2017 Year in Review- Felipe Rivero emerges as dominant reliver

Of all the Pittsburgh Pirates season review pieces I will write, the one on Felipe Rivero will certainly be the easiest.

The 26-year old lefty was certainly one of the brightest spots in an otherwise disappointing season.

I can throw number after number out to look at the sheer dominance of Rivero during the 2017 season and hopefully for the Bucs, that is a sign of things to come.

The Numbers

Where do I begin?

Is it the 1.67 ERA in 75.1 IP, which spanned 73 appearances?

How about the 10.5 K/9 or the 2.4 BB/9? Maybe the 29 OPS+, 258 ERA+ or the 2.6 WAR coming out of the Pirates pen?

Any way you slice it Rivero was outstanding.

The best part is he threw strikes, with a WHIP of 0.88, and made things look ridiculously easy at times.

Rivero walked just 20 on the season, allowing just 14 earned runs.


Let’s just say that left-handed batters had zero success off Rivero in 2017, posting a combined OPS of a meager .255. That was easily the lowest mark against any pitcher in the majors.

Right-handed hitters didn’t fare much better.

Opposing hitters combined managed just a .473 OPS on the season against Rivero and hit just .171 on the season.

That’s even more impressive when you consider that over 50 percent of Rivero’s pitches are in the strike zone.

The contact rate off Rivero was just at 69 percent, also posting a 53 percent groundball rate.

Finally there’s an exit velocity of just 84 mph showing that those lucky enough to get the bat on the ball aren’t hitting it very hard.


Rivero could live off his fastball, posting the fourth highest average heater in baseball of 98.5 mph.

He also touched 100 mph the third most of any pitcher (104 times according to Statcast).

But Rivero is so much more than a fastball.

While the slider can be devastating, Rivero’s changeup may have been the best I saw all season as he got swings and misses 54 percent of the time, which was easily tops amongst all MLB relievers.

With the way Rivero throws strikes and the arsenal he possesses, it’s not unfathomable to think that he could be one of MLB’s best closers for years to come.


If there’s one scary thing about Rivero’s season it was the fact that for most of the year he was Clint Hurdle’s only dependable reliever.

Hurdle looked at times like he was going to run Rivero into the ground with the multi-inning saves.

Rivero did pitch in 31 games prior to replacing Tony Watson as closer, but a large majority of his innings came in high-leverage situations.

It also got to the point where Hurdle was using Rivero in situations that he probably shouldn’t have, using his prized closer 41 percent of the time when the Bucs led by three or more runs.

Of course when you are staring at a pen that likely only had Daniel Hudson, Joaquin Benoit and Antonio Bastardo in it, I’m sure Hurdle had to struggle in not using Rivero every single night.

The risk there is that they could run Rivero into the ground in a similar fashion that they did with Watson.

Just something to keep an eye on next season.


Quite frankly there was nothing not to like about Rivero’s 2017 season.

Converting 21 of 23 save opportunities was a nice start to his career as the Pirates closer.

Neal Huntington has been getting a lot of heat lately, but he has to be given credit for turning Mark Melancon into Rivero and prospect Taylor Hearn.

If he can keep this up, I look forward to seeing what the numbers look like in 2018.

2017 Overall Grade- A

Matt Shetler

Matt is a life long Pirates fan with both a newspaper and radio background. Before coming to Pirates Breakdown he was most recently the co-owner and lead columnist for Pittsburgh Sporting News. He has been a credentialed writer for all four major sports and also has written for plenty of other sports and fantasy sports websites.