Mo Town


Is there anything in baseball—in sport, for that matter—at the moment that is more aethetically pleasing than the pitching motion of Mariano Rivera? Bring hands together. Look down. Contract body. Extend into an X [above]. Release. Rest at attention. It’s an amazing physical poetry, something worthy of Balanchine or Martha Graham for its grace, discipline, balance, and sheer beauty. And that’s before the ball even hits the target. And it almost always hits the target. With crazy precision. The numbers he has posted thus far are the index of this physical perfection: 23 ip, 11 h, 1 r, 1 bb, 21 k, .39 era, .52 whip. This hasn’t been a great year for Yankee fans, but watching Rivera has been a privilege.

[Ed Note: We’ve closed the comments at #42. It just seemed right.]

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • It’s hard to chase a moving target, but I hope that Mo catches the saves record. Not that it’s needed for his Hall of Fame career, but might help the “best ever” argument..
    I also enjoy reading random Mo stories, like the one where he climbed the walls and stole a batting practice HR from ARod. Good stuff..

    Lar May 29, 2008, 3:24 pm
  • How about the story where he threw a 90mph cut fastball to himself and hit it out of the park?
    Of course he knew what was coming though, had to make it a little easier.

    YaYa May 29, 2008, 3:34 pm
  • I must admit I have a lot of respect for Mo. His form is the picture of perfection and efficiency, and he goes about his business quietly and professionally. Granted that’s because he hardly speaks any English, but still.

    Atheose May 29, 2008, 3:38 pm
  • By the way:
    Mo’s career ERA+: 197
    Hoffman’s career ERA+: 145
    Mo’s average saves/year: 32.6 (456 total)
    Hoffman’s average saves/year: 33.6 (534 total)
    Since Hoffman has two years on Mo, and they both started at age 25, Mo could very well end up with more. Especially considering Trevor is playing like crap this year.

    Atheose May 29, 2008, 3:46 pm
  • I was at a game a few weeks ago with a cricket-loving Australian coworker. He enjoys watching the pitchers quite a bit, and commented on the various pitchers we saw in the game, on their motions, ball movement, etc.
    When Mo came in, he said, “is this guy good? because he looks so smooth and easy…”

    Anonymous May 29, 2008, 4:28 pm
  • Agreed. He’s been the best thing about this season. What he’s doing is truly remarkable.

    Nick-YF May 29, 2008, 4:53 pm
  • Best ever…no doubt. He is the only sure thing in pinstripes anymore it seems…

    krueg May 29, 2008, 5:13 pm
  • Interesting timing on this post. I emailed a link to IH earlier today – an article about Mo by Buster Olney, from 2004 – that I read long ago and still enjoy.

    attackgerbil May 29, 2008, 5:44 pm
  • growing up i was the worlds biggest lee smith fan. he was the most imposing presence to ever take the mound as a closer. he would walk to the mound from the bullpen, fro shimmering, grinding his teeth the whole way. it was almost like there wasn’t a batter in the box when he’d glare into the catcher. smith bounced around from (bad) team to (bad) team, but still managed to rack up astounding career numbers. it still amazes me that both trevor and lee were able to amass so many saves for crap teams.

    sf rod May 29, 2008, 5:57 pm
  • I remember reading somewhere that Hoffman has a higher save percentage than Mo (something like 89 to 88), which probably could be checked out, but I’m lazy.. =)
    That said though, and I wasn’t thinking about this, but the ERA+ is telling – he’s dominating.. in the AL East! I don’t remember if ERA+ adjusts for park/team against offense, but even by itself, should make up for the difference in a percent or two of blown saves – the better offense will simply mean that there’s a higher probability of blowing a save.
    I think I read somewhere (since this is a Fantasy stat) that there’s only a modest correlation between saves and team wins. Keep in mind that sometimes *great* teams will just dominate enough that there might be fewer save opportunities.
    Also, in the last few years Mo always had some issues in the cold. Maybe he’s gotten over that.
    Of course, when you add the postseason resume (though he hasn’t been able to add much to it the last few years..)
    Okay, I’m a Mo fanboy, sue me. =)
    (Disclaimer: my first Yankees jersey ever owned – #42.)

