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Mariano Rivera’s back-to-back blown saves

Posted by Andy on April 25, 2011

Yesterday, Mariano Rivera blew a save in his second straight appearance. That was the 8th time in his career that he's done that. Here were the first 7:

1 2007-04-15 2007-04-20 2 0 2 0 0 0 2 0 1.1 5 5 5 1 1 1 33.75 0 0 0 NYY
2 2005-04-05 2005-04-06 2 1 1 0 0 0 1 0 1.2 5 6 2 3 3 1 10.80 0 0 0 NYY
3 2004-07-24 2004-07-26 2 1 1 0 0 0 2 0 2.2 6 5 5 0 2 1 16.88 0 0 0 NYY
4 2003-08-03 2003-08-06 2 0 2 0 0 0 2 0 1.1 3 3 2 2 1 0 13.50 0 0 0 NYY
5 2002-07-12 2002-07-14 2 0 1 0 0 0 1 0 2.0 6 6 6 3 2 1 27.00 0 0 0 NYY
6 1997-08-21 1997-08-23 2 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 3.0 7 2 2 4 3 1 6.00 0 1 0 NYY
7 1997-04-08 1997-04-11 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 3.0 7 2 2 0 1 1 6.00 0 1 0 NYY
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 4/24/2011.

Going back to 1997, Rivera's appeared in 908 games. He has 68 blown saves. (These numbers don't count yesterday's game.)

I can't figure out whether 8 back-to-back blown saves is about the expected number given his total number of appearances and blown saves. My gut feeling is that Rivera's poor performances tend to come in clusters and are not even close to randomly distributed through his career, but I can't seem to figure out how to go about figuring this out...who can help?

35 Responses to “Mariano Rivera’s back-to-back blown saves”

  1. iftheshoe_fits Says:

    If you're going to do this analysis, you may also want to look for a correlation between an increased frequency of appearnces, and his consecutive blown saves. My memory is shot, but something tells me it always happens when his usage has increased over a period of 7-10 days.

  2. Dvd Avins Says:

    The probability that any given game would be a blwon save that was immediately precede by another blown save would be 68 squared divided by 908 squared. (Actually, because this is a sampling withOUT replacement problem, the absolutely correct answer would be very close to that, but not exactly that.) The nuber of times it should have happened is that number times 908, or more simply, 68 squared divided by 908 (not squared). That's just over 5. 7's not too far off.

  3. jr Says:

    Here is the simple analysis, Girardi is a moron. Rivera has pitched in 11 of the teams first 18 games. That is unnecessary for a 41 year old reliever.

  4. Tmckelv Says:

    With the Red Sox streaking, Mariano's over-use will only get worse. I know he has been somewhat rested (with all of the off-days/rainouts), but there is never a reason to bring him in in the 8th in April.That would not have happened if the Red Sox were not within 4 games of the Yanks.

  5. Norman Morrow Says:

    Where's the yankees boxscore from yesterday?

  6. Jon Says:

    How about them Rangers!

  7. statboy Says:

    He didn't pitch from April 20-23. Why would they save him? Girardi obviously managed Mo in 2009 and 2010 too, and he pitched great in each of those post-seasons. So, he must be doing something right.

    Mo still looks like the Mo of old. Sometimes you just have to credit the hitters.

  8. TapDancingTeddy Says:

    Andy, I agree with your guess that Mariano's blown saves come in clusters. It's my experience as a fan that says Mariano's command will be off for short periods each year and during those periods he will blow a few saves.

    Of course the whole point of statistical analysis is to prove or disprove subjective "fan experience." In this case, I'm not sure how to numerically prove/disprove the case.

    What I think could help is filtering to get all Mariano's blown saves and graphing the distribution over the number of days in the season. The graph would show whether there was any clustering.

  9. eorns Says:

    According to PI, since 1997, Mo has had 64 blown saves in 625 save opportunities. So, roughly, if he blows a save around 10% of the time, he'll blow two in a row around 0.10*0.10 = .01 = 1% of the time, or 1 in 100 tries. So expected consecutive BS's would be in the neighborhood of 6. Some sort of binomial distribution may be more precise but I think this is roughly correct.

  10. Mike S. Says:

    He didn't pitch since Tuesday (the prior blown save). They had an off day Thurs., rain-out Friday and won in a blow out Sunday. Not only that, Soriano was unavailable due to a bad back, hence Mo for what was to be a four-out save. Why not use him? Give Baltimore credit. Jones got a 10-pitch leadoff walk in the 9th (some think Mo was squeezed). Rivera got the next two on strikeouts but it took 14 more pitches for the two strikeouts. They made him work. They fouled off a bunch of two-strike pitches. Then the next two guys got hits. Those were some long ABs there. Give the O's credit for extended ABs.

