Baseball is not like basketball or tennis. It's not a sport where two opposing athletes can go play after play against each other. There is no Wilt posing up Russell, or Federer serving against Nadal. And opposing pitchers rarely face each other and never using their best tools against each other.
Which is a shame. Because the case maybe that this is the last year for both Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman, positions 1 and 1A in the list of Greatest Relievers of All Time, could be in their last years, having only played against each other a handful of times.
Hoffman has blown 5 saves this season, the most since he blew 7, in all of the 2007 season. After a resurgence of sorts last year, when he posted his second-best ERA for a season, his ERA this season has ballooned to a monstrous 13.15. he most likely will lose the closer spot on a team that desperately needs pitching. And by all accounts, he will retire after this season, shortly before his 43rd birthday. He will retire as the all-time saves leader.
Rivera is second in all-time saves. He is 15th all-time in ERA, and the only one in the top 30 who has pitched past the Great Depression. (The next active player...Trevor Hoffman. They are the only two active players in the top 216 players of all-time.) A first-time Hall of Famer and the best postseason pitcher ever, Rivera has been hit hard lately. His numbers don't reveal it—he has a .73 WHIP and a 1.46 ERA so far this season—but his last two appearances showed a pitcher who's cutter hasn't been biting as much as it should.
Both pitchers have lost a few mph the past few seasons. What's more they both, so far this season, have lost some movement. Rivera's horizontal movement is down to 1.7, down from 3.7 in 2007. Hoffman's vertical movement is down to 12.5, down from 14.8 in 2007. it goes without saying that movement is vital to two pitchers who don't possess serious velocity, but have made their names on a devastating cutter and an unhittable change up.
As 2 of the best pitchers of their generation—they are 3rd and 6th all-time at WHIP, and 1st and 14th for adjusted ERA+—it is ridiculous that neither has ever won a Cy Young award. Hoffman has finished second twice, including in 2006 when he lost to Brandon Webb who was 16-8, with a 3.10 ERA. Hoffman had a 1.48 ERA that season and a 849 WHIP. Rivera has finished 3rd 3 times and 2nd once, in 2005 when he lost—preposterously, to Bartolo Colon, who had a ERA over 2 runs higher than Rivera. Rivera had a 1.38 ERA and a .868 WHIP.
Now it may be that Hoffman's and Rivera's struggles are temporary and they bounce back this summer with strong campaigns. But both are over 40 years old, and time stunts every great athlete eventually. Like Patrick Ewing with the Magic, or Emmitt Smith with the Cardinals, time will eventually hit these two future Hall of Famers, and their play will decline. Perhaps it is best for them to leave when they could still perform, and not drag it out, like the aforementioned Smith and Ewing, maybe they should leave before they become pale imitations of their former selves. Or maybe they have terrific seasons. Pitch their teams to the World Series, and face each other one more time. Not likely. But maybe.
It would be a fitting end.