, if you’re looking at narrative, he no doubt has a great one. I just don’t know that it is fully backed up by the stats.Report

      • For what it’s worth, if we’re using bWAR as our metric, then Mo still comes out ahead of Pettitte in terms of value to the Yankees specifically since you’d need to then subtract Pettite’s years with the Astros.

        As I’ve said before, though, I’m really suspicious of the use of WAR as a be all, end all statistical metric. It’s a useful statistic, yes, but it shouldn’t be the only thing we look at.

        And that’s before we get into the question of how much the post-season should get weighed in all of this, which gets ignored with these statistics but which is also an area where Rivera was at his most visible, and in fact ranks 7th all time in innings pitched, first all time in ERA (and it’s not even really close)*, and third all time in WHIP.

        * Of the top 10 in playoff ERA, only Christy Mathewson has even half as many innings pitched. Yes, this is skewed because of the expanded playoffs nowadays, but because of the stakes involved, a game in the divisional series is no less valuable to a team than a win in the World Series since you inherently need each and every one of those earlier wins to have a chance to get the later wins.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Mike Schilling says:

        Mark,

        I don’t put extra stock into post-season stats because I’m not particularly moved by the idea of “clutch”. We should include Mo’s post-season stats when looking at totals, but I don’t give them extra bonus points. If I did, it’d only be because the competition was better. So if we want to look at Mo as a guy who threw 1400 innings instead of 1200, I’m okay with that. But I’m not going to say he threw 1200 regular innings and 170 magical innings. It just gets too impossible to calibrate for. If Mo spent his entire career pitching for the Royals, he likely never plays in the post-season. Does that make him a worse pitcher? I wouldn’t think so.

        I like WAR because it attempts to account for context. Counting stats can’t do that and rate stats, while better, don’t account for sample sizes, which are skewed with relievers. That is why I tried to use other stats in conjunction with WAR.

        Let me ask this: Do you think Rivera was better than the 70th best pitcher ever? If so, where would you rank him? Top 50? 25? 10?Report

      • But, in my opinion, they get too into the nitty gritty. And are really hard to measure.

        They’re certainly really hard to measure, but so much of the fun of sports is and always will be the stuff that can’t get measured well and the debates that follow from that inability.Report

      • Let me ask this: Do you think Rivera was better than the 70th best pitcher ever? If so, where would you rank him? Top 50? 25? 10?

        Top 50 for certain. Maybe Top 25. Definitely not Top 10.

        I will say that this does help show the limitations of WAR, though – if we’re going strictly by WAR, then Kevin Brown and Rick Reuschel(!) are two of the top 35 pitchers of all time, ahead of Jim Palmer and Carl Hubbell, and should be clear Hall of Famers. Yet virtually no one is pushing for their inclusion in the Hall. Beyond those two, the career WAR list is heavily representative of players from before 1900, at least one of whom is not in the HoF, and I’d argue that era, when you had way fewer people overall playing the game and the top levels were more semi-pro than pro, is definitely over-represented.

        Either way, I’d definitely rank Mariano ahead of Brown and Reuschel, and probably ahead of Mike Mussina. If we just look at pitchers from 1900 on, I don’t think it would be at all hard to find a place for him in the top 25.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Mike Schilling says:

        Well, WAR doesn’t really try to determine “best” but “most valuable”.

        And I think Kevin Brown shows the power of narrative.

        Brown had 5 top-6 Cy Young finishes. And that was back when they only voted for three guys, meaning he was getting some top 3 love from people. He has a career ERA+ of 127, with 6 seasons above 150 and only one season of >100IP below 100. He twice led the league in ERA, twice in WHIP, once in ERA+, and once in IP. He has 200 Ws (bleh!) and 2000+ strikeouts.

        Problem is, he signed a monster deal AND, separate from that, famously flamed out with the Yankees. So how he’s remembered versus how he pitched are different. There was a time where he, Pedro, and RJ were the big three of pitching (largely because the Braves guys were ignored because they were decidedly unflashy). Now, I wouldn’t put KB on RJ or Pedro’s level, but he was very good and durable for the majority of his career. A Hall of Famer? For me… yea, probably. I don’t really believe in the smell test because it is far too subjective and far too reliant on the media, who has their favorites and their foes and mostly suck anyway.

