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Can Mariano Rivera Defy Father Time?

After three straight seasons of declining saves totals, Mariano Rivera rebounded to post 39 in 2009, his highest total since he notched 43 in 2005. Rivera is a wonder, but he faces long odds to match his saves total from last year in 2009. Trevor Hoffman is the only pitcher in MLB history to post 39 or more saves at age 39 (or above), the age Rivera will be this season.

Yet the mock draft crowd has faith in Rivera, making him on average the fifth reliever picked in drafts. He has an ADP of 83, making him a late-seventh-round pick. Assuming you want a reliever at that spot, is Rivera a good choice?

There has been no drop-off in velocity with his famous cutter and Rivera has been able to maintain excellent K/9 numbers.

But there are three factors that helped Rivera to his outstanding 2008 season, when he was the second-best reliever in the game behind Francisco Rodriguez. First, Rivera had a .232 BABIP, over 100 points lower than he did in 2007. Second, he posted the lowest walk rate of his career with a 0.76 BB/9 mark. And third, Rivera had the highest strand rate of his career with an 87.6 percent LOB%.

Rivera has had an ERA under two in five of the last six years. There is no reason to expect him to fall off a cliff in 2009. But given his age and his incredible peripherals last season, there is not much reason to expect a repeat of 2008, either. The mock drafters are knocking him down but I would suggest not far enough.

Instead of Rivera in the seventh round, why not wait a round and take Joakim Soria, he of the 97 ADP? Or wait two rounds and take Jose Valverde, he of the back-to-back 40-save seasons. These two pitchers do not have the name recognition of Rivera, but are likely to put up comparable or better seasons as the venerable Yankees closer.