At this time last week, the New York and national media ran with the classic "Is Mariano Rivera Done?" theme, an almost yearly event that breaks down Rivera's recent weekly troubles. After blowing one save in one game, giving up a home run and the lead in a tied game and allowing a home run in a save in another brought the same crazy talk that Rivera is not the same pitcher.
Let's get one thing straight. Rivera isn't the same pitcher now as he was in his prime, but he hasn't been that pitcher since 2007. Rivera's average velocity on his signature cutter has averaged a little more than 91 mph from 2009-2011, and it hasn't averaged 93 mph since 2007. Rivera's swinging strike rate has improved this season from 8.2 percent in 2010 to 8.7 percent in 2011.
Rivera has remained successful despite a drop in stuff because of his impeccable command. He has a walk rate of 0.96, the best among any closer, and he now has gotten opposing hitters to chase 46.2 percent of pitchers out of the strike zone (the highest of his career). That has allowed him to improve his strikeout rate from 6.75 K/9 to 8.04 K/9 this season.
The one number that has decreased significantly this season has been his ground ball rate. His 46.5 percent ground ball rate is his lowest since 2002, but his line drive is still a manageable 18.6 percent. Furthermore, his infield fly ball rate of 17.8 percent is the third highest rate of his career and his best since 2008.
After two saves against the Royals this week, including a game where he touched 94.5 mph with his cutter, Rivera now has 32 saves this season. Former Baseball Prospectus writer Joe Sheehan put it best in a recent newsletter. "The Yankees have their share of concerns to work out this week, now that their postseason berth is assured, but Mariano Rivera's effectiveness is not one of them." Rivera is the greatest reliever baseball has ever seen, isn't it about time he gets the benefit of the doubt.