Mo ranks among season's, history's best

Trolling the Internet for breaking news on Wednesday, I glanced at the SI Vault, which featured an August 21, 1972 story by Ron Fimrite about the 1972 Yankees and their unlikely fight for the AL East crown. The Yankees' closer at the time, Sparky Lyle, was the subject of much of Fimrite's prose. The author pointed out that relief pitchers already held a rich tradition in New York, due to the likes of Johnny Murphy, Joe Page, and Luis Arroyo. Wow, how things have changed. I was born in 1975, and I know quite a bit about the Yankees, but I barely even recognize those last three names.

Since 1972, the Yankees turned Lyle into a New York legend, acquired future Hall-of-Famer Rich "Goose" Gossage (the unrivaled star of the early 1980s bullpen in the Bronx), yielded the closer reins to Dave "Rags" Righetti in 1984 when Gossage headed to the Padres, and launched the career of a young starter-turned setup man in 1996 when Mariano Rivera took over eighth inning duties.

Much has been written about Rivera (by me and many others) during the past few months, but I continue to hear nitwits on talk radio, in bars, and on blogs making ill-informed remarks that Mo has "lost a step." Nonsense. He may not throw the ball 95-96 anymore, but his 91-92 MPH cutter goes exactly where he wants it to, every time -- running down and in on lefties and briskly away from righties. Rivera's K/9 is 10.90, his K/BB is a preposterous 14.00, and even though his BABIP is 30 points above his career average, he's carrying a 2.60 ERA. Mo's Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) is at a 2.75, a number that hasn't been over 3.00 since 2000 -- which was probably his worst statistical season on record in terms of getting clutch outs (73.6 strand rate) and control (2.32 K/BB).

About 500 saves later, the guy is still dealing, even if people suspect he isn't "the same." I'll admit, Mo has changed, but he's done so by establishing better control and pitching to contact when the situation calls for it (like a three-run lead versus a one-run edge). He's still the guy I want throwing in the bottom of the ninth with a small lead, the same as it's been since the end of the last decade. Now that is a fitting capstone on the rich tradition of Yankee relievers.

All statistics through June 7.

Fernando Rodney, DET 18-for-18 (100%), 37 IP, 32 Ks, 4.14 ERA, 1.35 WHIP Next in line: Brandon Lyon/Joel Zumaya Third in line: Ryan Perry

Andrew Bailey, OAK 9-for-13 (69%), 48.2 IP, 57 Ks, 2.03 ERA, 1.01 WHIP Next in line: Brad Ziegler Third in line: Michael Wuertz

J.P. Howell, TB 6-for-11 (55%), 40.1 IP, 47 Ks, 1.56 ERA, 1.09 WHIP Next in line: Dan Wheeler Third in line: Randy Choate

Brad Lidge, PHI 16-for-22 (73%), 30.1 IP, 33 Ks, 7.12 ERA, 1.85 WHIP Next in line: Ryan Madson Third in line: J.C. Romero/Chad Durbin

José Valverde, HOU 7-for-11 (64%), 18.2 IP, 23 Ks, 3.86 ERA, 1.07 WHIP Next in line: LaTroy Hawkins Third in line: Chris Sampson

Chad Qualls, ARI 16-for-20 (80%), 35.1 IP, 30 Ks, 3.82 ERA, 1.13 WHIP Next in line: Jon Rauch/Juan Gutierrez Third in line: Dan Schlereth/Tom Gordon (DL)

Kerry Wood, CLE 10-for-14 (71%), 28.1 IP, 31 Ks, 5.08 ERA, 1.45 WHIP Next in line: Chris Pérez Third in line: Jensen Lewis

Brad Lidge surrendered the go-ahead run after entering a 3-3 ballgame on Tuesday, taking the loss. Just don't give up on him yet, Charlie Manuel. I'm with you, bro. Jose Valverde notched his first save since June 25 on Monday, allowing a leadoff hit to Jack Wilson in the ninth but then striking out the side (swinging, I might add). Valverde's K/9 is still an impressive 11.09 and his K/BB is at 4.60. IF someone's dealing him on the cheap, he'd make a nice acquisition. J.P. Howell didn't make the All-Star team despite the fact that his manager had a say. Way to inspire confidence in your young closer, Joe Maddon. Kerry Wood and Chad Qualls still have closing jobs, for now, but could always be moved before the trading deadline. They haven't been all that wonderful this season, although both have had different problems. Wood is walking too many batters and Qualls, despite a 7.50 K/BB rate, has four blown saves and has a terribly low strand rate for a closer -- 65.2%. Fernando Rodney still eludes the dreaded blown save, although he's been terrible in non-save situations this season. With Joel Zumaya touching 100 again, Rodney's days as Detroit's unchallenged closer may be numbered.

Matt Lindstrom, FLA -- Sprained right elbow -- 15-Day DL

During the Marlins road trip, Lindstrom will be in Florida working out. He threw without discomfort on July 4 and is way ahead of schedule. If all goes well on the stretch run of his rehab, Lindstrom could return soon after the All-Star break.

Scott Downs, TOR -- Sprained left big toe

Downs continues to throw bullpen sessions in an attempt to resume his spot in the bullpen before the break, but with Jason Frasor pitching well, there's no hurry to rush him back. Plan for a July 17 return.

