11 August 2013

Cabrera vs Rivera -- AGAIN!

Just two days after the great Mariano Rivera blew his fourth save of the year when he challenged Miguel Cabrera and lost, it happened again.  Rivera was called on in the 9th inning of today's Tigers at Yankees game with a 4-2 lead.  Cabrera led off the 9th inning and sent Rivera's fourth offering 395 ft (120 m) away into the right-field seats.  With a 1-2 count, Cabrera showed why he is the game's best hitter.  Look at the image below, which shows Cabrera's dinger just leaving his bat (click on the image for a larger view).
Cabrera led with his hands, extended his arms out over the plate, and met the ball on the outside corner.  He didn't try to pull the ball, but instead went with the pitch.  Note how his hips have rotated almost completely toward the mound.  His powerful torso generated an enormous amount of torque as he moved his bat through the zone.  His head is down, his eyes are mostly on the ball, and his legs are in perfect balance.  As a physicist, I could watch Miguel Cabrera hit all day long!

So, could Mariano Rivera pick up the save with a 4-3 lead?  He got Prince Fielder to line out to third.  Victor Martinez then strode to the batter's box.  Martinez hit Rivera's second pitch 376 ft (115 m) down the right-field line for a game-tying homer.  Check out the image of Martinez connecting with Rivera's second gopher ball of the inning (click on the image for a larger view).
Note that Martinez also has his hips rotated forward.  A baseball player rotates his torso using powerful muscles in his core and upper legs.  Muscular arms won't be enough if a player's core isn't strong.  Martinez did exactly what he should have done.  The pitch was inside, and Martinez jumped on it and pulled it.  His eyes are in the right place and his front foot is a dead giveaway that he's trying to pull the ball.  Like Cabrera, Martinez took what Rivera offered and didn't try to do anything fancy.

Rivera got the next two Tigers batters out, but left the inning with his fifth blown save.  The two runs he gave up in his one inning of work took his ERA (earned run average) from 2.08 to 2.44, a more than 17% increase.

The Yankees still had the bottom of the 9th inning.  After Jose Veras retired the first two Bronx Bomers, Brett Gardner came to the plate.  On the second pitch he saw, Gardner deposited Veras's offering 393 ft (120 m) away from home plate into the second deck in right field.  Veras's walk-off homer saved the Yankees, which was reminiscent of Friday's game in which Cabrera hit one off Rivera in the 9th, only to see his Tigers lose in the 10th inning.  Take a look at Gardner's winning swing in the photo below (click on the image for a larger view).
A lead-off hitter at 5' 10" (1.78 m) tall and 185 lbs (83.9 kg mass), Gardner is not regarded as a home-run hitter.  Though just his 8th homer of the year, it was a monster!  Gardner really jumped on Veras's pitch.  His front foot shows the pull, which was the thing to do for a pitch slightly inside of center.  As with the two previous homers I discussed, Gardner's hips have rotated forward.  He may not have huge arms, but rotating his powerful core generated the necessary torque for a walk-off celebration.

Despite getting credited with his fifth blown save of the year, Mariano Rivera was given the "win" because the Yankees won the game while he was the pitcher of record in the top of the inning.  This is yet one more example of how silly the "win" stat is for a pitcher.  A "win" is a team stat, and the only thing Mariano Rivera did to help his team "win" was not give up a third run in the 9th inning.  Over the past generation, sabermetrics have given us many new stats and better ways to view the game of baseball.  As someone nearing 43 years of age, I still look at a pitcher's wins and losses because that's what I saw on the backs of the baseball cards I collected in the 1970s.  Now, I take a pitcher's win/loss record with a grain of salt.  I think Rivera would have preferred the save to the win in his stat column, though he has always impressed me as a classy gentleman who wants nothing more than to see his team win.  He may not have been happy with his performance today, but he loved seeing Gardner's ball fly over the right-field fence!

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