  11. Mike S. Says:

    @4: See what i wrote above. What you wrote was ridiculous.

  12. Mike S. Says:

    i meant won in blowout Saturday (sorry). ... and of course, he didn't pitch in the game they had last Wed.

  13. John Autin Says:

    Holy schnike! A guy gives up a couple of hits and a run, and it's automatically because of overuse? -- even though he had 4 full days of rest?

    Girardi's not supposed to use his best reliever, well rested, with the tying run on 3rd base with 2 out in the 8th?

    Rivera faced 6 batters. He threw 33 pitches spread over 2 innings.

    So he's pitched 11 times in 18 games -- but those 18 games have been spread over 26 days. This is the first time he's gotten more than 3 outs. In his first 9 games combined, he threw a grand total of 100 pitches. Then he had a 25-pitch game, followed by 4 days of rest.

    I cannot comprehend anyone who would call that overuse. It strikes me as a knee-jerk reaction.

    Sometimes, a guy just has a bad couple of games -- even a guy as great as Mo.

  14. Ed Says:

    Here's the interesting thing about Rivera's career. In 1997, his year as a closer, he blew 3 of his first 6 save opportunities. How many managers, at that point, would have decided that Rivera didn't have "closer mentality" and would have moved him back to a middle relief role??? Torre may not have been a great manager but he deserves credit for sticking with Rivera through his early struggles, something a lot of other managers wouldn't have done.

  15. John Autin Says:

    Andy, on the question of clusters:

    My utterly anecdotal sense agrees with you. But that might be just by virtue of defining a bad game as a blown save.

    If we define a bad game by the number of baserunners allowed, I don't see any sign of streakiness, per se.

    In his closer years (1997-present, regular season only):

    -- Rivera has never had consecutive appearances allowing at least 4 baserunners</. Ponder that one for a moment.

    -- Only twice has he had 2 games of 4+ baserunners within a 7-day span -- and the last time was in 2000.

    What if we define a bad game as any game in which he allows an earned run? His longest such streak (as a closer) is 3 games, done 3 times -- Sept. 2010, August 2007 and August 2003. He's had 21 other "streaks" of 2 games allowing at least 1 ER. (Just for laughs ... Mo has had 22 streaks of at least 10 games in which he did not allow an ER.)

  16. Dave Says:

    regarding bad performances in clusters I remembered Rivera having a particularly rough start one year...doing some quick checking it was 2007 and in April he had a stretch of 3 bad outings in 4 appearances, 1.2 innings, 9 earned runs...throw out these 3 outings and he had a typical Rivera year...69.2 innings, 16 earned runs, 2.06 ERA...but those 3 outings made his year end ERA over 3.10.

  17. Dave Says:

    @14, just saw your post similar to mine at #16.

  18. Dave Says:

    Sorry, on crack said 97, I reference 07, d'oh.

  19. John Autin Says:

    @14 -- I'm sure Torre made plenty of gutsy calls, but I can't see sticking with Mariano in early '97 as one of them.

    -- Mo was superb as a setup guy in '96, placing 3rd in the CYA vote. In that postseason, he allowed 1 run in 13.2 IP.

    -- They let Wetteland go free agent after that season, having decided that Mo was their guy. They didn't have anyone else with "closing" experience, except Mike Stanton, who'd been lousy in his only year in that role ('93 Braves).

    I would put it the other way 'round: Any manager who bailed on his first-time closer in that situation, with that track record, after just 3 blown saves in the first 2 weeks of the year, would be a numbskull. (Not that there aren't some of those running MLB teams....)

  20. Brendan Burke Says:

    Mo also had back-to-back blown saves in the postseason once, in the 2004 ALCS (games 4 and 5.)

  21. Robert Kimball Says:

    Maybe someone already mentioned it, but didn't Rivera blow saves in Games 4 and 5 of the 2004 ALCS at Fenway?

  22. John Autin Says:

    Yeah, 2004 ALCS game 5 ... I love how it counts as a "blown save" when they bring in Rivera with a 1-run lead, runners on the corners and no outs in the 8th inning. What a failure he was!

    Just for laughs, I checked the WPA for that inning. The first batter to face Mariano, Jason Varitek, hit a sac fly ... which actually reduced Boston's win probability by about 4%. Mo escaped that inning and pitched the next without further damage.

    Rivera's WPA for that game was 0.307 -- the best of any Yankee pitcher that game, and better than any Red Sox pitcher except Wakefield, who earned the win with 3 sterling innings.

    There have been 237 blown saves in postseason history. Only 4 of those pitchers had a higher WPA than Rivera did in game 5.

    "Blown save." Yeah.

  23. Biff Says:

    "My gut feeling is that Rivera's poor performances tend to come in clusters and are not even close to randomly distributed through his career, but I can't seem to figure out how to go about figuring this out...who can help?"

