Felipe Rivero has been phenomenal since becoming a Pirate. He needs to take over closing duties from Tony Watson immediately.
Felipe Rivero didn’t seem like much of a return for Mark Melancon when the Pirates traded away their All-Star closer back on July 30th. But upon closer analysis, some people started to become intrigued with Rivero and what he could bring to the table. His performance over the last month has done nothing short of cementing that sentiment. It’s a small sample size, but in 13.0 innings pitched, Rivero has a minuscule 0.69 ERA, and has struck out a remarkable 22 batters. He does have his issues walking batters, as many high-strikeout pitchers do, but the results speak for themselves.
When Melancon was traded, Tony Watson was the logical choice to move into the closer’s position. He was arguably the second-most dominant relief pitcher from 2014-2016, right behind his battery mate Melancon. But some were still nervous about the transition. Watson had never closed before, and he doesn’t have a dominant pitch like Melancon does with his cutter. And so far in his closer role, he hasn’t inspired much confidence. He does have a decent 2.52 ERA in August, but ERA isn’t as great a tool of analysis for relief pitchers as it is for starters. And 2.52 isn’t a great ERA for a closer anyways. Look at it like this: since becoming the closer, Watson has allowed three runs on three separate occasions in just 13 appearances, he’s blown a save, and he’s only had five clean appearances without allowing a hit or a walk. Sometimes Melancon made fans nervous by letting batters reach base, but he almost never let those runners come around to score. Watson can’t say the same.
So with Rivero’s dominance and Watson’s nerve-wracking pitching of late, I’ve come to this conclusion: maybe Rivero should start closing. Some would say that this switch wouldn’t make much of a difference with just a month left in the regular season, and from a WAR standpoint, that’s true. But WAR doesn’t count games blown by a closer as a whole negative win, which in reality they are, and the Pirates can’t afford to blown many, if any, games over the next month.
Rivero has the makings of a closer. He strikes out a lot of batters and can hit the high 90s with his fastball. Yes, his walks still make us all nervous, but they haven’t cost him yet. Watson doesn’t seem to have the makings of a closer. Maybe he could be a good closer next season, and this year could be viewed as a transition period. But the Pirates don’t have that luxury. They’re trying to make the postseason, and need to take every possible avenue to do so. Maybe it’s just about going with the hot hand in Rivero. After all, getting into and through the playoffs often means riding hot play. I say go with Rivero at closer for the time being, and switch back to Watson next season. Or if Rivero does poorly over the next few weeks as the closer, switch back to Watson. It’s a risk worth taking, and one that the Pirates need to consider immediately.
Featured Photo Credit – Daniel Decker Photography