    Lar May 29, 2008, 6:24 pm
  • I think YF is projecting the results of Rivera’s motion onto the motion itself — which, unlike those results, strikes me as unexceptional, except for its consistency.
    He is a great pitcher, no question. Gorgeous delivery? Nah. (Gimme Tiant any day.)

    Hudson May 29, 2008, 6:25 pm
  • It’s gorgeous enough to keep him off the DL most of the time.. =)
    And then you have Mark Prior, who had “perfect mechanics”…

    Lar May 29, 2008, 6:29 pm
  • I said it in a previous thread but I really hope that Mo wins the Cy this season. I think his dominance over the years should earn him at least one during his career.
    As for his motion, its an absolute thing of beauty. He generates all that speed with such (seemingly) limited effort. Every body part is in the right place at the right time. Remarkable.

    Sam-YF May 29, 2008, 6:48 pm
  • The gift that keeps on giving. Every discussion of his must include –
    Regular: 976 IP/197 ERA+/1.034 WHIP/878 Ks/239 BBs
    Playoff: 117 IP/0.77 ERA/0.735 WHIP/93 Ks/16 BBs
    With that oh so smooth delivery, it’s hard to imagine him ever being done. GOAT.

    A YF May 29, 2008, 7:38 pm
  • One thing that goes unnoted often is that Dennis Eckersley pitched as a starter for 13 years before converting to a closer. He closed from age 32 to 43, and was a starter in his prime. He had 390 saves over those 12 years, an average of 32.5 saves a year. If he had been a closer for his previous 13 seasons he would have had 813 career saves.
    Of course his career ERA+ was only 116, which pales in comparison to Mo’s 197.

    Atheose May 29, 2008, 9:51 pm
  • I am with Hudson. I love Mo, but he is not “Balanchine-esque”, to paraphrase YF, and even if you grant a level of beauty to his consistency and accomplishment, the idea that his pitching motion is the most beautiful thing in all of sport is hyperbolic. I can think of many things in sport that dwarf Mo’s pitching motion – Federer’s backhand, Thierry Henry (maybe two years ago or when healthy) on a run, almost anything Ronaldinho does. Cristiano Ronaldo too. Alex’s swing is technically beautiful to me. Hell, even Ernie Els’ swing in disrepair is more beautiful, if golf does anything at all for you.
    I am all for praising Rivera, he is one of the game’s greatest and classiest, but the idea that he is also professional sport’s most technically beautiful is silly.

    SF May 29, 2008, 10:21 pm
  • Perfection is consistently realizing the ideal mechanics. No baseball pitcher, active today, does it better than Mo. Absolute function from willfully repeatable form.
    But it’s impossible to compare across sports. Mere analogies, not equations. Pressure just amplifies the faults, after inception within the neural level.
    I’d also add Tiger Woods’ swing.

    A YF May 29, 2008, 11:20 pm
  • Federer’s bankhand is what made me change mine from a two-handed backhanded to a one-handed one. So fluid and smooth. Beautiful.

    Atheose May 29, 2008, 11:21 pm
  • I think you guys are allowing Mo’s uniform to influence your judgement. He really does have nearly flawless mechanics, scouts have been saying this for years. This is an extraordinary thing to accomplish and few over the years have as refined a motion as his. Its right there with the things that other examples that SF mentioned. If he was wearing the letters B-O-S-T-O-N across his chest you would agree….

    Sam-YF May 30, 2008, 12:11 am
  • They’re confusing style over substance. Only flaws are noticeable. Perfection isn’t loud except in the results. Everything else is a mere gimmick.

