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, DET18-for-18 (100%), 37 IP, 32 Ks, 4.14 ERA, 1.35 WHIPNext in line: Brandon Lyon/Joel ZumayaThird in line: Ryan Perry
Andrew Bailey, OAK9-for-13 (69%), 48.2 IP, 57 Ks, 2.03 ERA, 1.01 WHIPNext in line: Brad ZieglerThird in line: Michael Wuertz
J.P. Howell, TB6-for-11 (55%), 40.1 IP, 47 Ks, 1.56 ERA, 1.09 WHIPNext in line: Dan WheelerThird in line: Randy Choate
Brad Lidge, PHI16-for-22 (73%), 30.1 IP, 33 Ks, 7.12 ERA, 1.85 WHIPNext in line: Ryan MadsonThird in line: J.C. Romero/Chad Durbin
José Valverde, HOU7-for-11 (64%), 18.2 IP, 23 Ks, 3.86 ERA, 1.07 WHIPNext in line: LaTroy HawkinsThird in line: Chris Sampson
Chad Qualls, ARI16-for-20 (80%), 35.1 IP, 30 Ks, 3.82 ERA, 1.13 WHIPNext in line: Jon Rauch/Juan GutierrezThird in line: Dan Schlereth/Tom Gordon (DL)
Kerry Wood, CLE10-for-14 (71%), 28.1 IP, 31 Ks, 5.08 ERA, 1.45 WHIPNext in line: Chris PérezThird 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, ATL9-for-10 (90%), 39.2 IP, 51 Ks, 1.59 ERA, 0.93 WHIPMike González, ATL9-for-13 (69%), 40.1 IP, 54 Ks, 3.12 ERA, 1.24 WHIPNext in line: Peter Moylan
Mike MacDougal, WAS5-for-5 (100%), 15.2 IP, 7 Ks, 1.15 ERA, 1.47 WHIP (NL stats only)Next in line: Joe BeimelThird in line: Julian Tavarez/Sean Burnett
Jason Frasor, TOR3-for-5 (50%), 3 HLDs, 30 IP, 25 Ks, 2.40 ERA, 1.03 WHIPNext in line: Jeremy Accardo/Brandon LeagueThird in line: B.J. Ryan/Jesse Carlson
Leo Nunez, FLA4-for-7 (57%), 13 HLDs, 36 IP, 34 Ks, 3.75 ERA, 1.22 WHIPDan Meyer, FLA2-for-2 (100%), 11 HLDs, 33.1 IP, 32 Ks, 1.89 ERA, 0.87 WHIPNext in line: Brian Sanches/Brendan DonnellyThird 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, NYY21-for-22 (95%), 34.2 IP, 42 Ks, 2.60 ERA, 0.92 WHIPNext in line: Brian BruneyThird in line: Phil Coke
Jonathan Broxton, LAD20-for-22 (91%), 39.2 IP, 65 Ks, 2.72 ERA, 0.86 WHIPNext in line: Cory WadeThird in line: Ramon Troncoso
Joe Nathan, MIN22-for-24 (92%), 33.1 IP, 43 Ks, 1.35 ERA, 0.75 WHIPNext in line: Jose MijaresThird in line: Matt Guerrier/Jesse Crain
Jonathan Papelbon, BOS21-for-23 (91%), 37 IP, 38 Ks, 1.70 ERA, 1.32 WHIPNext in line: Takashi SaitoThird in line: Hideki Okajima/Daniel Bard
Heath Bell, SD23-for-24 (96%), 36.1 IP, 40 Ks, 1.49 ERA, 1.05 WHIPNext in line: Cla Meredith/Mike AdamsThird in line: Edward Mujica/ Greg Burke
Francisco Rodríguez, NYM21-for-24 (88%), 39.2 IP, 40 Ks, 1.59 ERA, 1.18 WHIPNext in line: Bobby ParnellThird in line: Brian Stokes/Billy Wagner (DL)
Joakim Soria, KC13-for-15 (87%), 21.2 IP, 29 Ks, 1.66 ERA, 1.02 WHIPNext in line: Juan CruzThird in line: Kyle Farnsworth
Trevor Hoffman, MIL18-for-19 (95%), 23.1 IP, 19 Ks, 1.93 ERA, 0.94 WHIPNext in line: Carlos Villanueva/Mitch StetterThird in line: Todd Coffey
Bobby Jenks, CWS19-for-21 (90%), 28.2 IP, 28 Ks, 3.14 ERA, 1.05 WHIPNext in line: Matt ThorntonThird in line: Octavio Dotel/Tony Peña
Francisco Cordero, CIN21-for-22 (95%), 36 IP, 30 Ks, 1.75 ERA, 1.14 WHIPNext in line: David WeathersThird in line: Nick Masset
David Aardsma, SEA17-for-18 (94%), 38.1 IP, 48 Ks, 1.41 ERA, 1.15 WHIPNext in line: Mark LoweThird in line: Miguel Batista
Frank Francisco, TEX14-for-16 (92%), 26.2 IP, 30 Ks, 2.36 ERA, 0.94 WHIPNext in line: C.J. Wilson/Eddie GuardadoThird in line: Darren O'Day
Brian Wilson, SF22-for-26 (84%), 38 IP, 42 Ks, 3.79 ERA, 1.29 WHIPNext in line: Jeremy AffeldtThird in line: Justin Miller/Merkin Valdez
Ryan Franklin, STL20-for-21 (95%), 32.2 IP, 24 Ks, 0.83 ERA, 0.83 WHIPNext in line: Jason MotteThird in line: Kyle McClellan
Huston Street, COL21-for-22 (95%), 37.1 IP, 42 Ks, 2.65 ERA, 1.02 WHIPNext in line: Joel Peralta/Alan EmbreeThird in line: Matt Daley/Manny Corpas (DL)
Brian Fuentes, LAA24-for-27 (89%), 29.1 IP, 32 Ks, 3.38 ERA, 1.23 WHIPNext in line: Jason BulgerThird in line: Justin Speier
George Sherrill, BAL18-for-21 (86%), 34.1 IP, 33 Ks, 2.62 ERA, 1.17 WHIPNext in line: Jim JohnsonThird in line: Danys Báez/Chris Ray
Kevin Gregg, CHC15-for-18 (83%), 38.1 IP, 38 Ks, 3.52 ERA, 1.28 WHIPNext in line: Carlos MármolThird in line: Angel Guzman
Matt Capps, PIT19-for-21 (90%), 28.2 IP, 20 Ks, 4.71 ERA, 1.43 WHIPNext in line: John GrabowThird in line: Jesse Chavez/Joel Hanrahan