Small sample size indeed. Rivera has pitched five times for five total innings. You cannot hang a sabr-hat on anything there. But they are so pretty. Five innings. No hits. No walks. No runs. Four strikeouts. How the heck does he do that? This metronome is forty-two years old. After a winter off, he comes in every spring and throws the exact same motion, hits most of his targets for an inning, breaks a few bats and then takes the rest of the day off. He will come back the next time and do the same thing. How do I know? It happens every spring.
Since 2006, Mariano Rivera has pitched in 49 spring training games. In those 49 spring outings, he has given up two earned runs. Rivera has not given up a spring run since 2008. He has walked five batters and given up nineteen hits. How does that 0.50 WHIP grab you? His ERA is 0.37. The metronome.
But anyone can pitch a series of single innings and not give up a run or a hit or a walk, right? You think so? Let’s take a look at the second best closer in baseball, Jonathan Papelbon. Papelbon tried to become a starter in 2006 and 2007, so we can’t really look at those springs. But, let’s look at 2008 to this spring season. Since 2008, Papelbon has thrown 45.2 Spring Training innings. Papelbon has given up 37 hits and fifteen walks. Papelbon has given up six spring homers since 2008 and yielded 21 runs. That’s not bad. But he’s not a metronome. Like most mortals, he has to round himself into shape for the season.
Just about anything that can be written about Mariano Rivera has already been said. There are no more decent or creative words that can add to the narrative. In a game that is defined by failure even for the most successful players, it is still big, big news when Rivera fails in an outing. I believe this will be his last season. All the signs are there. Every spring he has become this long lost waterfall we rediscover on our favorite hiking trail. Our eyes widen and we smile in amazement. Enjoy the metronome and the waterfall while that arm is still ticking back and forth and before the water source dries up.