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March 14, 2006

Looking Ahead to 2006 - Mariano Rivera
by SG

More than any other player on the Yankees since 1995, Mariano Rivera has been the face of the Yankees' recent success. Despite his advancing age, Rivera turned in perhaps his best season since 1996, setting a career best with an ERA+ of 323 and holding opposing hitters to a line of .177/.235/.230.

How dominant was Rivera?

He faced 306 batters, and allowed 9 extra base hits. After blowing his first two save opportunities of the year, he converted 31 straight opportunities, and put up the following line from April 9 through August 8.

42.2 IP
18 H
3 R
5 BB
47 K
31 saves
0.63 ERA

After the shaky start, Rivera cruised through the rest of the season, as you can from the season FIP/ERA chart below.

Despite being 35, Rivera had his highest K/9 since 2001, and allowed his fewest baserunners per inning ever at.868. Is it possible that Rivera is getting better as he ages?

This chart tracks Rivera's career ERA and FIP from 1995 through last season. This does a good job of illustrating again just how good Rivera was last year. I can't help that think that his increased usage of his 4-seamer and 2-seamer helped his effectiveness, but his cutter is still his bread and butter. Every time it seems that Mo is losing a bit, he seems to rebound with another strong season.

Rivera's performance last year was worth 57 pitching runs created, 30 runs over an average pitcher, which was better than anyone on the Yankee staff, despite only pitching 76 innings. So how does he project in 2006?

Rivera was so good last season, that even a modest falloff will be a downgrade. While I would never bet against Mo, the projections look more realistic than a repeat of last season, particularly given the historical aging patterns of relievers. That's still very good, it's just not as good as he was in 2005. Rivera's 2006 projects to be about a two win downgrade over 2005, but with better depth in the bullpen hopefully that can be picked up by some other arms.

Rivera is a pleasure to watch and root for. When he is on his game, no one seems to have a chance. Unfortunately, time waits for no man and at some point he will no longer be pitching for the Yankees. If you're a Yankee fan, enjoy every outing, and realize you're watching one of the most effective pitchers ever in terms of run prevention. Granted, relieving is much easier than starting, but few have ever done their job as well as consistently and for as long as Rivera has.

Spring Training Update
This just in! Jaret Wright still stinks. 3 innings, 11 hits, 8 runs, 1 BB, and 0 K is not the line you want to have if you are fighting for a spot in the rotation. The only other pitcher that pitched that is likely to make the roster out of camp was Ron Villone, who pitched 1 shutout inning.

Wright put the Yankees in a hole that they couldn't fight out of, despite the best efforts of Mitch Jones, who hit 2 HRs and drove in 3 runs as the Yankees fell to Pittsburgh, 9-8. Jones is too old and Ks too much to be considered much more than a AAAA player, and he's not on the 40 man roster, so he's a longshot to see any action in the Bronx this year. Eric Duncan went 2 for 2 with a HR too, and has acquitted himself well so far this spring, now hitting .409. I still think the smart move with Duncan is to start him at Trenton this season, with a mid-season promotion to Columbus if he is hitting well.

Bubba Crosby also homered, likely saving his spot on the roster to start the season.

Is anyone else a little bit worried about Jason Giambi missing so many spring games yet?

If that doesn't worry you, maybe the news that Johnny Damon has an aching shoulder will.

Johnny Damon has decided to shut down his throwing for a few days because of an aching left shoulder. After conferring with Brian Cashman on Sunday, the new Yankee center fielder decided it would be best not to play in the outfield for Team USA for the time being, although he is available to DH.

I'd love to blame this one on Bud Selig, but this seems like something that would have popped up no matter where Damon was playing, and it does not bode well for the next four seasons.