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POLL: Is Mariano Rivera the greatest pitcher in baseball history?

Posted by Andy on August 13, 2010

Mariano Rivera is 40 years old, still pitching extremely well, and is first in baseball history in ERA+. Among active pitchers, he's ranked first in ERA, WHIP, H/9IP, K/BB, HR/9IP, WPA, and fielding percentage. (Go ahead and carefully re-read that last sentence.)

He's an 11-time All-Star, finished in the top 5 for the Cy Young 5 times, and received MVP votes in 9 different seasons.

He's also the career leader in post-season ERA (despite having more IP than every other pitcher in the top 10) and has been a part of 5 World Series championship teams.

The question of where Rivera ranks in all-time baseball history is a complex and muddled affair. He's clearly a Hall-of-Famer. But is he, perhaps, the best pitcher in the history of the game? Click through to discuss and vote in the poll.

Discussions of the "best ever" in sports are always difficult but perhaps none are more difficult than baseball pitchers. The way that pitchers are used has changed so dramatically that it's tough to compare pitchers today to pitchers from 100 years ago. Rivera is certainly the best closer in history but how can we go about evaluating him on the same scale as pitchers who threw complete games virtually every time out and didn't often have the benefit of a bullpen behind them?

Well, let's take a look at the stats such as they are and discuss further.

Here are the most seasons by a pitcher with an ERA+ of at least 200 (no minimum IP):

Rk Yrs From To Age
1 Mariano Rivera 11 1996 2010 26-40
2 Joe Nathan 5 2004 2009 29-34
3 Billy Wagner 5 1999 2010 27-38
4 Pedro Martinez 5 1997 2003 25-31
5 Arthur Rhodes 4 2001 2010 31-40
6 Troy Percival 4 1995 2007 25-37
7 Walter Johnson 4 1912 1919 24-31
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 8/12/2010.

This list is dominated by closer-type pitchers. The only starters are Pedro Martinez and Walter Johnson. It's definitely the case that pitching fewer innings in a season helps a pitcher maintain an ERA so far below league-average and if Rivera averaged 200 IP per season (instead of 79 per 162 games) his career ERA would undoubtedly be higher.

So dropping the ERA+ requirement to a somewhat more human 170, here are the most seasons all-time:

Rk Yrs From To Age
1 Mariano Rivera 12 1996 2010 26-40
2 Billy Wagner 10 1999 2010 27-38
3 Tom Henke 8 1982 1995 24-37
4 Rich Gossage 8 1975 1985 23-33
5 Hoyt Wilhelm 8 1954 1968 31-45
6 Randy Johnson 7 1995 2004 31-40
7 Roger Clemens 7 1990 2006 27-43
8 Walter Johnson 7 1910 1919 22-31
9 Arthur Rhodes 6 2001 2010 31-40
10 Pedro Martinez 6 1997 2003 25-31
11 Trevor Hoffman 6 1996 2009 28-41
12 Armando Benitez 6 1994 2004 21-31
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 8/12/2010.

Now we have the top 3 closers of the last 20 years (Rivera, Hoffman, and Wagner), a couple of earlier closers (Gossage and Wilhelm), a few top starts (two Johnsons, Clemens, Martinez) plus Henke and Benitez. This list is still heavily stilted towards closers.

If we drop the ERA+ requirement to 140, Rivera still leads with 15 such seasons (every year except his first season) and new additions include John Franco, Lefty Grove, Greg Maddux, and Roy Halladay.

Still, the dominance on all these lists by modern closers suggest that it's not a fair way of evaluating all pitchers.

Looking at cumulative career numbers, here are the ERA+ leaders among pitchers with 1000 career innings pitched:

Rk Player ERA+ IP From To Age G GS
1 Mariano Rivera 206 1132.1 1995 2010 25-40 961 10
2 Pedro Martinez 154 2827.1 1992 2009 20-37 476 409
3 Jim Devlin 151 1405.0 1875 1877 26-28 157 153
4 Lefty Grove 148 3940.2 1925 1941 25-41 616 457
5 Walter Johnson 147 5914.1 1907 1927 19-39 802 666
6 Hoyt Wilhelm 147 2254.1 1952 1972 29-49 1070 52
7 Dan Quisenberry 147 1043.1 1979 1990 26-37 674 0
8 Smoky Joe Wood 146 1434.1 1908 1920 18-30 225 158
9 Ed Walsh 146 2964.1 1904 1917 23-36 430 315
10 Roger Clemens 143 4916.2 1984 2007 21-44 709 707
11 Brandon Webb 142 1319.2 2003 2009 24-30 199 198
12 Johan Santana 142 1871.2 2000 2010 21-31 334 258
13 Addie Joss 142 2327.0 1902 1910 22-30 286 260
14 Trevor Hoffman 141 1080.0 1993 2010 25-42 1024 0
15 Kid Nichols 140 5067.1 1890 1906 20-36 621 562
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 8/12/2010.