    Wow, I didn't realize the Yanks closer situation was THAT bad. 2 consecutive blown saves? INEXCUSABLE!!!

    On my favorite team, the closer role is defined by whoever was pitching that closed out the loss. Nothing to do with saves.

  24. Ed Says:

    @19 I take it your not an Indians fan? It seems like I've seen it happen several times over the past decade or so. Guy does great as a set-up man, gets a chance as a closer, blows a few saves and the manager decides he doesn't have "it". Not sure how you'd study it, but it would interesting to see how common it is.

  25. TheIronHorse Says:

    In regards to the greatness of Mo, it is a cliche at this point to say that he is
    the greatest pure reliever in baseball history.

    The interesting question in my mind, is the value that Rivera has added to
    the Yankees since 1996.

    I think he has been the single most valuable Yankee over the last 15 years
    by far.

    Consider how many World Series the Yankees would have won without Rivera. Then try to imagine how many World Series the Braves would
    have won if they had Rivera during their run.

  26. BSK Says:

    Can anyone figure out what Rivera's Saves/Blown Saves are in games in which he started the 9th with a 3-run lead? I have no idea how to do that on PI.

    Basically, I'm trying to figure out the expected Win Probability of a given save situation and then Rivera's success in these areas. Maybe this is exactly the same as WPA, but I feel like it's different. If team's win 97% of games in which they hold a 3-run lead in the 9th and Rivera's teams win 97% of games in which he enters the 9th with a 3-run-lead, than what does that say about his value?

  27. rico petrocelli Says:

    No one metioned that Month 422.s to BS more when called on for a multi inning save


  28. Brendan Says:


    You got ninja'd!

  29. John Autin Says:

    @24, Ed -- No, I'm not an Indians fan, so I don't really know the history there. But yes, what you described does happen. What I meant to say is how foolish it is when managers do that.

    And it's true that newly-minted "closers" sometimes struggle, and once in a while such a guy is even given enough rope to justify yanking him from the role.

    But every single year produces a handful of brand-new "closers" drawn from the ranks of the setup men or the "unproven" minor-league closers. Already this year: Jose Contreras for Philly; Mitchell Boggs for St. Louis; Kyle Farnsworth for Tampa; Sean Burnett for Washington; Jordan Walden for the Angels; Joel Hanrahan for Pittsburgh; Brandon League for Seattle.

    And others have returned to closing after working setup for a while: Brian Fuentes of Oakland; J.J. Putz of Arizona; Matt Capps once again filling in for Joe Nathan in Minnesota; Jon Rauch in Toronto.

    Too much myth and mystery has been attached to closing. Most good major-league pitchers would do an acceptable job at it. And most "established closers" aren't really any better at it than two or three of their bullpen mates would be if given the shot.

  30. Jeff Says:

    You know Rivera is good when two blown saves in row turns out to be such a big deal. I remember when Bobby Ayala was pitching for Seattle in the 90's: it was cause for celebration when he DIDN'T blow two saves in a row.

    Rivera's present situation reminds me of Dennis Eckersley at his peak as a reliever in the late 80's or early 90's. "Oh my god, he WALKED a guy!"

    Those who think Rivera is losing it may have a point: his ERA is all the way up to 2.53 this year, and he has only seven saves. I guess the sky is falling after all.

  31. John Autin Says:

    @25, TheIronHorse -- How many more WS do you think the Braves would have won if they'd had Mariano Rivera during their 14-year playoff run from 1991-2005?

    I think the legend of Atlanta's shaky bullpen is 90% myth. They didn't win more WS because they hit poorly in the postseason.

    The Braves had 9 postseason blown saves from 1991-2003. In order:

    (1) 1991 WS game 3: Alejandro Pena gave up a 2-run HR in the 8th to tie the game. Atlanta won that game in 12 innings. In their 4 Series losses, they scored a total of 7 runs.

    (2) 1992 WS game 2: Mike Stanton and Jeff Reardon preserved a 1-run lead in the 8th, each getting an out with runners on the corners. But Reardon gave up a 2-run HR in the 9th, and Atlanta lost that game. In their 4 Series losses, they scored a total of 10 runs.

    (3) 1995 NLDS, game 1: Pena blew a 1-run lead in the 8th, but they scored in the 10th and Atlanta won that game and that series.

    (4) 1995 WS, game 3: Mark Wohlers blew a 1-run lead in the 8th (coming in with 1 out and runners on the corners, he allowed just the 1 run). Wohlers pitched scoreless ball in the 9th and 10th, but Atlanta lost in 11 innings. But they still won the WS.

    (5) 1996 NLCS, game 5: The Braves led 3-0 into the 7th, but Neagle put 2 on with 2 out and Greg McMichael let in both runners and one of his own, then gave up a go-ahead HR in the 8th, and Atlanta lost. McMichael was charged with a blown save ... but I don't recall Mariano Rivera coming on in the 7th inning in any postseason game since he became a closer. Anyway, Atlanta won that series.

