Unless you're an active vampire working the mountains of Transylvania, or filming locations in Hollywood, all good things eventually come to an end. The cycle of life virtually guarantees it.
Even Mariano Rivera isn't immune.
Last year, at an age (41) when most players relish retirement, the esteemed stopper continued to mystify hitters in high-duress situations. He was 44-for-49 in save opportunities, notched a sleek 1.91 ERA — the eleventh time he finished a season with an ERA below 2.00 — and tallied a very respectable 8.80 K/9. Fantasy-wise, he finished fourth among closers in overall value according to Baseball Monster, familiar territory for arguably the greatest closer the game has ever produced. Visibly, there were no signs of him slowing down.
Rivera's consistency, longevity and sheer domination is remarkable considering he almost exclusively relies on one pitch, the cutter.
When on, his money-maker is the most feared pitch in baseball. Hitters of all backgrounds know it's coming. It's no clubhouse secret. Last year, he featured it 87.3 percent of the time. However, often times the offering is an unsolvable illusion. Houdini couldn't execute any better. Upon launch it takes on the appearance of a grapefruit — large, enticing, juicy. But by the time it pops the mitt, it resembles a grape, leaving its victims perplexed and demoralized.
Though the cutter has inflicted innings of pain over the past two decades, its effectiveness has slowly eroded. Fangraphs' pitch values measurement shows a gradual deterioration since 2008, a decline that could intensify this season.
Case in point, opening day in Tampa.
It's extremely rare when Rivera fails to execute. Derek Jeter receives the cold shoulder more often. But against the Rays, the untouchable was touched.
Rivera entered the game in his usual composed fashion. With the Yankees nursing a one-run lead in hostile territory, the predicament was rather ordinary for the reliever. Surprisingly, the outcome was anything but. The first batter he faced, Desmond Jennings, slapped a single to center. Ben Zobrist quickly followed with an RBI triple to right center.
After that, Evan Longoria and Luke Scott were intentionally walked to load the bases. Then, for a fleeting moment, the cutter regained it's baffling form, as the next hitter, Sean Rodriguez, struck out swinging. Unfortunately for The Scorpion, the pitch soon lost its sting. On a 1-2 count, Carlos Pena took it opposite field for a massive fly-ball single.
Afterwards, Joe Giriardi called the derailment "shocking." Rivera, humbled by the failure, shouldered the blame. From the Chicago Tribune:
"It's a situation where you don't want to make mistakes," the 42-year-old Rivera said. "It's my fault..."
"I don't want that go like that, but again, those things are going to happen," Rivera said. "It happened (Friday). Hopefully it doesn't happen again. I just have to be ready for the next situation."
Ardent supporters of Rivera immediately dismissed the misstep on Twitter. One fan's cry pretty much summed up what the entire Yankees Nation felt at the time: "It's one game for (expletive) sake! There's absolutely no reason to overreact." His somewhat clean followup in a non-save situation in Baltimore Monday (1 IP, 1 HA (2B), 0 ER, 1 K) and flawless execution Tuesday (1 IP, 0 HA, 2 K, S) upheld their perspective, for now.
Though a future Hall of Famer coming off a spectacular season deserves the benefit of the doubt, one with similar credentials at age 42 necessarily doesn't. Just look at what a few players accomplished at an identical crossroads:
Rivera zealots, does that make you feel uneasy, at least a little? Be honest.
Yes, every player is different. And one could easily argue Rivera is incomparable, which is fair. But the corrosive effects of Father Time impact everyone, even allegedly invincible living legends. Trevor Hoffman is a prime example. Though Eck's fine line in '97 is a strong counterargument.
Undoubtedly, his leash will remain quite long. But if the strikes against Mo mount, the Yankees have a beastly option waiting in the wings. Setup man David Robertson, who punched out a dynamite 13.5 batters per nine and coaxed a 1.44 GB/FB ratio in 66.2 innings a season ago, has the stuff and demeanor to become an elite closer. He struck out the side setting up No. 42 last Thursday. Former 45-save stud, Rafael Soriano, could also enter the end-game conversation.
Rivera's career has been nothing short of brilliant. But for his thickheaded backers, a possible numbers slide could be hard to swallow.
Fearless Forecast: 59.1 IP, 2 W, 27 S, 3.55 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 50 K
FLAMES OF THE WEEK
Jeff Samardzija, ChC, SP/RP (19-percent owned) — Here's an amazing stat: 25 first-pitch strikes. That's what the former Golden Domer tossed Easter Sunday versus Washington. Samardzija made tremendous strides with his secondary stuff last season, locating offerings with increased precision and consistency. Carrying it over into spring training (16:1 K:BB split) and now into the regular season (8:0 K:BB vs. Wash), he appears to be on the cusp of a break out. The massive chip on his shoulder is definitely motivating him. Run support will be an issue, but he has the stuff to emerge a Bud Norris-type, contributing sound mixed league results in strikeouts, ERA and WHIP. And to top it all off, he might have the sleaziest porntastic look in the majors. Consider him a strong SP4/5 in mixers moving forward.