    A YF May 30, 2008, 12:21 am
  • I’m not really sure how you can fail to appreciate the aesthetic elegance of Rivera’s delivery. I also enjoy the dynamic moves of athletes like Ronaldo or Kobe Bryant or Federer. What they do is kind of like jazz: it’s improvisational genius. Rivera’s delivery is more of a Bach fugue. As Sam notes, his mechanics are pretty much flawless technically; the essential econcomy and fluidity that characterize them are conventional features of both classical and modern beauty. And it’s also worth noting Mariano’s physique; slim and strong and long-limbed like a dancer’s. It’s an elegant body. I’m not sure what argument there is for this. Pitchers like Tiant and El Duque are fun to watch, but I’d hardly describe what they do as elegant. I’m going to leave the golf analogy alone. I’m not really a fan of that sport (or is it an activity?); if nothing else, the range between the various swings doesn’t seem that dramatic, from a broad visual standpoint. But that’s another argument.
    If the original post was slightly “hyperbolic”–beware SF, the hyperbole cop!—certainly the contention that various other athletic moves “dwarf” it is both hyperbolic and foolish.

    YF May 30, 2008, 12:45 am
  • I can not dive (stumble?) into this debate with any authority ’cause I’m an ungainly klutz who trips over air pockets. Sure do wish people would stop leave those lying around all over the place .. put that air back in your pockets, people!
    There are two words that are front of mind when I watch Mo work. Efficiency. Grace. (the latter of which YF used in the post, an adjective that takes another type of gravity when one considers Mariano’s faith). I will not attempt to elaborate upon nor explain those labels, because the baseball players who have faced him and played with him are far better at it.
    What I will say is that if there were a way that I could have a video compendium of his career on the mound, I would pay gladly to again see those many appearances I have already watched along with many more I missed. What good fortune I have had to be able to see so many. What disappointment I feel when I don’t get to see.

    attackgerbil May 30, 2008, 1:37 am
  • This was an excellent post. I love how your poetry in motion-type description was poetic itself!
    Seeing the pictures of Mo is one thing, but seeing him in person is the real privilege!

    AJC May 30, 2008, 1:47 am
  • look, I really appreciate Mo, as a technician and as a person. I agree with the idea that his consistency and technical excellence places him in the pantheon of all-time greats. But I don’t, personally, think of Mo when I think of the top few “most beautiful” in “all sport”. But that’s not because of his uniform (I am sick of that trope always being used to explain dissension at this site), or because I don’t appreciate the difficulty of what he does. It’s because “beauty” is subjective. Disagreements aside, I think this a great thread from YF ripe for debate.
    As for Tiger – he is the single greatest golfer of all-time, I hate cross-era comparison in general (and yes, cross-sport comparisons are even sillier, but it wasn’t me who went there first!), but Tiger is an odd thing: the best ever with a swing that doesn’t register as the most fluid or elegant. It has been adapted, altered, tweaked, can accomodate almost any situation. In that there is beauty and greatness, but I still wouldn’t call it the most beautiful. Watch old film of Bobby Jones or Payne Stewart or Els, all greats themselves. The latter two are certainly greats, not in Tiger’s class, but their swings are almost certainly more traditionally “beautiful”.
    I look at Mo more like Donald Judd (one of my favorite artists): precise, consistent, composed. And yes, beautiful. But not the _most_ beautiful. I leave that to someone like Richard Serra, whose work has all those same qualities yet also seems to elevate them to another kind of plane, who adds a level of experience to his work that Judd doesn’t.

    SF May 30, 2008, 6:23 am
  • Wait, so…
    “It’s because “beauty” is subjective.”
    “their swings are almost certainly more traditionally “beautiful”.”
    Which is it?
    and this:
    “who adds a level of experience”
    makes no sense without a precise, domain-specific explanation. Besides, comparing artists (without clear objective “results”) and players (where success is easily discerned) stretches the analogies to a clear breaking point.
    Among baseball pitchers of this era, who has a fluid, repeatable delivery with comparable results as Mo? To me, perfection is executing the ideal at will -0 no matter the circumstances. On that score, there are none better – though Maddux, to me, gets very, very close. Still, in the glare of pressure, he got much less consistent.