        If we want to talk about pure talent, I would be comfortable saying Mo had one of the single best pitches ever (conceding I’m only 30 so I never saw a bunch of these guys). But as a two pitch pitcher, I can’t put him ahead of people with 3 or 4 pitches, guys who could turn over lineups with consistent results for years. Maybe he would have turned into a great starter if given the chance, but we’ll never know.

        Also, I don’t even try to use WAR with any of the pre-war (RdRR) guys. I just don’t think it can properly account for the vast disparity in the talent pool back then. But I think it is useful from probably the 30’s onward, with an obvious understanding of how segregation impacted things.

        So, depending on how we count the pre-war and pre-integration guys, I’m not sure exactly where I’d put Mo.

        But I wouldn’t take him over any of the pre-eminent starters of the past 2 or 3 decades. And probably not over most of the next tier of guys either.Report

      • Brown had 5 top-6 Cy Young finishes.

        For what it’s worth, this is also true of Rivera, who additionally has a couple of top 10 MVP vote years, unlike Brown. Also unlike Brown, he had four years where he was actually in the top 3 for Cy Young voting. Brown only had two such years.

        The other thing about Brown is that he was fairly inconsistent – when he had a good year, he was fantastic, and you’ll get no argument from me. But he also had a number of years where he was decidedly mediocre, with an ERA over 4 and a WHIP over 1.4. I’d definitely put Mo ahead of him. And don’t get me started on comparing Mo with Rick Reuschel, who was a decent pitcher but who understandably got only 2 HoF votes in his only year of eligibility, 16 fewer than Rusty fishin’ Staub.

        And I get what you’re saying about “best” versus “most valuable,” but I reject that value can be quantified by a single statistic or even a compilation of a handful of statistics. Having someone with both the physical tools and the mental fortitude to be ready to pitch at his best at a moment’s notice every single day in a do or die situation for the team is a rare luxury, even if the save statistic is an overrated way of trying to quantify this. And regardless, it is surely the case that a win in the post-season is inherently more valuable to a team than a win in the regular season, even if it’s not possible or even necessarily fair to attempt to quantify this additional value.

        Greatness and value are, in my mind, inherently subjective no matter how much we attempt to quantify them. Statistics can help us measure things that we’ve already defined as measures of value, but they ultimately have limits in telling us what is and is not an adequate measure of value – there’s always going to be a certain level of subjectivity involved in deciding what is and is not a contributor of value, and even if there isn’t, the fact is that there will always be some things contributors to value that just can’t be measured at all.

        I get that you’re not particularly moved by the idea of “clutch,” but it’s difficult to ignore that mental fortitude is a very real element of the game and one that provides ample value to a team. For an extreme example, Rick Ankiel wasn’t cover-your-eyes bad in the 2000 playoffs because he just had a few statistically anomalous bad days; his problem was that he cracked under the pressure of the playoffs. Conversely, Rivera’s 141 unbelievable innings are a sufficiently large sample size that it’s tough to say that his better performance in the postseason was a statistical anomaly.

        Yet that collapse doesn’t factor at all into Ankiel’s WAR for 2000, much less get weighed more heavily because it occurred in the playoffs. WAR assumes that all games are created equal, with no one game having more value than any other game, except for playoff wins, which don’t count at all.

