2013 Season Preview: Mariano Rivera

Reasons to not hate the Vernon Wells acquisition
Pineda scheduled to throw live batting practice in two weeks

Our season preview series wraps up this week with a look at the bullpen, the bench, and miscellaneous leftovers. Opening Day is one week from today.

(J. Meric/Getty)
(J. Meric/Getty)

At this time last year, we all had a sneaking suspicion Mariano Rivera was about the begin the final season of his Hall of Fame career. He played coy all through Spring Training and never did announce his true intentions before a fluke knee injury ended his season in early-May. It wasn’t until this winter we learned he likely would have retired had he gotten healthy in time for postseason, and it wasn’t until a few weeks ago we learned he was definitely planning to retire following the 2012 campaign before the knee injury changed things.

We found that out 16 days ago, when Rivera held a press conference to officially announce his intention to retire after the upcoming 2013 season. “It’s official now. After this year I will be retired … I have to give everything and the tank is almost empty. The little gas that I have left is everything for this year. After this year I am empty,” said the closer, when he made it pretty clear he would not be changing his mind and returning for 2014. This is it, the Summer of Mo.

* * *

Last summer, the Yankees overcame the loss of Rivera thanks to Rafael Soriano, who stepped in and went 42-for-46 in save chances as the fill-in closer. His 2.26 ERA (3.31 FIP) with 57 strikeouts and 16 walks in 57 appearances and 55.2 innings weren’t just adequate, he was arguably the best closer in the league. That said, Soriano is no Rivera. Mo hasn’t posted a FIP that high since 1998 or a K/BB that low (3.56) since 2004. By bWAR (2.6) and fWAR (1.2), Soriano just had the 13th and 16th best seasons of Rivera’s career, respectively. He’s just on another level.

The safety net is gone this season, at least in theory. David Aardsma has closed in the past and David Robertson could probably do the job without a problem, but neither is as accomplished as Soriano. That makes the now 43-year-old Rivera that much more important, which is a little scary because he is coming off the major knee injury. It wasn’t until a week or two into camp that he first felt 100%, but any lingering effects from the knee haven’t shown up in his Grapefruit League performance: no runs with seven strikeouts and one walk in five innings.

As far as his expected performance … does anyone expect anything other than vintage Mo? The rational part of my brain says a 43-year-old coming off a major injury and what amounts to an 11-month layoff should see his performance suffer, or at least need a few weeks to shake off the rust. Every other part of me expects those same cutters on the corners. Seriously, look at Rivera’s called pitch strike zone over the last three years (courtesy of Texas Leaguers)…

Mariano Rivera heat map

That’s three years worth of called balls and strikes. Look at how many pitches are on the corners compared to how many are over the middle of the plate. It’s ridiculous. He’s not human. He’s a robot. A strike-throwing cutter machine.

I honestly don’t know what Rivera will do this summer. He’s earned every benefit of the doubt despite the knee injury — remember, this is a guy who had shoulder surgery in October 2008 and pitched to a 1.76 ERA (2.89 FIP) in 66.1 innings in 2009 — and if he struggles, then he struggles. They’ll deal with it when the time comes. I expect Mo to have his typical one bad week in April and one bad week in August, and otherwise dominate the league like few others.

* * *

The Summer of Mo won’t just be about on-field performance, though. Rivera is expected to enjoy a Chipper Jones-esque farewell tour, receiving gifts and recognition from other clubs as he plays his final series in other AL cities. Despite all the great players to come through the Bronx in recent years, the farewell tour will be like nothing we’ve seen before. As bittersweet as the impending retirement is, it will be fun to watch Rivera get celebrated time and time again this summer.

This is the beginning of the end of an era for the Yankees. We’re never going to see a player like Mariano again, someone who is so brutally effective on the field while carrying himself with such class and dignity off it. It’s lazy and cliche, but Rivera truly is someone we’ll all sit around and tell the grandkids about when the time comes. He’s an all-time great and an icon as a person, a player, and a Yankee. It’s been a privilege and on honor to watch him these last 18 years.