    A YF May 30, 2008, 9:20 am
  • you cite, but miss, the modifier, which is important: “traditionally”. Young golfers aren’t taught to swing like Arnie or Jim Furyk. Mo has a beautiful motion, one that should be taught, II simply don’t agree that it is the most aesthetically pleasing thing in “all sport”, which was my original point.
    As for Serra, I find his work offers space, texture, and exposure to physical phenomena that Judd’s gallery work doesn’t. Some of his pieces in Marfa may do this, but I haven’t visited.

    SF May 30, 2008, 10:03 am
  • SF: why are you such a buzz-kill??? :)

    krueg May 30, 2008, 11:29 am
  • Care to parse – _almost certainly more traditionally “beautiful”_?
    As for teaching swings and pitching mechanics, I think you simply have to work with the body you have. It’s very hard to embody another, let alone teach based on it. Examples help, but you still have to do the hard work of learning and improving – from neurons to muscles to motions. After all the tweaks and changes, the final product is all your own.

    A YF May 30, 2008, 11:49 am
  • Meanwhile, we finally have some news which meaningfully connects sports and politics:
    The brilliant blogger Poblano, who has been out-predicting all of the major polling outfits without making a single phone call, turns out to be Nate Silver of Baseball Prospectus.
    (I’ve been saying for a while that the Obama campaign strategists seem to have learned a lot from Bill James’ Moneyball approach.)
    Sorry for the OT post, but for lack of a better thread in which to post it, thought this was pretty interesting news. My two favorite topics — baseball and politics — in one story.

    Hudson May 30, 2008, 12:03 pm
  • krueg:
    I think this is a great post and topic, I am simply engaging it. I don’t think YF would post a claim like this if he wasn’t hoping for some sort of discussion, intelligent discussion of course!

    SF May 30, 2008, 12:04 pm
  • SF: dude…”:)”…just messing with you.

    krueg May 30, 2008, 12:16 pm
  • I’m having trouble with the analogies to Serra and Judd, not so much because art is a non-outcome endeavor (A YF’s point), but because their work, and especially Judd’s, is essentially conceptual in nature, and sculpture is such a static medium. Music and dance, conversely, are all defined by movement in time. (Yes, I’ve read my Rosalind Krauss; I understand that that sculpture is about movement and time, but the works themselves are generally static.)

    YF May 30, 2008, 12:52 pm
  • Ok, so if you want music I will take Satie over Bach. And Mark Morris over Balanchine!

    SF May 30, 2008, 1:10 pm
  • No, I saw that krueg – just wanted to let you know where I was coming from anyhow. I love this post, basically.

    SF May 30, 2008, 1:11 pm
  • This may be the first baseball blog with a Rosalind Krauss reference. Who’s gonna chime in with some Hal Foster?!

    SF May 30, 2008, 1:20 pm
  • “art is a non-outcome endeavor”
    Tell that to Chris Burden.

    SF May 30, 2008, 1:26 pm
  • Mark Morris? I love Mark Morris but in terms of body type and essential classicism Mo is in the NYCB mold. Tiant is more a Morris type. SF needs to brush up on his modern dance.

    YF May 30, 2008, 1:37 pm
  • Eh, I am no authority on modern dance, I’ll leave that to my tutu-wearing cohort.
    (Wait, do modern dancers even wear tutus?)
    p.s. I would pay BIG BUCKS to see El Tiante perform “The Hard Nut”!

    SF May 30, 2008, 1:41 pm
  • My god men! Please reattach your balls and get back to baseball.

    LocklandSF May 30, 2008, 2:24 pm
  • so…I wonder if Mo can play QB for my Dolphins??? Maybe ARod…he was a great high school QB.

    krueg May 30, 2008, 2:40 pm
  • Personally I think Nolan Ryan had a more fluid, perfect motion. It did help him pitch for 27 years.
    But that’s just me.

    Atheose May 30, 2008, 2:41 pm
  • Prior’s “perfect mechanics”? Not perfect at all:

    ccaviness May 30, 2008, 2:43 pm