        One last thing worth mentioning – as far as I can tell, if playoff games just counted the same as a regular season game, Rivera’s career bWAR would increase to about 64 or so (since about 12% of his innings were in the postseason and his numbers were so unbelievable in the postseason), putting him roughly on the same level as Bob Feller (who only pitched in 2 postseason games and thus would not see a significant change in his bWAR).Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Mike Schilling says:

        Though Feller lost almost four of his best years to WWII. If those years had been as strong as the surrounding ones, add roughly another 30 WAR to his total. (Or maybe he burns his arm out in mid-’43. Who knows?)Report

      • Good point, though I think that again points to the weaknesses of WAR as anything more than a statistic worth considering rather than as something that should be given top priority in evaluating a player’s credentials.Report

  2. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    I think it was George Will who wrote that to become a pitcher for a major league baseball team in the modern era is to step out in front of a crowd of tens of thousands of people and voluntarily dislocate your own shoulder every time you play. Rivera did that over a thousand times in eighteen years. That alone is worth a degree of recognition. That he did so with such an impact and casting such an impressive shadow is ample justification for the Supermariano lovefest.

    Rivera kept hundreds of W’s from becoming L’s. The nature of his work is such that we can never really know how many, but there’s lots of metrics to try. 652 saves in just under 1,100 attempts?* A career WHIP of 1.000, sustained over eighteen years? Come on son, that’s damn impressive! Go back on out there and tip your hat to the crowd.

    Kazzy said above, “Jeter, Posada, and Pettite were all more valuable than him.” As phrased, I think I agree with that: if we’re talking about Jeter, Posada and Pettite, the three of them put together contributed more to the Yankees’ enduring success than did Rivera on his own. Compare that wording to the proposition “Any one of Jeter, Posada, or Pettite were more valuable than him.” I’m not so eager to agree with that. Are you?

    * Baseball Reference shows 1,115 career games, of which 19 were in 1995 when the Yankees thought he might be starter material. I’m not counting those 19 because his niche was as a closer so when we look at 17 years of closing games for NYY, the numbers are just a bit different.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Burt Likko says:

      @burt-likko

      “Rivera kept hundreds of W’s from becoming L’s.”

      Is that really true?

      “Teams leading by one run after eight innings have gone on to win 85.7 percent of the time. That number goes up to 93.7 percent when leading by two runs, and 97.5 percent when leading by three runs.

      Mull that over, and then please tell me why Rivera is so amazing for having an 89.1 percent career save rate (which, by the way, is lower than Joe Nathan’s). Because, basically, Rivera was not used except in games the Yankees were going to win 88 percent of the time anyway. Actually, the percentages were usually higher than that. According to Elias, of Rivera’s 652 career saves, just under a third (210) were with a one-run lead when he took the mound while 216 were with a two-run lead, 180 with a three-run lead and 46 with a lead of at least four runs.”

      So if you are comparing Rivera to having the mascot go out there and throw the ball? Sure… he kept hundreds of Ws from becoming Ls. But if the Yankees trotted out an average closer each year, it is probably in the 30s. Using Baseball-Reference’s replacement level, he turned 56.6 games from becoming loses. And that is replacement level, which I believe is calculated to be 80% of average or what you would typically expect to find by promoting a typical prospect.

      This is where narrative can get in the way. By no objective measure can you point to Mariano Rivera keeping hundreds of wins from becoming losses. But because of A) the terrible save stat and B) the sanctification of the Sandman, you get otherwise very intelligent people like Burt talking like Joe Morgan.Report

      • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to Kazzy says:

        For what it’s worth I don’t necessarily disagree with anything in Caple’s piece- he even points out the shortcomings of WAR, even if he’s coming at it from a somewhat different perspective, although his statistic suggesting that Rivera got 89 percent when his team would be expected to get 88 percent seems slightly off- from what I’ve been able to gather, an apples to apples comparison would put Rivera at 95 percent (the percentage of games the Yankees won when he made an appearance), or 7 percent above what would be expected.

        Other than that, I fully agree that Jeter specifically was more important to the Yankees than Rivera- even significantly more so. I just wouldn’t go so far as to say that’s also true of Pettite. Regardless, Caple also makes clear that Rivera is a deserving Hall of Famer even if he’s not amongst the handful of top pitchers of all-time, which is pretty much where I am at.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

        Rivera will probably serve as my first (in what I hope to be a series) of “Will he or won’t he, should he or shouldn’t he be a Hall of Famer” posts (a fantastic series from the now-defunct BR blog).

