|Mariano Rivera the Greatest Closer Ever?||| Print ||
Written by Jim Mancari (Contact & Archive) on September 13, 2011
How can a pitcher be so dominant for so long with basically just one pitch? Ask Mariano Rivera, who at the age of 41 is approaching his 600th career save.
To put it simply, Rivera is clutch.¬† Since he took over the Yankees closing role from John Wetteland after the 1996 season, Rivera has used his devastating cut fastball to baffle opposing hitters.
The best part for him is that the opposing hitters know what he's going to throw, and they still can't touch it. His cutter has been called one of the greatest pitches of all time. According to FanGraphs, 83.3 percent of Rivera's 2010 pitches were cutters.
And, boy, does he have an impressive resume. He is a 12-time All-Star, a five-time World Series champion, first ever in games finished (877) and second -- but soon to be first - in saves. Trevor Hoffman leads in that category with 601.
In all but one season (2002), Rivera recorded at least 30 saves. In fact, he set the Major League record by recording at least 25 saves in 15 consecutive seasons and an ERA of 2.50 or under for 12 seasons. His 89.25 save percentage is also the best ever.
Keep in mind that the Yankees are known for their run-scoring prowess, so often times Rivera can't even qualify for a save.
His career year came in 2005 as a 35 year-old. Though his 43 saves were not his career high (53 in 2004), his minuscule 1.38 ERA and 80 strikeouts in 78 1/3 innings made him untouchable. He even managed seven wins in relief.
In addition to his regular season performances, Rivera earned his paycheck in October. He holds the postseason record with 71 saves and a 0.71 ERA.
"He needs to pitch in a higher league, if there is one," former Minnesota Twins manager Tom Kelly told The New York Times in April 1996. "Ban him from baseball. He should be illegal."
When you look up the word 'consistency' in the dictionary, you may just find a picture of Rivera. Relief pitcher is easily the most volatile position in the Major Leagues, with trades and free-agent signings very frequent.
However, Rivera's consistency has been unmatched by any other player ever to play the game.
The Yankees have had the luxury of Rivera's consistency for 17 seasons. Rather than worry about piecing together nine innings, the Bronx Bombers really are only concerned with the first eight, since it's pretty much a given that Rivera will close the door in the ninth.
Recently, with the development of David Robertson as a setup man, the Yankees have shortened the game to just seven innings. This will be important in the playoffs, especially if the Yankees plan on having the erratic A.J. Burnett in the starting rotation.
In comparing Rivera to some of the game's greatest ever relievers, is there really a comparison? Besides Hoffman, no other reliever has even 500 saves. Lee Smith checks in at third with 478. Other dominant relievers include Hoyt Wilhelm (227), Bruce Sutter (300), Goose Gossage (310), Rollie Fingers (341) Billy Wagner (385) and Dennis Eckersley (390). But still, they are nowhere close to Rivera.
Only Eckersley, who spent significant time as a starter as well, was inducted into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot, though Wilhelm, Fingers, Gossage and Sutter all eventually were enshrined.There's a high possibility that the baseball writers will elect Rivera to the Hall of Fame on the first ballot. If he's not a first-ballot Hall of Famer -- especially in the steroid era -- then who is?