The Meaning of Mo

River Avenue Blues’ Mike Axisa undoubtedly channels the thoughts of countless Yankee fans when speaking of Mariano Rivera’s torn ACL:

I’ve been stuck in the fourth stage of The Five Stages of Grief since I went to bed last night. I denied it at first. “He’ll be fine, he was smiling as he was being carted off the field,” I said to myself. Then I was mad. “Why the hell is he shagging fly balls anyway? That’s so stupid and dangerous!” Then I bargained and that stage is always the ugliest because it makes you desperate. “I’ll do anything for him to be okay, please! . . . Ewww, anything?”

Now I’m just depressed. It can’t end like this. Rivera deserves better, but I know he’s a deeply religious man. This could be a sign that it’s time for him to move onto the next phase of his life. Who knows? I don’t and I don’t think Mo does yet. That’s the worst part, the not knowing. Not knowing what the injury was, not knowing how severe it was, not knowing if he’ll ever play again. Maybe I’ll accept it at some point and complete the five stages, but right now that seems impossible. We all know Rivera was going to leave us eventually, but he wasn’t supposed to be ripped away from us like this.

Rob Neyer of SB Nation thinks Rivera may yet return:

Of course, Rivera had sort of hinted this spring that this season would be his last  . . . But who’s to know he wouldn’t have changed his mind at some point? Or that his goal was to go out on top, having put together another brilliant season? I won’t believe that we’ve seen the last of Mariano Rivera until Mariano Rivera says, with some conviction, that he’s not interested in pitching again.

Rehabbing from knee surgery isn’t any fun. Maybe at 42, Rivera just won’t have the stomach for it. But he does still have the arm for it. And to anyone who believes that a 43-year-old can’t come back from a serious injury and pitch almost exactly like he pitched before, I offer just one contrary piece of evidence, because one is all I need . . .

Jamie Moyer.

Steven Goldman of the Pinstriped Bible explains why the Yankees won’t miss Mo too much:

Rivera’s participation has been dropping steadily. Even if you think the ninth inning is SUPEREXTRAVALUABLE compared to the rest of the game, Rivera gets a tiny portion of the Yankees’ outs each year, leaving the rest of the staff to retire more than 1350 innings’-worth of batters. Ask yourself this question: shouldn’t an organization, especially a good organization, be able to replace four percent of their total innings for a season? CC Sabathia goes down, you’re talking more than 15 percent. That’s a tall order. But four? And if the literal replacement won’t be pitching the ninth inning but in other spots theoretically less SUPEREXTRAVALUABLE?

We can take things a step further: Over the last five seasons, Rivera has made 322 appearances and pitched 329.2 innings, so basically, you’ve got a ratio of 1:1 there—one inning a shot. According to Baseball-Reference, 202 of those appearances, or 63 percent, have been of the high-leverage variety, which is to say that the game was truly at risk. They required a pitcher of Rivera’s talents. That means that 37 percent of his remaining appearances were of medium- or low-leverage. Less was at stake, and we could have expected most pitchers to perform adequately in those situations, getting three outs before three runs scored, or whatever the game required.

Parenthetically, that breakdown is not on Rivera, but on his manager. Using a pitcher to the saves rule means wasting the pitcher a good portion of the time. Think of that breakdown in terms of innings.  Rivera has been averaging 66 innings a season. Of those, 42 were worthy of his skills and 24 were not.

It’s About the Money’s William Tasker ostensibly agrees:

For the Yankees, in realistic terms, it means that the bullpen is one inning weaker. But also being realistic, the bullpen is the one area that can afford the hit. Even one inning weaker for the Yankee bullpen means a very strong unit out there. If push came to shove, Phil Hughes could easily make up that inning. Of course, we will have to debate the issue of sticking with Hughes in the rotation first. Much more pressing are the injuries to the outfield that have put the Yankees in a roster bind and have caused them to use far inferior players both defensively and offensively for the last week and for who knows how much longer.

Losing Mariano Rivera certainly bites. It bites as a fan and it bites for his lost inning of work. But of greater concern is the continued struggles of Mark Teixeira and Robinson Cano who cannot take up the slack of having to use inferior players when other regulars go down. There are continued concerns with the rotation, this current roster problem and the so-far, total absence of Cano doing what Cano usually does. But does Rivera’s injury and these other concerns bring panic? Of course not. This is a strong and talented team that will still win its share of games. . . .

Meanwhile, the Baseball Crank highlights the closer’s ridiculously impressive postseason accomplishments:

The Yankees played 156 postseason games between 1995 and 2011, just about a full season’s schedule of games. The postseason can be brutally unforgiving, as I noted when reviewing Billy Wagner’s career, and normally it’s a victory to play the same in October as you did all year. Rivera’s now-apparently-final line in a season’s worth of postseason work: 96 games, 141 innings (nobody’s thrown 140 innings in relief in a regular season since Mark Eichhorn in 1986), 8-1 record (Game Seven of the 2001 World Series being his only loss), 42 saves, 78 games finished, 0.70 ERA (0.83 even if you include unearned runs), only two home runs allowed (the famous Sandy Alomar homer that decided the 1997 ALDS and Jay Payton’s home run in the Mets’ furious but futile comeback in Game Two of the 2000 World Series, the only time in 96 postseason appearances that Rivera allowed more than one earned run – he allowed 2), allowing just 86 hits, 21 walks (4 of those intentional; Rivera’s 2 walks in the ill-fated Game Four of the 2004 ALCS was the only postseason appearance where he walked more than one batter), and striking out 110. Counting 3 hit batsmen, that’s 111 baserunners in 141 innings, only one more than his strikeout total. Rivera pitched 2 or more innings in a postseason game 33 times, allowing a run in only 4 of them; he pitched more than 1 inning 58 times. In the postseason, his opposing BABIP dropped to .219, his inherited runners scored dropped to 19%. He’d actually gotten better; his postseason ERA since 2006 was 0.31 in 24 appearances. Rivera was ice in October. We will never see the like of that again. And he did it with a huge workload: you throw 141 high-leverage innings with a 0.70 ERA in the regular season, you should and will win the MVP award.

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