        I think he gets in. I’m unsure of if he should. But I’ll flesh it out more there… probably in the off-season.

        As for the 89%/95% discrepancy, I think Caple is only looking at save situations. Rivera also pitched in games that were non-save situations, either because the game was tied, the Yankees were trailing, or they were up big. I’m not sure how to factor those games in.

        Which ultimately gets at the heart of determining value. If Rivera pitches a perfect 9th in a 2-1 ball game, there is undeniable value to that. But is it really any more valuable than Boone Logan pitching a perfect 8th in that same 2-1 game? Perhaps slightly so from a purely objective standpoint, but not as much as traditional stats or the broader narrative suggests.

        WPA is an interesting stat that would better capture exactly what Rivera added to his team. However, it does not account for broader context, e.g., Rivera getting the opportunity to pitch in the 9th while Logan is relegated to the 8th -OR- pitcher A getting more save opportunities than pitcher B because the former’s team played more tight games.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

        For those who don’t know it, WPA (Winning Percentage Added) looks at a teams chances of winning a game before a player’s contributions and after, determines the difference, and sums this to determine how much he improved or lessened his team’s odds of winnings. They use historical records that are specific to game, score, and base-out combination. As I understand, they do not account for the run scoring of the era.

        So, if Rivera comes into a game in the 9th inning with the bases empty and no outs, teams might win in that scenario 92% of the time historically (all numbers made up). If Rivera closes out the game and the Yankees win, regardless of what happens during the course of the inning, he’ll be credited with a WPA of .08. When he came into the game, the Yanks had a 92% chance of winning. When he left the game (because it was over), they had 100% chance of winning, because they had won.

        Now, if he blew the lead and finished out the 9th with the score tied 3-3, now we head to extra innings which is essentially a 50-50 proposition. In that scenario, he is credited with a WPA of -.42. The Yanks went from 92% likely to win to 50% likely.

        Add all that up for all the games and you get a player’s WPA. It’s not perfect. It can’t account for defense. It can’t account for luck. But it’s neat and nifty and interesting. And 1 full point of WPA roughly equates to adding a win to your team’s ledger.

        FWIW, Rivera has a WPA of 56.60, which is strangely in line with his bWAR (which is not typically the case). This puts him third all time among pitchers and he was top 10 more or less every season of his career.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Kazzy says:

        For Rivera to be as overrated as Jeter, he would have to have won five Silver Sluggers.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

        Jeter’s defense was overrated, no doubt. Though he did actually improve on that later in his career. But Jeter remains an all-time great in a way that Rivera simply isn’t, when you look at overall contributions to the team.Report

      • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to Kazzy says:

        I don’t think the discrepancy is that Caple’s looking only at save stats since the overwhelming majority of Riveras appearances were in save situations (in order to have a 95 percent overall and an 89 percent save situations, more than half of his appearances would need to be non save situations and he’d need to have 100 percent win rate in those non save situations). I think the discrepancy is that Caple is comparing expected win percentage with Rivera’s save percentage, which ignores that the Yankees still would have had a 50-50 chance of winning in many/most blown saves, so it’s something of an apples to oranges comparison.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

        Can you show the math on where you are getting your 95% number from? I’m not quite following.Report

      • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to Kazzy says:

        I got it from this Jayson Stark column (item 21):

        http://espn.go.com/mlb/story/_/id/9717908/a-21-stat-salute-mariano-rivera

        Either way, though, it looks pretty clear that Caple is comparing save percentage to expected win percentage, which is a bit apples to oranges.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Kazzy says:

        Jeter’s value is very comparable to Alan Trammel’s. But

        1. Jeter’s value is almost entirely in offense.
        2. Jeter won five championships to Trammel’s one.
        3. Jeter was a Yankee, not a Tiger.

