(Use wisely, it's an antique. Courtesy of The AP)
Probably the hottest debate this morning in Yankeeland was whether Joe should have stuck with Bartolo Colon for the 9th last night after he dominated the first 8 innings on just 87 pitches as opposed to going to Mo for the 3-out save. There are arguments for either case, and essentially you're argument about positive vs. positive. Yes, Colon looked incredible, had a low pitch count, had shown no signs of slowing down, and the Oriole offense had shown no signs of figuring him out. But we're also talking about Mariano F'ing Rivera in the 'pen. The greatest closer of all time and arguably the greatest at doing his specific task in the history of organized athletics. And while I would have liked to see Colon get the chance to finish the game, I can't argue with the decision to bring in Mo. He had only thrown 6 pitches in his previous outing the night before and had a day off before that outing.
But then I took a quick peak at his stats for the year, and in doing that decided that keeping Colon in the game for the 9th inning last night, at least until he got into trouble, would have been the right move when you consider Mo's workload so far this year. A look at his stats shows that, after last night, Mariano has appeared in 21 games so far this season, pitching 20 innings in the process. The results of those 20 innings are predictably Riveraesque: 7.20 K/, 1.35 BB/9, 0.90 WHIP, 1.80 ERA, 1.77 FIP, 2.97 xFIP. My concern, however, is not with the overall results but with the overall usage and how much higher those numbers project if the current pattern continues.
If you take Mo's current workload and project is over a full 162-game season, he would be expected to make 83 appearances and throw 79 innings. That innings total would be Mo's highest since he threw 80.2 in 2001 regular season and that number of appearances would be his highest ever, his previous regular season high being 74 in '04. Now if he were to continue to perform like he has so far, then it's a given that we would all sign up for that many appearances and innings, and I'm sure we would all be happy to have the 2001 and 2004-version of Mariano handle that kind of workload. But we're not dealing with that version of Mo. We're dealing with the 41-year-old version of Mo, the version that can and has gotten banged up easier over the last couple of seasons. Heaping this kind of career-high workload on a 41-year-old pitcher is not a smart baseball decision, even if that pitcher is the seemingly cyborg-like Mariano Rivera.
I know there are more factors to workload than just innings pitched. And it's true that Mo has had some easy outings already this year. 7 of his 21 appearances have been 10 pitches or less, including the last 2, and he has thrown 21 pitches or more in only 4 of his other 17 appearances. But 2 of those 4 appearances resulted in 2 of his 3 blown saves and if you remember those games, it was clear that Mo didn't have his trademark zip or command of his stuff. The fact is, he's an old guy by any baseball standard and he should be used as such to maximize his value over the length of the entire regular season and postseason, should the Yankees get there.
As much as Joe might not want to overwork Joba and D-Rob or as much as he might not completely trust Soriano to get 3 outs in the 8th, he can't always use Mo as their crutch. The Yankees can't afford to have him miss time in the summer because of strains and sprains accumulated from being overworked. If Joe doesn't trust the other guys in the 'pen, then moves should be made to get him some better pieces, by they internal promotions or additions through the free agent or trade markets. Running a 41-year-old Mariano Rivera into the ground is not the right solution.