What does the Pirates’ new addition Felipe Rivero bring to the table? Is there more to his stats than meet the eye?


Yesterday the Pirates traded away elite closer Mark Melancon to the Washington Nationals for reliever Felipe Rivero and hard-throwing prospect Taylor Hearn. There were mixed reactions to the trade. Some thought the Pirates didn’t get enough and GM Neal Huntington didn’t capitalize in a seller’s market. Others though the Nats gave up a lot, both in potential quality of player and in the years of service those players have.

On the surface, Rivero seems underwhelming at best. That’s because most see the 4.53 ERA and think this player stinks! But ERA is not the best statistic to measure a reliever by, as one bad week can balloon that number. Heck, one run can swing it half a point or more. Rivero was the victim of that in June when he gave up 11 runs in a span of two weeks, including a five-run outing. Since that woeful five-run appearance on June 18th, Rivero has allowed just two earned runs and has lowered his ERA from 6.82 to 4.53. Another good month could knock that ERA below three.

So maybe the Pirates are getting Rivero at the right time, when his confidence has risen and the mid-June swoon is long behind him. But this is also a move for the long-term, not just this season. Rivero is making the league-minimum this year and is under team control through the 2020 season. Right now, he likely slides in as the seventh-inning arm behind Neftali Feliz and Tony Watson, but he has the makings of a future potential closer in this league.

According to Brooks Baseball, Rivero relies on a fourseam fastball and a changeup, and occasionally mixes in a slider. Essentially, he’s a two-pitch pitcher, but his fastball makes him intriguing. He averages about 96 mph on it, and can hit 100 at times. Having three guys in the bullpen (Rivero, Feliz, and Arquimedes Caminero) that have the ability to hit 100 is exciting to say the least, and is shaping up to be the future of bullpens across the league. He’s the kind of pitcher the Pirates love and the type that has generally worked out well once teamed with Ray Searage.

Outside of that two-week stint in June, Rivero has been able to achieve quality results, and he has the ability to do even better than that. Here are his career stats:

2015 WSN 2 1 2.79 49 0 2 48.1 35 15 15 2 11 43 2.64 0.952 6.5 0.4 2.0 8.0
2016 WSN 0 3 4.53 47 0 1 49.2 43 26 25 4 15 53 3.26 1.168 7.8 0.7 2.7 9.6
2 Yrs 2 4 3.67 96 0 3 98.0 78 41 40 6 26 96 2.95 1.061 7.2 0.6 2.4 8.8
162 Game Avg. 1 3 3.67 68 0 2 69 55 29 28 4 18 68 2.95 1.061 7.2 0.6 2.4 8.8
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/31/2016.

As we can see, he strikes out a ton of batters and walks very few. His FIP this year is also more than a full point below his ERA, and generally the rest of his stats across the board this season are similar to how he performed in 2015. Essentially, every stat outside of ERA predicts that Rivero will return to his 2015 form, and be a dynamic, hard-throwing lefty for the Pirates for years to come.

Some other notes about Rivero:

He was originally signed as an international free agent by the Tampa Bay Rays in 2008, but was flipped to the Nationals during the 2014 offseason as part of a package for starter Nate Karns. He represented the Rays at the 2012 All-Star Futures Game as well.

We may be looking at the future Pirates closer, as Mark Melancon became once he came over in the trade of Joel Hanrahan.

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Tyler Waite

Tyler is a data analyst by day and an aspiring sports writer by night. He's been a Pittsburgh sports fan his entire life, but has a special place for the Pirates. He is fascinated by the analytical side of the game, and wants to impart his analysis as both a writer and as a fan to Pirate fans everywhere.