This list is somewhat more balanced in terms of representing players from all eras. Two things occur to me:

1) Again, it's not really fair to compare Rivera with 1100+ innings to, say, Lefty Grove with nearly 4000 innings. Rivera's arm would be a lot more worn down if he threw 4 times as many pitches. It's impossible to think he'd have pitched nearly as well in so many more innings.

2) Still, though, his ERA+ lead is SO BIG over every other pitcher in history. His ERA could be increased by a significant percentage and he'd still lead all pitchers.

Here are the all-time WHIP leaders (minimum 1000 IP):

Rk Player WHIP IP From To Age G GS
1 Addie Joss 0.968 2327.0 1902 1910 22-30 286 260
2 Ed Walsh 1.000 2964.1 1904 1917 23-36 430 315
3 Mariano Rivera 1.001 1132.1 1995 2010 25-40 961 10
4 Monte Ward 1.043 2469.2 1878 1884 18-24 293 262
5 Pedro Martinez 1.054 2827.1 1992 2009 20-37 476 409
6 Trevor Hoffman 1.058 1080.0 1993 2010 25-42 1024 0
7 Christy Mathewson 1.058 4788.2 1900 1916 19-35 636 552
8 Walter Johnson 1.061 5914.1 1907 1927 19-39 802 666
9 Mordecai Brown 1.066 3172.1 1903 1916 26-39 481 332
10 Charlie Sweeney 1.067 1030.2 1883 1887 20-24 129 123
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 8/12/2010.

Here's where things start to get interesting. This list is completely dominated by players from the early 20th century (and a couple from even earlier.) Rivera, Hoffman, and Martinez are the only players to appear in MLB after 1928. They've played in a very high run-scoring environment. For Rivera and Hoffman, they've usually pitched with a slim lead, often faced pinch-hitters and never an opposing pitcher, and still rank among the all-time best in fewest Walks plus Hits per Inning Pitched. Pretty amazing stuff, if you ask me. (As a caveat, both will likely see their WHIPs increase a bit before their careers end, although both also have the chance to rack up more seasons qualifying for the earlier lists in this post.)

Let's look at one more stat--Leverage Index. For those who don't know, the LI measures the importance of pitching situations by looking at how much the Win Probability for the pitcher's team can change in given situations. Here are the pitchers with the highest all time average LI (minimum 1000 IP):

Rk Player aLI IP From To Age G GS
1 Bruce Sutter 1.971 1042.0 1976 1988 23-35 661 0
2 Trevor Hoffman 1.918 1080.0 1993 2010 25-42 1024 0
3 John Franco 1.886 1245.2 1984 2005 23-44 1119 0
4 Lee Smith 1.862 1289.1 1980 1997 22-39 1022 6
5 Mariano Rivera 1.845 1132.1 1995 2010 25-40 961 10
6 Jeff Reardon 1.747 1132.1 1979 1994 23-38 880 0
7 Roberto Hernandez 1.690 1071.1 1991 2007 26-42 1010 3
8 Todd Jones 1.671 1072.0 1993 2008 25-40 982 1
9 Bob Wickman 1.626 1059.0 1992 2007 23-38 835 28
10 Rollie Fingers 1.605 1701.1 1968 1985 21-38 944 37
11 Rich Gossage 1.581 1809.1 1972 1994 20-42 1002 37
12 Doug Jones 1.546 1128.1 1982 2000 25-43 846 4
13 Mike Marshall 1.544 1386.2 1967 1981 24-38 723 24
14 Dan Quisenberry 1.527 1043.1 1979 1990 26-37 674 0
15 Gary Lavelle 1.501 1085.0 1974 1987 25-38 745 3
16 Roger McDowell 1.496 1050.0 1985 1996 24-35 723 2
17 Ron Perranoski 1.491 1174.2 1961 1973 25-37 737 1
18 Sparky Lyle 1.483 1390.1 1967 1982 22-37 899 0
19 Darold Knowles 1.475 1092.0 1965 1980 23-38 765 8
20 Dave Righetti 1.473 1403.2 1979 1995 20-36 718 89
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 8/12/2010.

Once again, this list is dominated by modern closers. (Keep in mind that WPA and LI data only goes back to, I think, 1950, so nobody before that even has a chance to appear here, but starting pitchers never make this leaderboard anyway since so many of their innings come early in games, which tend to be low-leverage situations, especially if the score is lop-sided.) The fact that closers dominate the list is a function of how they are used, just about always pitching in games with slim leads, and often being on the mound when their team either wins or loses the game. The importance here is to think about how difficult it is to pitch in these situations. The opposing team is within striking distance, trying their best to squeeze out one or two runs. These pitcher rarely got to pitch during 'garbage time' when rookies, pitchers, and defensive replacements were allowed to bat. They faced the best the opponent could send to the plate (within the confines of whichever part of the batting order happened to be up).

