It seems that every day we’re inching closer and closer towards the end of the Mariano Rivera era. He may not have officially said that he’s going to retire, but the things he said when reporting to camp the other day sure make it seem that way. I have written about this issue twice in the past year, once in February of 2011 and once in November of 2011 and though I’ll probably cry when Mo retires, my outlook towards the Rivera-less future has been slightly less bleak than I thought it would be.
I feel that way because the Yankees do seem set up to succeed, closer wise, even after Mo retires. Just look at possible/probable internal candidates, the Yankees would be lined up to have one of Rafael Soriano, Joba Chamberlain, David Robertson, Phil Hughes (though I hope he’s not a candidate to do this ’cause he’s doing his thing in the rotation), and now David Aardsma take over for Rivera when he goes. That plan, of course, assumes the Yankees will stick to the traditional one inning closer role. There’s nothing to make me think they won’t go that route. I shouldn’t expect them to be the team that bucks tradition, but I hope they do.
While driving to work today, ESPN Radio host Robin Lundberg reminded me of something I’d written in one of those Life After Mo articles: the Yankees should forgo the save rule and use their relievers when the situation calls for it, not when the save calls for it. This is easier said than done and would take some buying in and adjusting from the pitchers, but it makes sense for two big reasons.
First, it just helps to take pressure off of the relievers. No matter which guy steps into that role, he will be the guy trying to replace Mo, which is impossible from a statistical and intangible sense. Replacing a player of his caliber and character would be a Herculean task in any city, but with the vicious and occasionally vindictive New York media in play, that prospect gets even harder. Putting a reliever in a role that’s even slightly different from Rivera’s could help the adjustment for him and the fans.
Secondly, the guys I listed above are all well suited to come in at any time and do well. As relievers, they’re all high strikeout guys aN. Robertson and Chamberlain are good at getting groundballs. Most importantly, all four are solid at keeping inherited runners on base, something key for fireman-type relievers (I should note at this point that the sample on Hughes the reliever is just 2011 and his IRS% was 6%). For reference, the league average Inherited Runners Scoring Percentage was 30% in 2011. For their careers, these are their numbers (as relievers):
Aardsma: 33% (0% in 2009 and 2010!)
Robertson: 32% (30% and 23% in 2010/2011; skewed a bit by the awful 57% mark in 2008)
I have no delusions that this is going to happen, but it’s something I’d like to see and could make sense. Joe Girardi has proven himself to be adept and adroit when it comes to handling a bullpen, so trusting him to run an “unconventional” bullpen rotation is something I’d definitely be willing to do.