Posted by Andy on June 29, 2009
Mariano Rivera recorded his 500th career save last night so this week I'm going to look a bit at his achievement in historical perspective. Don't worry Yankee haters--these posts will not be focused on how wonderful the Yankees (and Rivera) are.
Anyway, last night was also Rivera's 110th career save of more than 1 inning. Here are the career leaders in such saves:
Games Link to Individual Games +-----------------+-----+-------------------------+ Rollie Fingers 201 Ind. Games Rich Gossage 193 Ind. Games Bruce Sutter 188 Ind. Games Lee Smith 169 Ind. Games Dan Quisenberry 160 Ind. Games Jeff Reardon 152 Ind. Games Sparky Lyle 134 Ind. Games Mike Marshall 127 Ind. Games Gene Garber 127 Ind. Games Hoyt Wilhelm 125 Ind. Games Mariano Rivera 109 Ind. Games Dave Righetti 108 Ind. Games Ron Perranoski 107 Ind. Games Doug Jones 106 Ind. Games Dennis Eckersley 106 Ind. Games Steve Bedrosian 105 Ind. Games Tug McGraw 104 Ind. Games Stu Miller 102 Ind. Games Kent Tekulve 100 Ind. Games
(The database hasn't updated yet today which is why it shows Rivera with 109 such saves.)
It's interesting that Trevor Hoffman, despite having more saves than Rivera, doesn't make this list. This probably has a lot to do with how each player was managed and used and also perhaps the strength of the bullpens of each team. Turns out that Hoffman, despite having 571 career saves, has only 55 saves of more than 1 inning. The last came in 2004 and he has only 3 such saves since 2001. So I guess he really does not get used in such situations very much.
Notice that neither guy is anywhere close to the record for >1 IP saves, thanks in part to the way the game is played. It used to be quite commonplace for a closer like Gossage to pitch the final 2 or 3 innings of a game.
In fact, here's a quick look at the fraction of saves that were greater than 1 inning each year. Here are saves of more than 1 inning, summed by year. Here are saves of 1 inning or less. Using that data, here's a graph showing the fraction of saves each year that are more than 1 IP:
(click on graph for a larger version)
This graph should be called "The LaRussa/Eckersley effect" since that first big drop from about 60% to about 50% occurred in 1988 when LaRussa adopted the model of bringing Eck in for just the 9th inning, and baseball has never looked back. Except for a flew blips about 10 years ago, the percentage of >1 IP saves has been steadily diminishing. Last year was an all-time low of 10.5% and this year has seen just 8.4% of saves going 4 outs or more.
Rivera is certainly a rare bird these days. Since 2005, he leads all of baseball in >1 IP saves and it looks like Papelbon will take over that torch once Rivera retires.