Mariano Rivera Breaking Bats

Mariano Rivera’s 2013 victory lap prior to his planned retirement has been fairly remarkable thus far, returning from injury at 43 showing little sign of wear. He leads baseball with 16 saves (none blown), ranks first among AL relievers in WPA at 1.86, and has generally shown why he is a no doubt Hall of Famer to be.

There is not all that much to analyze with Rivera, his reliance on one pitch has long been notorious. Mariano’s late breaking cut fastball has gradually lost some velocity over the years, declining from the mid-90s to its current 90.2 MPH average speed but retaining its effectiveness.  I have provided a clip below comparing the movement of his cutter relative to a more typical fastball in a similar location.

Rivera Cutter

While the value of his cutter is beyond reproach, Rivera has traditionally mixed in a four-seam fastball with some cut of its own and later in his career a two-seam fastball typically to right-handed batters where it provides a similar movement toward the hitter as his cutter does to lefties.  Here is a look at another inside cut fastball to Colby Rasmus and its mirror two-seam to Torii Hunter.

Rivera Two-Seam

Rivera works both sides of the plate with excellent command, and that ability to place the sharp movement of his pitches on either edge of the plate has granted Rivera another trademark – shattering the bat with alarming regularity.  This is most often done with the previously mentioned inside cutter breaking into the hands of left handed hitters, the late action inducing contact far enough up the barrel of the bat to cause a break. While broken bats are not an officially kept statistic, the New York Times tallied 44 broken in the 80 2/3 innings of Rivera’s 2001 season.  Five broken bats have been counted in a single outing, and four were seen as recently as a 2010 ALDS matchup with the Twins.  I have reviewed Rivera’s 17 1/3 innings this year and come up with at least six, with several more that sounded like breaks but I could not confirm.

This tendency is what I primarily wanted to have some fun with today, thus I have created a composite clip of six pitches that show Rivera doing what he does best.  These particular pitches range from his most recent outing through October 2011.


Enjoy him while you can.

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Drew Sheppard is a writer for FanGraphs, graphic artist and GIF enthusiast. If you have a topic you would like Drew to take a look at in the future using overlay GIFs, please let him know in the comments here or on Twitter @DShep25.

30 Responses to “Mariano Rivera Breaking Bats”

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  1. Jeff Zimmerman says:

    clap … clap … clap … clap

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  2. Andy says:

    Awesome gifs.

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  3. Steve Yeager says:


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  4. That first GIF is what dreams are made of.

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  5. Joe F. says:

    That’s a hypnotic image, and a great use of your innovative technique.

    I don’t mean this in a snarky way, so apologies: if you were going to show what Mo does best, wouldn’t you have gotten 6 pitches that were all swinging strikes? Not one of the pitches in that last image seemed to be caught (either by the main catcher image or one of his ghosts). 6 baseballs went 6 different directions. Makes it seem like what he does best is saw off bats, get guys to foul off and/or hit homeruns…

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    • Jess says:

      the point was to show breaking bats

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    • You are correct in that the breaking bats GIF does not truly show 6 of Mariano’s best pitches, I will admit that was more of an idea I just personally wanted to see (all broken bat pitches) and ran with. Primarily meant to be a fun view, but I do hope it provides some level of insight.

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    • Jim says:

      Having watched Rivera pitch since 1995, I can tell you that what he does best isn’t swinging strikes. He gets his fair share of strikeouts, sure, but after 1997 that wasn’t really his trademark. His trademark is generating weak, weak contact. What he does best is keep guys from hitting solid line drives. He induces ground ball after ground ball after ground ball, and they’re almost never hard-hit.

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  6. Jason H says:

    I wonder what it is about Mo. Does anyone else throw a pitch with even similar movement, but just lack Mo’s command? Or, aside from the absurd command, is the movement of that pitch completely unique in baseball?

    As an atheist, the only thing I ever pray to god for is to get an at bat against Mariano Rivera. I just want to be able to see that pitch from the perspective of the hitter! What does it look like?!

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    • Emmett says:

      Kenley Jansen on the Dodgers throws a natural cut fastball and you can see the results he’s gotten over the past couple of seasons. He doesn’t have the lockdown consistency that Mo has, but he is still young.

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    • Sleight of Hand Pro says:

      i think its the timing of the movement. watching him throw, it seems to break right before reaching the plate. to hitters who have been trained to read cuts and breaks on pitches out of the pitchers hand, its almost impossible to make the mental adjustment it requires to hit a pitch with that movement at that speed… on the corners of the plate no less

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    • Joe F. says:

      There was an article a few years back breaking down exactly how Mo does it. I want to say it was in the New York Times? He doesn’t even know for sure how he does and just attributes it to being a God-given gift. The theory is that there’s something unique to his grip and – this is awkwardly phrased – the shape of his hand / length of his fingers. He just naturally holds the ball in a way that is not really teachable to anyone else.

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  7. Roll Fizzlbeef says:

    That release point consistency is NSFW as it’s practically porn for pitching coaches.

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  8. Hurtlockertwo says:

    Mariano Rivera always reminded me of Greg Maddux, that inside outside late breaking pitch. Great to watch.
    I think baseball ought to assign the number 42 to one player after Rivera retires. Kind of a living tribute to Jackie Robinson.

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    • MrKnowNothing says:

      way too much pressure. you’d have to be a player who is out of this world awesome and who is pure class.

      i think the number officially retiring with Mo is perfectly fitting.

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  9. CS Yankee says:

    Cool seeing the ghost of Mo leaving the mound stage left.

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  10. Sleight of Hand Pro says:

    holy god. that cutter to rasmus just isnt fair.

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  11. Inevitable NotGraphs parody: Mariano Rivera Breaking Bad

    “This…………is not a cutter.”

    *baseball explodes*

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  12. Dale Cruse says:

    I’d love to see that first gif but from the angle of the hitter! Very cool stuff!

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  13. Shivakumar Shankar says:

    Love this GIF to bits (pun intended :D)!! Thanks a ton. Your Yu’s GIF was majorly spectacular too! you gained a fan! all the way from India :)

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  14. Max Grady says:

    Best article on Rivera I’ve read in many years…

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  15. Anon Too says:

    Excellent well written and illustrated article.

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  16. Jeremy says:

    Amazing! Enter Sandman

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