Mariano Rivera is arguably, and most likely, the best closer in baseball history. So it is natural to wonder why he would struggle in games that have the score knotted up. Which means the game is still very much unsettled. Actually the odds state, it is much more unsettled then coming in with a lead. So the intensity is there, the pressure that every close game consists of IS there. So why has Rivera had “struggles” in these situations, but not in every other situation throughout his career as a “lights-out” reliever.
According to BaseballReference’s “Clutch Stats” category, Rivera has been great, relatively speaking, in every aspect of a game, except in a tie game. Now this has been explored by other bloggers/writers, so the topic is nothing new. But adding another failure in one of these situations makes it that much more intriguing to us as baseball enthusiasts, or whatever one wants to call us. Why can’t Mariano Rivera, whom I believe is the greatest closer of all time, succeed in a tie game? There must be something to it. And I think it is safe to believe that it could very well be psychological. We always hear about how closers have much more adrenaline running through their veins when they come in to protect a lead, rather than to “protect” a tie. And I don’t doubt that it is different. But it seems to me that a tie game should have much intensity to go along with it as well. Because if I am Mariano Rivera coming into a 2-2 game in the top of the ninth, with the home crowd going nuts in the Bronx, then I am feeling the intensity. I guess that I would have to experience the situation to know if what I just said had any definite accuracy, but I would think it would be pretty crazy in a tie game, knowing that every pitch is even closer to a loss than in a save situation.
But whatever the reason is, this I cannot get on the manager for…Whether it was Torre, or now Girardi. I cannot argue with going to Rivera in a tie ballgame. Even with the success of the Yankee bullpen this season, Rivera is still the best option in any situation if the teams needs outs (The bullpen is now 9th in ERA in the AL by the way, but it was having success for a while there). Anyway, there is no Joba Chamberlain out there now. Rivera is the best option, period. If Joba were out there, then they would be using him before Rivera, just as they did in Save situations. And I am not advocating that Joba should be there, making him a starter was the best move for the long run. But IF he was there, then they would go to him first.
In Rivera’s career, opponents have a line that looks like this during a tie game: .248/.318/.349. So from that we see that Rivera gives up more hits, and walks more batters. However, opponents still hit with almost no power. So it isn’t like Rivera has given up a bunch of homers when he arrives during a game that is “even” on the scoreboard. His control seems to disappear a little, but he still has 155 K’s in 152 innings, which is impressive. In 2008, Rivera has been terrible in the “tie game.” Thirteen appearences, an opponents OPS of .973, which is great, if one was the opponent. And he has been struggling the past few years in the same situation, not so much last season, but he struggled mightily in 2006. But Rivera has made 36 appearences in these situations from 2006-2008, which is roughly 36 innings I would imagine. The reason relievers can be so sporadic with their performances, is because of the small sample sizes. A 60-inning closer has less time to redeem himself if he struggles early, and so called “luck” comes into play more often in a small sample as well. However, that works both ways as a closer can start off great, and have that so called “luck” favor him more. But should Girardi cease to use Rivera in Save situations because of a 36 inning sample? Even though it isn’t as if he has some incredible set up man waiting out in the pen. Or should he say to himself, “Rivera has been capable enough in tie games during his career, and he is the best option I have in any situation the game presents.”
I am not denying that Rivera isn’t quite the pitcher when he comes in during a tie game, but I will backup using him in these situations with the current crop of relievers that the Yankees have. There are some having good seasons, but none of them are Mariano Rivera. So whatever the reason is that Rivera has been struggling, he is still the best option in a tie game, at least I believe. And the next time the Yankees are in this situation, I would go to him if needed, simply because he is the best option out there.