    (6) 1996 WS, game 4: This is the one everybody remembers. Atlanta was 5 outs from a 3-1 lead in the series when Wohlers gave up a game-tying 3-run HR to Jim Leyritz. Atlanta lost in the 10th when Steve Avery walked in the go-ahead run (after one of the stupidest intentional walks in the history of baseball at any level). The Braves scored 2 runs in the final 2 games and lost the Series; in their 4 WS losses, they totalled 10 runs.

    (7) 1999 NLDS, game 3: This barely qualifies: Mike Remlinger allowed a game-tying run in the 7th. Atlanta won the game and the series anyway.

    (8) 1999 NLCS, game 4: Stymied by Rick Reed for 7 innings on the minimum 21 batters, Atlanta went ahead in the 8th with back-to-back solo HRs. But John Rocker allowed 2 inherited runners to score, and Atlanta lost the game. But they still won the series.

    (9) 2003 NLDS, game 2: John Smoltz had as great a regular season as any reliever ever dreamed, with a 1.12 ERA. He blew a 1-run lead in the 8th, but Atlanta won by scoring 2 runs right back. They lost this series in 5 games, scoring 4 runs in the 3 losses.

    So let's tally up:
    -- In 4 of the 9 games, Atlanta won the game anyway.
    -- Of the 5 game losses, they still won that series 3 times.
    -- That leaves only 2 games that conceivably had any impact on a series outcome. Yes, they were 2 big WS games. But each of those losses left the Braves even in the Series -- tied 1-1 in the '92 WS, and 2-2 in the '96 WS.

    I'll split the difference. The Wohlers game likely cost them the '96 Series. But it would be a stretch to assign the same burden to the Reardon game in '92. It was early in the Series; it was a 1-run lead; and they lost the Series in 6 games.

    Bottom line: In my opinion, if the Braves had prime Mariano Rivera in every one of their playoff years from 1991 to 2005, they would have won 1 extra WS.

  32. John Autin Says:

    For proof that the Braves' postseason disappointments were mainly the fault of the offense, just look at the game logs. They played 125 postseason games from 1991-2005. They averaged 4.24 R/G, which is OK. But:

    -- They scored 3 runs or less in almost half those games (62), going 15-47.
    -- They scored 2 runs or less 43 times -- more than a third of their postseason games -- and went 9-34.
    -- They scored 1 run or less 25 times (20.3% of the games), going 5-20.

  33. Jimbo Says:


    I was just looking at the box score for that IBB that you say was so stupid.

    With a man on 1st and 2nd in a tie game with 2 outs, the Braves walked Bernie Williams (switch hitter) to load the bases. The Yanks then pinch hit with Wade Boggs, a lefty, to face Steve Avery, a lefty, a move I'm assuming Bobby Cox could see coming.

    I'm assuming the Williams IBB is terrible because of advancing the runners, with Boggs still a good hitter coming up?

    Any thoughts on Cox decision, why he made it, and other reasons why it was terrible?

  34. John Autin Says:

    @31, Jimbo -- I thought it was a terrible decision because you end up with a (by now) mediocre pitcher who has already unintentionally walked a batter in the inning (one whom he definitely didn't want to walk), facing a declining but still .389-OBP-posting future HOF hitter who rarely strikes out and still draws a lot of walks, in a situation where all the pressure is on the mediocre pitcher.

    I'm sure there was some lefty-righty thinking involved, and it's true that all the players involved in the decision have conventional splits. (Williams, a switch hitter, was a better hitter as a righty.) But Cox overreacted to that data. The platoon advantage he gained was not worth the bases he gave up.

    The issue isn't just the difference between Bernie's BA and Wade's OBP; it's also the possibility of a wild pitch or passed ball, a bobble on the infield, a balk....

    The other reason I hate the move -- and saberists will scoff, but nevertheless -- is that, with a 2-1 lead in the Series, you create bad karma by playing scared. And it gave the impression that Cox was traumatized by the 3-run HR Wohlers had served up to Leyritz. The move made it seem that Cox was worried about a home run in that Avery-Bernie situation, so he walks the power hitter to face the slap hitter. Now, obviously, a HR by Bernie would have been bad; but just as clearly, the possibility of a HR should not be the #1 concern there.

  35. Jimbo Says:

    Yeah it was a very bizarre walk. Another reason against it was that it wasn't a sudden death bottom of the ninth situation. Moving the runners up meant a single by Boggs could score 2, and a double could score 3, etc. all runs that could matter.

    If you really don't want Williams to beat you, why not throw him some junk in the dirt and see if he chases? If the runners advance on a WP, then maybe give him the pass...