A cut above

IT'S HARD TO CAPTURE just how otherworldly Mariano Rivera's 19-year run has been, but this fact comes close: He has saved more games since turning 34 (351 of his record 634 total) than any other active pitcher has saved in his career. What's the secret to his longevity? According to John Brenkus and the ESPN Sport Science crew, the Yankees closer has mastered his own body mechanics and has a sixth sense for the physics of a baseball's flight, making him an illusionist on the mound. And, oh yeah, there's that cut fastball of his. Here's the secret science of his success.


Rivera's cutter is only 1.2 mph slower than his four-seamer, compared with a 2.96 mph differential for other pitchers. That makes it harder for hitters to ID what's coming.


Spin rate, in rpm, of Rivera's cutter. The Pirates' Mark Melancon throws his 1 mph harder, but it spins at 1,014 rpm, resulting in three fewer inches of movement.


Rivera's stride as a percentage of his 6'2" height. (The average for MLB pitchers is roughly 87%.) The longer stride helps Rivera maximize power.


Rivera's release angle varies only two degrees from pitch to pitch -- tiny compared with other MLB pitchers -- further helping him disguise his repertoire.


Number of inches Rivera's cutter moves laterally before reaching home plate. That's huge. Phillies ace Cliff Lee's cutter moves seven inches.

Data through July 1.

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