I’m a die-hard Chicago White Sox fan and an official New York Yankees hater, but like I’ve always said I have to give respect where it is due; with the career that future Hall of Famer and closer of the Yankees’ Mariano Rivera has, I will always tip my hat.
Sports fans can always have a legitimate argument on who’s the best starting pitcher of all time, greatest hitter, the best at each position; but when someone is asked who is the best closer in MLB history, Mariano Rivera is the greatest closer in major league history. No debating and he has this LOCKED DOWN!
I think the most mind-boggling thing about Mo is that he can base all of his success and crazy stats during his career off of one pitch…the cut fastball.
Rivera’s signature pitch is a cut fastball or “cutter”, which exhibits late lateral movement towards left-handed hitters similar to that of a slider but with the velocity of a fastball. The sharp movement on his cutter frequently results in hitters breaking their bats—according to a tally by ESPN baseball columnist Buster Olney, Rivera broke 44 bats in the 2001 regular season. Chipper Jones, who once witnessed teammate Ryan Klesko break three bats in one plate appearance against Rivera in the 1999 World Series, called the pitch a “buzz saw”. The cutter’s movement is created by Rivera’s long fingers and loose wrist, which allow him to impart more spin on the ball. He varies the movement by adjusting the pressure that he applies to the ball with his fingertips. Although he occasionally uses a four-seam or two-seam fastball, Rivera primarily throws cutters; according to baseball statistics website Fangraphs, 83.3% of his pitches in 2010 were cutters. All three pitches typically reach the low-to-mid 90s mph. Rivera accidentally discovered how to throw the cutter while playing catch with Ramiro Mendoza in June 1997 when the fastballs he threw in the bullpen began to move sharply and unpredictably. After failing to eliminate the movement altogether, he began to use the cutter in games, making it one of his primary pitches in 1998. When asked where his ability to throw the cutter came from, he explained, “It was just from God. I didn’t do anything. It was natural.”
Since Rivera relies on variations of a fastball, all of similar speed, much of his success stems from his ability to accurately locate pitches and consistently throw strikes. His 4.06 career strikeout-to-walk ratio in the regular season ranks fourth-best in major league history. Rivera’s impeccable control is a byproduct of his smooth, easily repeated pitching delivery.
Rivera’s cut fastball is a respected pitch among major league hitters. Jim Thome called it “the single best pitch ever in the game”. In 2004, ESPN.com ranked his cutter as the best “out pitch” in baseball. Olney described his cut fastball as “the most dominant pitch of a generation”.
In his 17-year stint as the Yankees’ closer, Rivera has compiled unthinkable career numbers. A 13-time All-Star, he is the majors’ all-time regular season leader in saves (639) and games finished (931). He has finished 15 consecutive seasons with at least 25 saves and 15 seasons with at least 30 saves, both of which are records. Statistically, Rivera ranks as one of the top pitchers of his generation, among both starters and relievers; his career ERA (2.20) and WHIP (1.00) are the lowest of any MLB pitcher in the live-ball era, making him one of the top pitchers since 1920 at preventing hitters from reaching base and scoring. He has recorded an ERA under 2.00 in 11 seasons, tying him with Walter Johnson for the most such seasons (minimum 60 innings pitched each).
Rivera has excelled in the postseason. He has an 8–1 win–loss record and a 0.76 WHIP in the postseason, and he holds numerous postseason records, including lowest ERA (0.70), most saves (42), most consecutive scoreless innings pitched (33 1⁄3), most consecutive save opportunities converted (23), and most appearances (96). No pitcher has half as many postseason saves as he does. In a 2009 ESPN.com poll, Rivera was voted one of the top five postseason players in MLB history.
There’s many more records and accomplishments by Rivera but I just don’t have the time and energy to name them all. I think I gave you enough to state that Rivera is the best closer….EVER!
Since 2003, Rivera has been the only 42. When he goes, the great Jackie Robinson’s number will go into retirement with him. This is quite fitting because after everything is said and done, only one player who I think shows the grace, the class, the professionalism and the great baseball ability like Robinson, should respectfully close #42 down when he’s done and that is Rivera (and this is coming from a Yankees-Hater).
It was deserving for Mo Rivera’s final Midsummer Classic, which included a scoreless inning of work and an MVP award, had him run onto the field by himself and among a standing ovation by the crowd at Citi Field and the players in the dugout; everybody saluting one of the greatest players in baseball history.
When playing against the White Sox, I hated hearing Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” because that meant Rivera is come in and the game was a wrap, there was no coming back to try to win the game. When watching his entrance at the All-Star game, I have to admit I got goosebumps when they played the song and he was entering the field.
I just want to take the time to thank Mariano Rivera for showing class and style in a game that is full of drama and PEDs; if there’s anything that is true and pure about the sport, it is Mo. He is the undeputed greatest closer in MLB history and is sitting at the table as one of the greatest in the sport, and yes, that is coming from an official Yankees-hater.