Fearless Forecast (season): 182.1 IP, 10 W, 3.69 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 177 K
Adam LaRoche, Wash, 1B (23-percent) — When functioning at full-strength, LaRoche is a quality corner infielder capable of tallying difference-making numbers in homers and RBI. Recall two years ago as a member of the D'Backs he cracked 25 homers and drove in 100 runs. Historically, he typically leves his bat in cold storage during April/May, but off to a scorching start (8-20, 2 HR, 6RBI, 3 R), the hook might buck the trend. "Healthy and hungry" according to Davey Johnson, LaRoche is a commodity to take seriously. His entrenched spot as the Nats' cleanup hitter should gift him with several runs-driving opportunities. It appears the 32-year-old is quickly becoming a strong rebound candidate. Add. Reap. Win.
Fearless Forecast (season): 548 at-bats, .268, 23 HR, 89 RBI, 82 R, 2 SB
LAMES O' THE WEAK
admitted exercising caution is "smart." Because Valley Fever can linger for weeks or months (See Jackson, Conor), Davis' long-term value is nearly impossible to forecast. For now adding a serviceable 1B (e.g. LaRoche) to stem the tide would be a savvy move until he fights off the fungus.
Fearless Forecast (season): 492 at-bats, .279 BA, 20 HR, 81 RBI, 75 R, 1 SB
Alex Gordon, KC, OF (96-percent) — Concerns whether or not Gordon could maintain or exceed last year's blistering pace were palpable this draft season. His previous failures only enhanced worry. After his disconcerting 0-for-17, eight-K start, owner anxiety over the outfielder is on the rise. Ned Yost gave him a day off Monday to "clear his head," but again hitless on Tuesday, his response certainly wasn't encouraging. Based on his otherworldly BABIP (.358) and career high 17 steals from last year, a dropoff in BA and SBs was expected, though most believed his power totals would stabilize. Obviously it's an incredibly small sample, but fears Gordon may step backward are understandable. Hopefully, you didn't overpay.
Fearless Forecast (season): 598 at-bats, .278 BA, 19 HR, 68 RBI, 92 R, 12 SB
QUICK HITTERS (Random musings from my demented brain)
• Chris Perez is bound and determined to erase the remaining strands on my head. Dirty saves are for the iron-stomached. Because I have Vinnie Pestano shackled to him in AL-only LABR, finality can't come soon enough.
• Yoenis Cespedes could probably dead-lift a Yank tank a minimum of 12 times consecutively. Dude's thick, muscular frame is Bash Brothers-like. Wouldn't be at all surprised if Al Gore soothsayer/MMA punching bag Jose Canseco challenges him to a fight in the very near future. Until then, the Cuban heartthrob should continue to mash his way to 30-plus bombs, especially if he envisions Ozzie Guillen's face on every fastball. But due to his mammoth strikeout total, expect a BA around .250.
• Believe in Rafael Frucal's revitalization. I swear the St. Louis Arch is some sort of magical portal to the past. Then again, it could be the bratzels. It seems many veterans receive a second lease on life after signing with the Cards. With Beltran, Holliday, Berkman and Freese hitting behind him, Furcal could finish in range of .280-10-50-90-25, provided he stays healthy. That's solid production for a SS even in fairly shallow mixers. At 34, he's not exactly ancient.
• Pat yourself on the back, common Y! Public Leaguer. After Yu Darvish snorted a line of gun powder in the first inning of his MLB debut versus Seattle, a mass-drop seemed predictable. However, despite his jittery outing, the import remains on millions of virtual rosters, even in the shallowest of leagues. Nerves definitely got the best of Yu. A media throng the size of the Super Bowl's would probably give Roy Halladay the yips. Significant improvement is likely Saturday at Minnesota. At this point, my expectations haven't changed. Fearless Forecast: 210 IP, 17 W, 3.44 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 195 K
• Houston isn't quite the barren fantasy wasteland most of us predicted. Carlos Lee has swung the bat extremely well and Bud Norris already has a quality start under his belt. But the most exciting player in H-Town might be Jordan Schafer. If his three-hit, three-steal game Tuesday against former employer Atlanta is a sign of statistical goodness to come, pluck him off the buffet. The once respected prospect could take a nice step forward at 25. If he remains in the leadoff spot a .275-5-45-80-25 line is attainable — delicious for deep-leaguers.
• If you're ever in the Phoenix area, be sure to consume an entire keg of Four Peaks Brewery's Sunbru. It's a light, tasty Kolsch-styled ale perfect for the warm weather months. Most importantly, it packs quite the punch (5.1% alcohol by volume). It's not quite IPA-level, but it will quickly take an imbiber to their "Happy Place," minus little people in chaps (Unless you're into that kind of thing. Really, who isn't?).
Want to bean Brad in the head? Follow him on Twitter @YahooNoise and be sure to check him along with Andy Behrens, Brandon Funston and Scott Pianowski on The Fantasy Freak Show every Friday at 5 PM PT/8 PM ET on Yahoo! Sports Radio
- Mariano Rivera