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A Neutral Thought on Mariano Rivera's Future

I’m not sure what was stranger about last night’s game, that Mariano Rivera had a second bad outing in a row, that Jeff Mathis is the worst hitter of all time except apparently when swinging against the Yankees, Curtis Granderson going for the fake-to-third gag, or that Bobby Abreu, who had left his ability to hit home runs in another lifetime, popped two. I’m not going to mention A.J. Burnett—his ERA for the game was 6.00 against a team that doesn’t do sixes, he allowed only 10 baserunners in six innings, and he struck out six. By the low standards applied to Burnett starts, that was the equivalent of a no-hitter.

I suppose many will worry that at 41 years old, Rivera is at last showing signs of decay. He has certainly been hit harder this season than in any since 2007, but whether that’s bad luck, as a .301 batting average on balls in play might suggest (last year it was .222, low even for Rivera) or fading stuff is anyone’s guess. Overall, his velocity has been where it has been for the last few years, and his command has been exemplary. In fact, I wonder if it has been too good—hitters know that Rivera is going to be around the plate, so might as well hack and try to put the ball in play. When they catch the odd cutter that doesn’t dart as well as some others, they put it in play and maybe it drops in. This is just guessing on my part—it could also be that every once in awhile, even a great pitcher has two off games in a row.

I could swear that I’ve typed that sentence before, and if you look around Rivera’s career record, chances are you will find an occasion for such a sentiment pretty quickly. This could always be the time that it’s actually a predictor of something, but the funny thing is that even if it were, we likely wouldn’t know right away—given the carefully crafted dimensions of the closer’s job, pitchers far worse than a Rivera operating on half-power have persevered in the role for years at a time.