Reasons to not hate the Vernon Wells acquisition
Pineda scheduled to throw live batting practice in two weeks
  • jjyank

    I don’t care what team you root for, it’ll be a sad day for all of baseball when Mo is finally gone. How often can you say that you’ve watched the entire career of the greatest player to ever play his position? I know I’m gonna choke up like a little girl when he gets that last standing ovation at Yankee Stadium.

    • jsbrendog

      which is why of 4 games i bought i made sure to make the final 3 at home the most important. when that presale started i did the equivalent of running with my mouse to get those tix.

    • Jersey Joe

      I bet September games will be sold out before June games get much attendance.

  • LK

    This is the most uncertain year of Rivera’s career, and I’m still not worried at all. He’s simply that good.

  • Jim Is Bored

    I couldn’t make it up to YS last year. There’s no way I wont be up there in August/September this year. I’m not missing his last season.

    Without fail, among all my friends, very few of whom are Yankee fans, all of them say that Mo is the one Yankee they can’t hate. I think that says it all.

  • JLC 776

    No matter how the Yankees perform this year, I’m looking forward to every single time Mo steps on the mound. Bernie’s sendoff year was absolutely magical and Jorge had plenty of great moments as well. Mo, a first-ballot HOFer and a genuine great guy – I’m already tearing up just thinking about it!

  • Strokey Reese

    Hey guys,
    I’m heading to opening day in Cleveland the 8th of April any idea who will be the starting pitcher for that game given the set back with Hughes?

    • jsbrendog


    • vicki

      looks like pettitte.

    • Get Phelps Up

      Pettitte if they skip the #5 spot the first time through the rotation, Kuroda if they don’t.

      • forensic

        Not sure I see any way they pitch guys on 3 days rest the first week of the season, so I’m not sure how you guys have Pettitte on the 8th, assuming I remember him being the 3rd starter in the rotation.

        Looks to me like no matter what it would be Kuroda. I think they have to go either 1-5, 1-2 to get to that game or 1-4, 1, 5, 2 to get there. I could be missing something but those seem to be the two options without starts on short rest, which is the whole point to having a 6th starter on the roster.

  • Manny’s BanWagon

    I think pretty much all of us can agree that one of if not THE major reason to follow the Yankees this year is the Mariano farewell tour. I’ve been a fan since the bronx zoo days and I can’t recall a Yankees player ever having something like this in his final season.

    The fact that it’s Mo just makes it all the better.

  • vicki

    thanks, mike. this post is a nice hot,soapy shower after the comments following joe’s wells piece.

  • Barry

    Only reason I still have Cinderella dreams of this team this year.

  • trr

    The Man is a class act, whose like we may never see again. I am, have been, and always will be an unabashed fan.

  • FIPster Doofus

    Mo is my favorite athlete ever and I expect him to dominate as usual. I just hope he can experience one more playoff berth, though the odds of that appear long at the moment.

  • Yanks200910

    here’s two great videos people might love to watch about Mo



    • Barry

      good video.

  • Tom

    That strikezone plot is just absurd… is there anyone in baseball who can do that?

    That is the plot that should be shown when people ask for the difference between control and command. Even the pitchers with some of the best control in the world cannot command pitches like that.

    • http://www.twitter.com/thewallbreakers Scully

      Really good point. To control is to be able to throw a strike. To command is to be able to throw that strike exactly where you want it to be.

  • http://riveravenueblues Mississippi Doc

    Mike, I would suggest that this year is really like 1965. We really are seeing the end of an era. Not since the great teams of the fifties and early sixties have we seen a team the one whose run is now ending. Rivera, Jeter, Posada, Pettit, Williams, O’Neill, Martinez, et.al. have been this generations Ford, Kubek, Mantle, Berra, Maris, Skowron, Howard, et.al. Hopefully we are not also seeing a repeat of the poor management that characterized post 1965, although I am skeptical. Which brings up a possible first base solution. How about Joe Pepitone?

  • Johnny’s Kucking

    Unlike Jones, when Mariano walks onto the field in your hometown, it means the all-time saves leader is coming into the game with a W to protect. It’s going to be fun to watch who and how he’s cheered.