        So Jeter will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer, and Trammel may never get there.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

        @mark-thompson ,

        That article references Rivera taking over 914 leads for the Yankees. He has 652 career saves. He has 80 blown saves. That is 732 save situations. That means there are 182 games in which he assumed a lead in a non-save situation. A number of these came during the 1995 season, when he was the setup man for Wetteland. But he only appear in 61 games, which means we have at least 121 games unaccounted for.

        That includes games in which he presumably came in with a lead of 4 runs or more, probably in the 8th or 9th inning.

        So, I don’t know that your comparison is really any better.

        I think Caple’s numbers are the better ones. But I’d need to do a bit more crunching.

        Regardless, nothing gets us to Burt’s initial statement of “hundreds of wins”. Again, unless you are comparing Rivera to not having a pitcher at all.

        @mike-schilling

        Trammel is criminally underrated. He and his double-play partner, Lou Whitaker, both deserve enshrinement. Their exclusion is a black mark on the voters.Report

      • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to Kazzy says:

        Oh, I agree there’s no way we can say he earned the Yankees hundreds of additional wins they wouldn’t have gotten with an average closer. I just think that it’s wrong to suggest he only benefitted his team one percent more than the average closer, which you only get if you do an apples to oranges comparison. If the Yankees wound up winning half of the games where he blew a save, that would put him around 94.5 percent, or a full six and a half percent better than the average cited by Caple (IOW, the Yankees about 50 percent less likely to lose with Rivera on the mound than they would be with an average closer). Even if they only wound up winning a quarter of the games where he blew a save, you still wind up around 92 percent, meaning the Yankees were 33 percent less likely to lose with him on the mound than with an average closer on the mound.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

        I’m still not sure that’s right, Mark. Wouldn’t we need to know the winning percentage of the typical team/closer after a blown save? I don’t see that cited anywhere, unless I missed it. And how much of that is related to the closer? If the Yankees end up winning all of Rivera’s blown saves, how do we credit him for that? Because he didn’t put them too deeply in a hole? I’m not sure how to derive value from what a team does after a player screws up.

        You’ve lost me. If this is on me, I apologize for being daft.

        The Yankees won 95% of games in which Rivera got a lead. How does that compare to the average closer?
        Rivera has converted 89% of his saves. The average is 85%. When accounting for the types of saves, Rivera only converts saves at a slightly better rate than average.

        Tell me what I’m missing.Report

      • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to Kazzy says:

        Ultimately, I’ve got no problem with holding relievers to a higher standard than they’ve been held by Cooperstown thus far – at minimum, Sutter and Gossage probably don’t belong – but if Rivera doesn’t belong, then you’re essentially saying no reliever -ever- should be HoF worthy.Report

      • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to Kazzy says:

        Kazzy – as I read Caple, his 88% figure that he was citing is the likelihood of an average team winning in save situations, so that would include the likelihood of the team winning despite a blown save, yet the 89% statistic for Rivera is his save conversion statistic, which does not include that likelihood. If, as you say, the average closer converts 85% of his saves, then we wind up with a calculation that teams win about a quarter of the games where their closer blows a save.

        Regardless, an apples to apples comparison of the 85 percent versus Rivera’s 89.1 percent does not result in a suggestion that he is only a slightly better closer than average- that would be like saying that a player with a .980 fielding percentage is only a slightly better fielder than a player with a .940 fielding percentage.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

        @mark-thompson

        You are right. I misread. We’d need to know typical closer conversion rates (I’d exclude MRs who often blow saves but rarely get credited with them).

        And I might be saying that relievers don’t belong. Eck is a unique case because he also started and he predated the modern 3-out closer role.

        For me, Rivera would be the test case. The inclusion of the other guys makes him a shoe in and hard to justify exclusion. But I also don’t know that we need to feel bound endlessly by past mistakes (I’m looking at you, Jim Rice).Report

  3. Avatar J@m3z Aitch says:

    I’m no baseball stat guy, but as a Tigers fan, I’m inclined to believe relievers are pretty goddam important. Schilling knows what I mean.Report

  4. Avatar Mike H Rice says:

    Those grapes sure are shower, Mark.

    It must be tough for you to live in the heart of Yankee country.Report

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