Mariano Rivera is a 16-year Major League veteran, and at 40 years old he is still dominating hitters in their 20s, but the question is how long can this continue.
Take a look at Rivera's career, and it's easy to tell this is a future Hall of Famer on the mound. What he has been able to do while seemingly only throwing one pitch has been incredible. Rivera has a career ERA of 2.23 which accompanies his 559 career saves.
Rivera has been the rare player who seemingly has gotten better the more he has aged. Take the last three seasons for instance in which he competed at the advanced ages of 38, 39, and 40 years old. In those seasons, he pitched to a 1.40, 1.76, and 1.80 ERA respectively.
Those seasons rank among the best he has pitched in his entire big league career. The reason why is simple: He does not rely on velocity in order to get hitters out. Rivera specializes in making hitters get themselves out because of the movement on his trademark cutter.
The pitch has such late movement that a hitter knows what is coming but is still helpless in trying to hit against him. Rivera has been especially unhittable in postseason play where he has cemented his Hall of Fame resume.
Rivera has pitched in 90 postseason games, recording 41 saves in 135.2 innings while pitching to a 0.73 ERA. That's right, Rivera's postseason ERA is more than two times better than his ERA in the regular season. Against tougher competition, Rivera raises his game to the next level which makes him one of if not the most indispensable Yankees.
However, this season is the last on Rivera's contract, and the question the Yankees must ask themselves is how long Rivera can keep pitching on the level he has his entire career. There are two comparable players for a pitcher such as Rivera, and they are Greg Maddux and Trevor Hoffman.
Maddux like Rivera did not rely on velocity and instead relied on precision and movement on his pitches. Rivera has pinpoint accuracy and can place the ball anywhere he wants within the zone. If Rivera continues to place the ball wherever he wants without losing movement on his fastball then he can pitch as long as he desires.
The lack in velocity has not seemed to effect him this season as he still broke the same amount of bats he has throughout his career. However, Hoffman is a case where the aging process has obviously taken its toll.
His fastball has lost so much velocity that there is minimal difference between the fastball and change-up rendering his pitching ineffective. Rivera is a proud man, and he would not want to go out a shade of his former self.
The decision is all his. As long as Rivera wants to pitch and has his trademark cutter, he will continue his assault at the saves record in a Yankee uniform before delivering his Hall of Fame introduction speech in Cooperstown.