Don't expect a Mariano Rivera decline
He's 41, yes (only 108 pitchers have played at that age), but a new fastball will help
In April 2005, when Mariano Rivera blew two saves against the Boston Red Sox after blowing two games in the previous year's ALCS, skeptics began to predict his downfall. In 2006, he lost a couple of games in April and the wolves again licked their chops, waiting for the decline of the great Rivera. In 2007 it was certain: He had allowed four runs to the Red Sox while recording just one out. Mariano Rivera, postseason hero, closer extraordinaire, had finally reached the end of the line.
Only he didn't.
Each time he bounced back from those early season woes to produce yet another stellar season. Even in 2007, when he allowed nine runs in his first 6.2 innings, he recovered to post a 2.23 ERA the rest of the way. It seems as though he goes through one of those rough patches every year, but he compensates for it with sheer domination otherwise. In seven of the past eight seasons he has produced an ERA of 2.00 or lower; that includes 2010, his age-40 season.
With the World Series behind us, Rivera, for just the second time in his career, is a free agent. That is, essentially, a status in name only. Rivera will certainly return to the only team he has ever known. After winning the World Series in 2009, Rivera's fifth championship, he said that he'd play for five more years if he could. While the Yankees won't sign him to pitch through 2014, they will certainly take care of their closer. It's difficult to fathom where they'd be without him.
While he has a long history of dominance, not even Rivera can continue pitching forever. He turns 41 later this month, an age at which most pitchers are at home with their wives and kids. Only 108 pitchers in history have made an appearance at age 41, and few of them have lived up to Rivera's lofty standards. How, then, can we project how he's going to perform in his own age 41 season if we have so few comparables?
For FanGraphs' full take on why Mariano Rivera will continue to dominate in 2011, you need to be an ESPN Insider.
Offseason Buyer's Guide
Buyer's GuideNov. 7: Keith Law's top 50 free agent rankings
Nov. 8: Buyers Guide: Starting Pitchers
• Projecting the Starters
Nov. 9: Buyers Guide: Relief Pitchers
• Projecting the Relievers
Nov. 10: Buyers Guide: Catchers
• Projecting the Catchers
Nov. 11: Buyers Guide: First basemen/DH
• Projecting the first basemen
Nov. 12: Buyers Guide: Middle infielders
• Projecting middle infielders
Nov. 15: Buyers Guide: Third basemen
• Projecting the third basemen
Nov. 16: Buyers Guide: Outfielders
• Projecting the outfielders
FeaturesNov. 5: BP: Five biggest holes
Nov. 5: Olney: Quieting the rumor mill
Nov. 5: BIS: The next defensive makeover
Nov. 6: BP: Five top moves
Nov. 10: Olney: Top teams chasing Carl Crawford
Nov. 11: Keating: Teams that shouldn't make a move
Nov. 13: BIS: Finding hidden value free agents
Nov. 15: BP: Shopping in the $0.99 bin
History• Law: 2009 top 50 rankings
• Law: 2008 top 50 rankings
• Law: 2007 top 50 rankings
• Law: 2006 top 40 rankings