Felipe Rivero Has Been Sitting 100 MPH, Adding a New Level of Nastiness

NEW YORK – Felipe Rivero’s first pitch on Friday night came in at 98.5 MPH. That was one of ten fastballs that he threw on the evening, and the slowest one of the night.

The next fastball was 100.6 MPH. Then 101.6. Then two more topping 101 MPH. Then a 100 MPH fastball that led to a lineout.

His next at-bat was a three pitch strikeout, with two 100 MPH fastballs (one at 100.9 MPH), and a 92 MPH changeup.

He finally got a groundout, throwing two 82 MPH sliders, then two fastballs at 100.8 and 100.7 MPH.

That kind of stuff is just nasty, and unfair to opposing hitters. When you can sit 100 MPH with your fastball — and Rivero has done that in three of his last four games — plus 90 MPH with the best changeup in the game, and a nasty low-80s slider, you’re going to be a dominant reliever. This has led to Rivero putting up an 0.63 ERA and a 2.89 xFIP, making him one of the top relievers in the game.

“The power is unique,” Pirates’ manager Clint Hurdle said after the game on Friday. “The combination to be able to throw the other two pitches with the command that he has is also what makes him special. I really haven’t had anybody with his skill set before.”

One of the big reasons for Rivero’s success this year is his lowered walk rate. He currently has a 1.88 BB/9, which is down from a 3.86 BB/9 rate last year. He’s not only showing nasty stuff, but he’s showing the ability to control that. Hurdle chalked this up to his mindset entering last offseason.

“In his exit interview last year, he talked about pitch efficiency, and reducing walks,” Hurdle said. “I have had a bunch of guys who have thrown hard, and walking guys was never a topic of discussion they brought to the table. It would be more a voice of concern from our side of it.”

I’ve covered a lot of players with the same velocity Rivero has. A lot of guys in the lower minors can never figure out the control aspect, and become just a good arm that washes out with bad control. Even some of the guys who make it to the upper levels don’t reach the upside you’d expect from their velocity. So how did Rivero become the rare guy who fixed his control?

“I think as with the case of anything, you’ve got to admit you’ve got a weakness,” Hurdle said. “A lot of guys I don’t think get to that part where they say ‘This is a problem. I need to get through this. This is hindering my career. This is hindering my opportunity to be the best I can be out of the bullpen. I need to make an adjustment along the way.'”

Hurdle said that Rivero had a mindset throughout the offseason, continuing into his flat ground work, his bullpens, and into the season. It largely came down to Rivero pitching for outs, rather than avoiding the habit of pitching to avoid walks.

“It’s not just about striking guys out.,” Hurdle said. “He’ll throw a 3-2 breaking ball. He’ll throw a 2-0 changeup. He has no concerns going to ball three. That’s another thing guys will hiccup on, they don’t want to get to three balls. It’s like a hitter getting to two strikes, the third strike is next. A pitcher gets to three balls, the fourth ball is next. He’s just kind of kicked that all to the curb. It goes back to playing to win versus playing not to lose. He’s pitching to get people out, not to not walk people.”

Rivero is turning into a special reliever, which is good for the Pirates, since they have him under control through the 2021 season. That gives them at least four more years of one of the best relievers in baseball. I could use this opportunity to discuss how the Pirates got a steal in the Mark Melancon deal, but I’ll let the mood in the clubhouse tell that story.

After that game on Friday, I entered the clubhouse for post-game interviews, and before I could go up to anyone, two veteran players called me over. They started asking me about the other lefty in the Rivero trade, wondering if he can throw as hard as Rivero.

That other lefty is Taylor Hearn, who can sit 96-98 MPH as a starter, and who may be able to hit higher as a reliever. The two players were already amazed with Rivero after that outing, and were impressed that there was another hard throwing lefty from that deal. The general feeling was that Hearn was just icing on the cake, which is pretty much the case when you look at what Rivero is doing.

Even without anything from Hearn, it’s a downright steal that the Pirates got Rivero from the Nationals for two months of Mark Melancon.

  • BucsStopHere
    June 7, 2017 12:01 pm

    Trade Watson and let Rivero close

  • Michael Sanders
    June 7, 2017 7:40 am

    What a slacker….where is 110? 😉

  • Good article. I’ll be the contrarian in the room – I think we should sell high on Rivero at the trade deadline. First, his stock is ridiculously high – he’s arguably the best reliever in baseball. Second, the Chapman and Miller deals showed that premium relievers can land enormous prospect hauls. Rivero could arguably command an even bigger return given his low salary and more years of control. Third, relievers are inherently volatile. Injuries can happen to any pitcher, and reliever performance can swing year to year. Lastly, this team needs a infusion of prospects, and no one else we might trade is performing well enough to command major prospects (Cole, Cutch, Watson, etc)

    • A reliever as good as Rivero has proven to be is a rare commodity, rarer still being young with years of control. You don’t trade someone like that unless you can get a huge hail, not e than the Yankees got for 2 month rental of Chapman!

      • I agree. I was just saying if we were able to get such a deal, they should pull the trigger

    • Nobody outside of Pittsburgh is arguing that Rivero is the best reliever in baseball.

  • Time for Rivero to close, not Watson. Watson closing only because Pirates want to maximize the return when they trade him at the deadline. Too many blown saves by Watson.