Troy Percival, TB -- Right shoulder tendonitis -- Return uncertain

Rafael Soriano, ATL 9-for-10 (90%), 39.2 IP, 51 Ks, 1.59 ERA, 0.93 WHIP Mike González, ATL 9-for-13 (69%), 40.1 IP, 54 Ks, 3.12 ERA, 1.24 WHIP Next in line: Peter Moylan

Mike MacDougal, WAS 5-for-5 (100%), 15.2 IP, 7 Ks, 1.15 ERA, 1.47 WHIP (NL stats only) Next in line: Joe Beimel Third in line: Julian Tavarez/Sean Burnett

Jason Frasor, TOR 3-for-5 (50%), 3 HLDs, 30 IP, 25 Ks, 2.40 ERA, 1.03 WHIP Next in line: Jeremy Accardo/Brandon League Third in line: B.J. Ryan/Jesse Carlson

Leo Nunez, FLA 4-for-7 (57%), 13 HLDs, 36 IP, 34 Ks, 3.75 ERA, 1.22 WHIP Dan Meyer, FLA 2-for-2 (100%), 11 HLDs, 33.1 IP, 32 Ks, 1.89 ERA, 0.87 WHIP Next in line: Brian Sanches/Brendan Donnelly Third in line: Kiki Calero (DL)

Rafael Soriano and Mike Gonzalez continue to put up excellent numbers out of the Atlanta bullpen, although Gonzalez hasn't had as many save chances as Soriano of late. It's about 2-1 at this point, so act accordingly. The Marlins are reportedly in the market for a real closer, looking at Heath Bell and Matt Capps to name a couple. It amazes me the Padres are even considering dealing Bell, but as the midget psychologist says in The Natural, "losing is a disease." In the meantime, they've added veteran righty Brendan Donnelly (does he still wear goggles?) to the bullpen for some depth. Mike MacDougal still hasn't blown a save, but it's only a matter of time, since his K/BB rate (0.56) is obviously on the wrong side of 1.00.

Mariano Rivera, NYY 21-for-22 (95%), 34.2 IP, 42 Ks, 2.60 ERA, 0.92 WHIP Next in line: Brian Bruney Third in line: Phil Coke

Jonathan Broxton, LAD 20-for-22 (91%), 39.2 IP, 65 Ks, 2.72 ERA, 0.86 WHIP Next in line: Cory Wade Third in line: Ramon Troncoso

Joe Nathan, MIN 22-for-24 (92%), 33.1 IP, 43 Ks, 1.35 ERA, 0.75 WHIP Next in line: Jose Mijares Third in line: Matt Guerrier/Jesse Crain

Jonathan Papelbon, BOS 21-for-23 (91%), 37 IP, 38 Ks, 1.70 ERA, 1.32 WHIP Next in line: Takashi Saito Third in line: Hideki Okajima/Daniel Bard

Heath Bell, SD 23-for-24 (96%), 36.1 IP, 40 Ks, 1.49 ERA, 1.05 WHIP Next in line: Cla Meredith/Mike Adams Third in line: Edward Mujica/ Greg Burke

Francisco Rodríguez, NYM 21-for-24 (88%), 39.2 IP, 40 Ks, 1.59 ERA, 1.18 WHIP Next in line: Bobby Parnell Third in line: Brian Stokes/Billy Wagner (DL)

Joakim Soria, KC 13-for-15 (87%), 21.2 IP, 29 Ks, 1.66 ERA, 1.02 WHIP Next in line: Juan Cruz Third in line: Kyle Farnsworth

Trevor Hoffman, MIL 18-for-19 (95%), 23.1 IP, 19 Ks, 1.93 ERA, 0.94 WHIP Next in line: Carlos Villanueva/Mitch Stetter Third in line: Todd Coffey

Bobby Jenks, CWS 19-for-21 (90%), 28.2 IP, 28 Ks, 3.14 ERA, 1.05 WHIP Next in line: Matt Thornton Third in line: Octavio Dotel/Tony Peña

Francisco Cordero, CIN 21-for-22 (95%), 36 IP, 30 Ks, 1.75 ERA, 1.14 WHIP Next in line: David Weathers Third in line: Nick Masset

David Aardsma, SEA 17-for-18 (94%), 38.1 IP, 48 Ks, 1.41 ERA, 1.15 WHIP Next in line: Mark Lowe Third in line: Miguel Batista

Frank Francisco, TEX 14-for-16 (92%), 26.2 IP, 30 Ks, 2.36 ERA, 0.94 WHIP Next in line: C.J. Wilson/Eddie Guardado Third in line: Darren O'Day

Brian Wilson, SF 22-for-26 (84%), 38 IP, 42 Ks, 3.79 ERA, 1.29 WHIP Next in line: Jeremy Affeldt Third in line: Justin Miller/Merkin Valdez

Ryan Franklin, STL 20-for-21 (95%), 32.2 IP, 24 Ks, 0.83 ERA, 0.83 WHIP Next in line: Jason Motte Third in line: Kyle McClellan

Huston Street, COL 21-for-22 (95%), 37.1 IP, 42 Ks, 2.65 ERA, 1.02 WHIP Next in line: Joel Peralta/Alan Embree Third in line: Matt Daley/Manny Corpas (DL)

Brian Fuentes, LAA 24-for-27 (89%), 29.1 IP, 32 Ks, 3.38 ERA, 1.23 WHIP Next in line: Jason Bulger Third in line: Justin Speier

George Sherrill, BAL 18-for-21 (86%), 34.1 IP, 33 Ks, 2.62 ERA, 1.17 WHIP Next in line: Jim Johnson Third in line: Danys Báez/Chris Ray

Kevin Gregg, CHC 15-for-18 (83%), 38.1 IP, 38 Ks, 3.52 ERA, 1.28 WHIP Next in line: Carlos Mármol Third in line: Angel Guzman

Matt Capps, PIT 19-for-21 (90%), 28.2 IP, 20 Ks, 4.71 ERA, 1.43 WHIP Next in line: John Grabow Third in line: Jesse Chavez/Joel Hanrahan

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