On Patience, (Un-)Productivity, and Greatness

I wrote last week that Derek Jeter had shown remarkable impatience in the first month, seeing either one or two pitches in 47 of his 100 plate appearances. In his next 23 plate appearances, 9 have been 1 or 2 pitches, or 39%. In those 23 plate appearances, Jeter has 9 hits–4 on either the first or second pitch. On the one hand, it’s hard to argue with the results when he’s hitting well. He has raised his average to .298, and is batting a scorching .464 with RISP, actually raising that by going 4 for his last 7 with RISP.  On the other, patience in general helps subsequent batters see what pitches come and in what possible patterns, while also wearing down the hurler. To his credit, Jeter has done a fairly good job of showing patience in recent games, markedly improved from the previous period of time. I would argue further that his patient approach the last several games more than coincided with, but helped to produce, the recent surge in his average. In the last five games in which the 23 plate appearances have occurred, Jeter has seen 4 or more pitches 11 times in 23 plate appearances, going 3/10 with a walk. Yet he hit the ball hard on several outs, and advanced Damon (who eventually scored) to third in the first inning of Saturday’s 6-1 win. On the hits when he took 4 or more pitches, he saw a total of 17 pitches, with all 3 of those long at-bats coming in Sunday’s 8-2 win in which Jeter went 4 for 5. In 6 at-bats during this stretch, Jeter saw three pitches going 2 for 6, generally hitting the ball hard and, though grounding out to short today, worked the count 2-0 to get a Byrd “fastball.” In sum, not only has Jeter been somewhat more patient, he’s also been more productive in both short and long at-bats. My point is not to say that Jeter shouldn’t be aggressive, but rather to say that it was in no small part patience that helped him improve his average in the last week. He worked counts, in some cases got better pitches to hit, helped work over Hernandez and Silva for seven hits in two games, and worked Carmona for a walk. Patience, for Jeter and for the team, has paid off.

I’ve recently complained that the Yankees have too often failed to generate rallies until there were two outs. While two-out rallies are often crucial for teams, they can also hamstring teams by leaving them no opportunities for productive outs, to manufacture runs, and no wiggle room for mistakes at the plate. In the two losses to Cleveland Tuesday and Wednesday, the Yanks had five innings in which the first two batters were out, the third (and at times fourth) reached base, only to see the rally die out. Worse, these all occurred from the sixth inning onward, depriving the team chances to add on in the 5-3 loss (Dellucci’s homer off Joba) or simply to push across runs in the dreadful 3-0 loss yesterday. In the two losses, the Yankees stranded a total of 16 runners, 8 in scoring position. Six of those 16 stranded came in such two-out situations in the 6th inning or beyond, 3 of which were in scoring position. I contend that there is more than the clear need to cash in, but to get rallies going before two outs. Ground outs can certainy be productive, as Melky, Jeter, and others have shown lately. Betemit’s fly out to deep left-center moved Cano to third with one out. This was key today, but so was Cano’s leading off with the double–and of course just hitting at all. Particularly when the Yanks have struggled to score runs, they need to get them however they can. More than just whenever they can, they would be well served by not waiting until they’re nearly out of chances to score in order to push runners across.

How great has Mariano been? In 14 innings during 13 appearances this season, he has allowed five hits, no walks, and no runs, while fanning 12. Ridiculous, and he’s throwing very hard and easy right now. Girardi has done a good job with the pen in general, and Mariano has had a nice balance of work–not too much, but few extended periods of inactivity. Of course, this is in part a product of the team’s inconsistency. That is, the team’s losing streaks have if nothing else afforded Mariano some breaks, allowing him to be ready for when the offense reappears and starters carry the ball deeper into games. Even last season, the only season one could remotely characterize as an off-year, Mariano wasn’t that off, but struggled at times from a lack of regular work. While he had difficult moments in mid-August, Mariano was pretty good even in his so-called off-year. He was 3-4 with a 3.15 ERA, his highest ERA for any season strictly as a reliever. Yet his WHIP was fairly low at 1.121, his K/BB ratio was excellent 74K/12BB, and 17 of his 25 runs allowed came in 6 of his 67 appearances, and three of those were in April when he struggled badly. Otherwise, he was fairly close to his dominant self.

Yet there is no denying that Mariano is really sharp right now, popping the catcher’s glove and usually overwhelming batters. That he hasn’t walked a single batter is really astounding. In fact, in 43 plate appearances against him, Mariano has gotten to a three-ball count only three times. What has always impressed me, and I don’t think it gets nearly enough attention, is that for all his power and the justifiably famous dominance of his cutter, Mariano is as much a control pitcher as a power pitcher. In 4 completed seasons out of 12 as a reliever has Mariano averaged more than a K/IP, while most others are close but below. But equally importantly, he just doesn’t walk many guys. In 6 of his 12 seasons as a reliever, Mariano has a WHIP of 1.000 or lower; in 4 others his WHIP is under 1.1. Last year was only one of two years in his great career as a reliever in which he allowed what would average out to be 10 hits/walks per 9 innings. Even at that last year, his K/BB ratio was his third-best ever, behind 2001 and 2003. As if it weren’t evident enough, all this is why I’d still choose Mariano as my closer, right now at the age of 38. His is quite simply still as good at his job as anyone today, and is far and away the greatest closer ever. In Mariano I trust.

Published in: on May 9, 2008 at 12:01 am  Comments (3)  

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  1. It was really only five really bad outings for him last year, three in April. I chronicle what his ERA was without those outings and I think it was 2.07. Can’t remember if that was taking out the five bad ones or just the three in April. The 2.07 we are used to. Just a handful of bad ones ballooned the ERA.

  2. One more thing. Back in 1990, when the Yanks were the worst team in the league, I was poring over the minor leaguers looking for hope. I turned to my dad, and said, “Hey, there is this guy in the Gulf Coast Rookie League who had an ERA of 0.17.” He said, “That has to be a misprint. No one has a Zero-point-seventeen.” I said, no misprint. 5-1 in 52 IP. Only gave up 17 hits in 52 IP. 58 K and just 7 walks.

    We were both amazed. Sure enough, it was Mariano. Unfortunately, my dad died in 1993 and didn’t get to see the guy we were discussing in 1990.

  3. Indeed Mike, just a handful of subpar outings for Mariano increased his ERA. I counted six games last year in which he allowed at least two runs in an inning or less–4/15 vs. Oakland (2/3 IP, 2H, 3R, 1 BB: Scutaro’s walk-off); 4/20 vs. Boston (2/3 IP, 3H, 2R, Pettite’s gem blown); 4/27 vs. Boston (1/3IP, 3H, 4R, 1BB); 6/16 vs. Mets (1IP, 5H, 2R, but in an 11-8 win); 8/15 vs. Baltimore (1IP, 3H, 3R, 1HR, Huff’s walk-off); and 9/28 vs. Baltimore (1IP, 3H, 3ER, Yankees already clinched Wild Card but the blown save assured Boston the division).

    That’s a great anecdote about Mariano Mike, and attests to your long-standing minor-league interests. Mariano has always been something else, and always HAD that something else, that steady comportment with his devastating stuff.

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