Breakout Player: Felipe Rivero
Yes, Felipe Rivero was impressive last season in his first stint with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Still, he did post an earned run average of 3.20 with a FIP of 3.80. Now, these are good numbers, but Rivero seems primed to take the next step this season and breakout as one the best relievers in the National League. Although it is Spring Training, his numbers really suggest that he will be dominant this year. In ten innings he struck out 13 hitters and gave up zero runs. With a high 90s fastball, sharp slider, Rivero also possesses one of the best changeups in the organization.
Often times when fans think of a team’s best reliever they think of the closer. However, baseball seems to be heading in a new direction. Currently, the league is in an analytics movement. More teams are going beyond tradition numbers like ERA, WHIP, and in this case saves, when determining a player’s overall effectiveness. The Pittsburgh Pirates have been one of the teams that have had success using analytics in decision making.
"“We thought that he could be a guy that we could leverage in situations like we have. And it would make our bullpen that much better” Terry Francona on Miller’s Use"
The Cleveland Indians are the primary example of a team using their best reliever outside of the ninth inning save situation. Last year Andrew Miller was used through the playoffs in various innings. The one common theme? They were in situations that were considered the highest leverage part of the games when the Indians needed big outs to keep momentum on their side. The Pittsburgh Pirates seem to be heading in this direction with Rivero. Rivero easily has “closer stuff”, but Tony Watson is currently the closer. Instead, Rivero will enter the game when Clint Hurdle feels they need the big-time outs. He may not get the notoriety he will deserve in these situations, but he will be the biggest part of this team’s bullpen. Rivero will not just be solid, but will solidify himself as downright dominant in 2017.