  • Very smart trade!!! And Washington’s main, maybe only, weakness is the ‘pen. Now Rivero needs to be where he belongs as closer, and Watson back to the role that suits him and where he excelled, set-up man in the 8th. Rivers obviously had far more dominant stuff. You don’t make Watson the closer just because he’s been around the longest.

    • So you’re in favor of diminishing Watson’s trade value less than 2 months before he’s likely dealt? Better idea is keep Watson as Closer and hope he pitches lights out so he can bring another excellent piece or two back from Nationals, or another bullpen deficient contender, next month.

      • We just saw another illustration today as to why Watson should not be closing, he does not have closer stuff, he is fine as a set up man. His trade value will not be enhanced by leaving him as closer and allowing him to continue to blow saves.

        • Scott Kliesen
          June 7, 2017 8:39 am

          Very disheartening performance last night from Watson. He is clearly struggling with his ability to hit his spots right now. Add this to the long laundry list of things gone wrong this season.

      • Ooops….

        • Scott Kliesen
          June 7, 2017 11:01 am

          I did say HOPE he pitches lights out.

          Giving in by throwing a fastball over the plate to Davis after having him 0-2 to start the AB was the killer to me. He would’ve struck him out if he starts his slider over the plate on either of the next two pitches. Very frustrating performance!

  • Absolutely hated this trade last year as it essentially flushed the 2016 season down the drain. I’m happy to say I was guilty of being shortsighted. Clearly this trade was a huge win for Pirates.

  • 3 good lefties in the Pen. Rivero should be our future closer. If we have an opportunity to unload Watson as rental, pull the trigger and get something decent in return. That is the Pirates new MO.

    Hanrahan and Holt for Melancon, Sands, De Jesus Jr, Pimental
    Melancon for Rivero and Hearn

    • Rivero should be Closer now by traditional standards. However, he may be more valuable to team as a set up man who can face the heart of order in either the 7th or 8th inning. Similar to how Indians use their best relief pitcher, Andrew Miller.

      Also the set up role allows for him to work more than 1 inning, which he has done on several occasions this season. Rarely if ever is a Closer used for more than 3 outs.

      If you ask me, Rivero is right where he should be,

      • Agreed. Watson isn’t the same pitcher he used to be but if he can be just alright, he’s serviceable as a closer if you can put a few shutdown arms in front of him.

  • So we traded 2 months of a great guy and an excellent closer (Melancon) for several years of the next Chapman without the baggage. And he seems to have a great attitude. Makes up for some of the not so good trades in my book.

  • The best thing about this is that he is a guy we can use for a few years, and then trade for half a farm system. And there will be a line of takers for that. Sort of like what the Cubs got for Chapman. Not that I hope we HAVE to trade him, the current Pirates remind me quite a lot of the 2015 Astros, with a lot of young talent starting to establish itself as major league players.

    A 2019 lineup of Diaz, Bell, Frazier, Newman, Moroff, Meadows, Marte, and Polanco backed up by a rotation of Taillon, Glasnow, and any of a number of the guys in our minors with a pen of Rivero, Santana, Neverauskas, and others (not to mention what we will get for Cutch and Cole) could be very, very good.

    • like some of the position players , but newman and moroff not so much.

    • I think Luplow may surprise some folks and be in the mix along with Kramer.

    • I think you meant what the Yankees got from the Cubs for Chapman. Chapman left Cubs as a FA last offseason.

    • Tell me which players the Cubs got for Chapman ? Or should I tell you ? The Cubs did not get any players in return for Chapman. He signed with the Yankees as a Free Agent after the Cubs gave up Gleyber Torres,Adam Warren, Rashad Crawford and Billy McKinney to the Yankees in 2016 for Chapman.

    • Hate to be the guy but Moroff probably is a bench piece at best, Newman barely has a 600 OPS right now, Glasnow looks horrible with no signs of improvement, Marte is on the downside of his aging curve and will be 2 years older in 2019. Neverauskas is hardly dominating in Triple A so I see very little reason to assume he does much in MLB. That looks like a middling team at best to me.

  • I have yet to hear a convincing explanation why so many more guys can hit 98 consistently these days.

    Are they wearing those new Nike shoes?

    • Evolution

      • Scott Kliesen
        June 6, 2017 10:02 pm

        As in evolution of the stuff the guys wearing white coats have concocted for athletes to take?

    • More pitchers throw at that velocity. Not as rare as it used to be.

    • Nevermind, you meant how can so many pitchers can throw that hard. My guess is that they train and play year round.

  • Darkstone42
    June 6, 2017 2:46 pm

    More than anyone else, I tune in when Rivero is pitching. It’s not just that he shuts other teams down, it’s how he does it. It’s just so much fun to watch. Sometimes, pitchers get verbal reactions out of me for throwing especially nasty pitches and making hitters look especially incompetent. Rivero throws two or three of those *per at bat.*

  • Wabbit_Season
    June 6, 2017 2:15 pm

    100 mph lefties….


  • I think we should seriously consider converting him back to a starter. He was never given the chance to fail as a starter at the major league level. Obviously not now, but next spring, and see if he is even interested in being a starter first obviously. But imagine an almost-as-nasty version of him giving you 6 or 7 innings every 5th day.

    • If it aint broke dont fix it. He has a chance to be one of the top LH relievers in baseball. Maybe even a top closer. Why screw with that. You have Hearn in the minors who they are trying as a starter.

  • Chapman – lite?