2009: The greatest closer of all time and, in my opinion, the greatest relief pitcher ever, Mariano Rivera was again reliably outstanding in helping the Yankees clinch their 27th World Series title. Sporting an ERA below 2 for the sixth time in the last seven years, and for the ninth time in his incredible career, Mariano dominated opponents despite throwing a cutter that topped out at just 90-92 for most of the season. Yet even for the great Mariano, whose career has been punctuated by stellar statistical, personal, and team achievements, 2009 was something to behold. Not only did Mariano again maintain a sub-2.00 ERA (1.76), he kept runners off the bases with a gaudy WHIP of 0.905–the eighth time in his 15 major-league seasons his WHIP has been 1.000 or under. This was primarily because Mariano walked a mere 12 batters in 66 1/3 IP, the seventh time in the last eight seasons in which Mariano has walked a dozen or fewer. With pinpoint control yet somewhat reduced velocity, Mariano nonetheless maintained a K/9 ratio of 9.8 for the second straight season.
Furthermore, in 2009 Mariano allowed runs in only 8 of his 66 appearances, punctuated by an amazing stretch when, for 21 straight appearances from June 16 to August 9, he didn’t allow a run in 21 1/3 IP, forfeiting just 10 hits and 4 walks. In that stretch, he also notched his 500th career save June 28 against the Mets–while recording his first career RBI by working a bases-loaded walk against crosstown nemesis K-Rod in a 4-2 victory. Just the second reliever to amass 500 or more saves, Mariano finished the regular season with 526 and capped his great season with more brilliant post-season pitching that has become his trademark–ending 9 games, saving 5, and allowing but a run in 16 playoff innings (0.56 ERA) to lower his all-time best post-season ERA to 0.74 as the Yankees won #27. Crucially and not surprisingly, he was the only closer among the eight playoff teams not to blow a game. All this despite a strained rib cage in the World Series; all this at the age of 39.
There is Mariano, and there is everyone else. When it comes to shutting down games, he simply has no peer.
- 2009 Statistics: 3-3 record, 1.76 ERA, 44 saves, 66 1/3 IP, 48 H, 13 ER, 12 BB, 72 K, 0.905 WHIP, 10th All-Star appearance, Rolaids Relief Man Award winner, DHL Delivery Man of the Year Award winner.
2010: My good friend and big Yankees fan Frank the Sage says it best: “Only when I hear that he entered the manager’s office holding his right arm in his left hand and threw it down on the desk will I believe Mariano Rivera can’t get guys out.” Amen. Expect more greatness, even at the age of 40. I foresee Mariano having another terrific season, tallying another sub-2.00 ERA year in which he shows excellent control, and putting up excellent overall numbers. Many have awaited a drop-off from Mariano, and it simply hasn’t happened. Heck, his one down year as a closer, 2007 (3-4, 3.15 ERA, 39 saves, 9.3 K/9, 1.121 WHIP), was for most mortals awfully good. I need to see it before I believe Mariano drops off and, frankly, I don’t see it.
- 2010 Prediction: 4-3 record, 1.81 ERA, 42 saves, 69 2/3 IP, 75 K, 51 H, 13 BB, 0.928 WHIP.