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Mariano Rivera – saves more than 1 inning

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.

6 Responses to “Mariano Rivera – saves more than 1 inning”

  1. JohnnyTwisto Says:

    Of course I knew the 4+ out saves were much less common than they used to be, but I didn't realize the number continued to drop so dramatically. I wouldn't have thought the % was so much smaller than just 5 or 10 years ago.

    Might be interesting to compare the raw number of 4+ out saves through the years. There are more total saves than there used to be, but of course most of the increase is in one-inning saves. The % of 4+ out saves would consequently decrease even if there were just as many as there used to be.

    I have done the same search for long saves before, so I was aware just how unique Rivera has been in this era. I do not think you can search only for active players with the Game Finder, but if you run the search since about '92 to the present, you can see in stark relief just how Rivera towers over other current and recent closers. I seem to recall Keith Foulke is also up there in long saves, despite his relatively brief closing career.

  2. deadrody Says:

    One thing to keep in mind is that in 1996 Rivera was far more valuable to the team than John Wetteland. Wetteland had 43 saves that year, but only 4 of them were more than 1 innings, and he almost never came into the game with runners on base. For the season he only saw 14 inherited runners, though he allowed 6 of them to score. The major reason behind that - Rivera pitching in front of him, and A LOT. While Wetteland recorded just 4 saves of more than 1 inning, Rivera had 40 appearances in 1996 of more than 1 inning, 35 of them 2 innings or more, and 8 of 3 innings or more.

    In doing that he put up a WHIP of 0.994 and struck out 130 in 107.2 innings. Those 40, if they were saves, which they ought to be, considering he did more of the relief work than the guy who got the saves - if they were saves, he would be right behind Reardon and in 8th place all time.

    Of course he is the career leader in ERA+, as well. And by a WIDE margin

  3. JohnnyTwisto Says:

    I presume you'll let us know how many random multi-inning appearances should be considered saves for every other reliever in history as well, just to be fair.

  4. kingturtle Says:

    they used to be called firemen because they came in to put out fires. then they came to be called closers when they pitched a fresh 9th inning.

  5. tomepp Says:

    Baseball is usually a sport of gradual change, but it's interesting how in just six years (from 1987 to 1993), it went from 60% long saves to less than 30% and hasn't looked back since.

    Occasionally, we see a rapid change in a statistic due to a change in the rules or playing field (like when the pitcher's mound was raised, the DH was introduced in the AL, or the balk rule was changed). But on even more rare occasions, one player or manager can change the game virtually overnight. Babe Ruth did this with the home run, and now Tony LaRussa has done this with the 9th inning closer.

    This has also had a ripple effect throughout the bullpen; roles are much more clearly defined. You now have your closer (9th inning guy), your 8th inning set-up man for when you have the lead, your 7th inning guy, your guys who only pitch when your team is behind (and they usually have a distinct pecking order, too), along with your long guy for when the starter has to get pulled early (though that position pre-dates LaRussa's bullpen model). I guess this is good for the pitchers - they know with more predictability when they'll be called upon - but it makes managing the bullpen much more rote and less of an art.

  6. kingturtle Says:

    okay, i didn't mean to find the following information. i simply stumbled on it, and thought it should be shared here.

    Mariano Rivera is 1st in all-time ERA+ with a 198! He's followed distantly by Pedro Martinez (154) and Lefty Grove (147). He is also 3rd in all-time WHIP, 4th in all-time K/BB, 17th in all-time ERA (far ahead of any contemporary or even post ww2 hurlers), 392nd in all-time least HR/IP (far ahead of any post-deadball hurler).