Rivera Continues To Defy the Odds
The closer position has become the most fickle position in baseball and one of the most fickle in all of sports. You will rarely see the same closer on an MLB team from year to year. Due to either injury or bad performance most closers will usually flame out within a few years. While most teams are lucky to have their closers for a few years the Yankees have had the same one for 17 years. It has been 17 years of as about as close to perfect pitching as one can hope for, minus 2 postseason failures. Of course when you pitch for 17 years you will not be perfect. Considering the state of closers in MLB, what Mariano Rivera has accomplished is nothing short of miraculous and will never be duplicated again.
Tom Verducci wrote a great piece in SI about the state of closers in MLB today. I would highly suggest reading the article because it is very informative. Some of the stats in this article really boggle the mind. 60 percent of 2011 opening day MLB closers are no longer closing for the same team at this point this year, with 7 of them being hurt. Think about that for a second. The majority of MLB teams do not even have the same closer from opening day last year yet the Yankees have had the same one for 17 years. According to Stan Conte, director of medical service for the Los Angeles Dodgers, 50 percent of MLB starting pitchers will go on the DL every year, as well as 34 percent of relievers. Also, over the 5 previous seasons 53 closers have saved 25 games at least once. 62 percent of those pitchers are no longer closing period. Only 5 pitchers saved 25 games 3 times in the last 5 years and are still closing: Mariano Rivera, Jonathan Papelbon, Jose Valverde, Heath Bell, and Joe Nathan.
So as you can see the turnover at the closer position is huge. Three closers this season have already fallen to Tommy John surgery: Brian Wilson, Joakim Soria, and Ryan Madson. Kyle Farnsworth and Andrew Bailey will also be on the DL for an extended period of time. It is amazing how teams continue to not learn and waste big money on these closers. Those 5 hurt closers I mentioned will earn a combined 30.2 million dollars this season. It is pretty amazing that with all the new technology these pitchers are still getting hurt at an alarming rate and teams cannot crack the code. Joe Girardi’s best trait as a manager is putting his pitchers in the best position to avoid these injuries by never overworking anybody. That was Joe Torre’s worst trait as Tanyon Sturtze, Scott Proctor, Paul Quantrill, Tom Gordon, and Jonathan Broxton will tell you. However, throughout it all, defying all the possible odds and trends, Mariano Rivera still stands. When you look at the turnover at the closer position that makes it even more inconceivable that he is still standing on the mound at age 42. His pitching dominance is what most people will notice and rightfully so. However, the fact that after 17 years he has not had a big time injury and is always available is something that people should appreciate more and probably will appreciate more after he is gone.
When you look at the stats I presented for closers it is surprising that Rivera is not mentioned with iron men such as Brett Favre and Cal Ripken Jr. The fact that Rivera does not pitch everyday or take shots like Favre took is the obvious answer, and I am not saying his run is as impressive as what those guys did. However, the fact the only closer in this era who has approached Rivera’s longevity without breaking down is Trevor Hoffman says something.
17 years later Rivera staying healthy and pitching dominant still remains one of the keys to bringing a 28th World Series Championship back to the Bronx. He had one of his common April failures on opening day against the Rays to drive some Yankees fans into a tizzy. Of course as usual he has silenced them as he has looked just fine in his outings afterwards. As his fellow closers keep going down in flames Mariano Rivera keeps going and going straight into Cooperstown and immortality.