Everyone in Yankee Nation is fretting right now over the knee injury sustained by Mariano Rivera.
What will New York do? Who will replace the best closer of all time? Can the Yankees survive this setback?
Seeing a future Hall of Fame player go down with a season-ending injury is never a good thing. But if you have to lose a piece of your puzzle, this is the one any team can afford to lose with the minimum amount of concern.
The simple reality of baseball is this: closers don't matter.
Throughout baseball history, a team entering the ninth inning with the lead will win 95 percent of the time. This stat has remained completely unchanged from the days of three-man rotations and 500-inning workloads to today's highly specialized, pitch-limited guys.
Baseball historian David Smith's analysis of this is very telling, indicating that the worst team in history for closing out games was the 1978 Seattle Mariners, who were still able to hold onto a ninth-inning lead 80.4 percent of the time.
The simple, inescapable fact that Smith presents? A team in the lead stays in the lead.
When leading after just one inning, teams will typically take the victory 70 percent of the time. And the odds of winning just improve steadily from there.
As concerns the Yankees and Rivera, it is interesting to note that Smith lists 13 teams that were perfect in games where they were leading after eight innings and who had a minimum of 80 opportunities in those circumstances.
The Yankees during Rivera's tenure are not on that list.
So the bottom line is this: Yes, it is unfortunate that Mo blew out his knee shagging fly balls. But if you're going to lose one of your better players, your closer is the guy you want to lose because his absence will not affect your results.
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