The bottom line is that Rivera has amassed the best numbers in MLB history, albeit over many MANY fewer innings than many other Hall-of-Fame quality pitchers, but also did it under just about the most difficult circumstances.

So, let's discuss below and please vote in the poll:

This entry was posted on Friday, August 13th, 2010 at 6:36 am and is filed under Season Finders. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

242 Responses to “POLL: Is Mariano Rivera the greatest pitcher in baseball history?”

  1. Oedivanth (#191),

    "It has nothing to do with statistics - which I realize is the calling of this site - but I wonder how the starting pitchers mentioned on this list would have done as closers from a "mental" point-of-view. It's easy to speculate that a Roger Clemens or Sandy Koufax would have scintillating stuff if they only had to pitch one or two innings. But how would they do having to pitch in 65 or 70 different games? How would they do the next game after blowing a big save the night before."

    Good questions. In another era, they did. Most top starters were essentially their own closers in the CG days. They not only pitched through the opposing lineup three or four times, but made sure they had enough left at the end to finish...with all the inherent pressure that brought with it.

    Imagine constantly trying to pace yourself through the game, and still having enough left in the tank. Plus, being able to beat those guys with the same stuff you've been showing all day.

    Trying to elevate Mariano Rivera to the level of a Walter Johnson, or Christy Mathewson, or Pete Alexander, or Lefty Grove (you get the point) is where I draw the line.

    Rather than ask the "how would those guys do closing?" question, why don't we ask if Rivera could have finished games with his accustomed level of success, having worked the first eight innings?

    Maybe they could have pitched one inning 70 times. But, could Rivera pitch nine innings 20 times in 40 starts and still post a 25-5 record (Koufax '63). Could Mo have started 40 games (completing 27), finish 10 other games, and post a 31-4 record (Grove '31)?

    In 1913, Walter Johnson was 36-7. He started 36 games (completing 29), with 11 shutouts. He also finished 10 other games. How many of those 36 wins were in games that the ninth inning would have been a save situation for a closer? Probably most, in the low-scoring heart of the Deadball Era.

    How many starters would have off-the-charts saves totals, if we added up their ninth innings in close games and gave them the same credit Rivera gets?

    From 1908-'11, Three-Finger Brown won 102 games, plus "saved" 32 others. Could Mo do that?

  2. From 1908-'11, Three-Finger Brown won 102 games, plus "saved" 32 others. Could Mo do that?

    Could Three finger Brown have done that in the 90's steroid era?

    The game has changed so much, I think we should really only be judging Rivera against his peers from this ERA.

  3. Then how do we compare Mo to pitchers of all eras, and proclaim him the greatest? All the neutralizers and ballpark adjustments in the world are really only best guesses.

    It's clear he doesn't have to compete to the same standards and expectations.

    My real problem with your argument is that it assumes Brown wouldn't also be substantially better, through advances in everything, from gloves, to ballparks, to personal conditioning.

    It also assumes he would have never been given the "opportunity" to take on that kind of workload in the first place. That's the only real certainty in all this.

  4. @189 – JeffW, as you’ve done before, you’re consistently trying just a little bit too hard to manufacture a case against Rivera while pretending, but failing, to be objective, although you are proving correct Disraeli’s claim that there are lies, damn lies and statistics by using accurate statistics to support an inaccurate argument.

    That’s a nice list of players you compiled of future HOFers and All Stars who collectively have nice numbers against Rivera. The message is an attempt to damn Rivera by showing quality hitters can hit him. Below is an another equal-sized list of future HOFers and All Stars who can’t hit Rivera.

    Manny Ramirez, 8/39 (he’s faced Rivera one additional time since you first put together your list)

    Ray Durham, 0/26
    Johnny Damon, 5/28
    Frank Thomas, 3/22
    Miguel Tejada, 6/25
    Garrett Anderson, 3/19
    Jim Thome, 3/14
    John Olerud, 3/14
    Jay Buhner, 2/14
    Victor Martinez, 3/15
    Cal Ripken, 3/13
    Jermaine Dye, 2/13
    Carlos Beltran, 3/13
    Harold Baines, 3/14
    Jason Giambi, 3/11
    Dustin Pedroia, 0/10
    Carlos Pena, 0/11
    Jim Edmonds, 2/11
    Fred McGriff, 2/10

    That’s a whopping .168 BA for the group of name-brand players. So what does our collective lists mean? Not a damn thing! Every single pitcher faces batters who hit them well and others who don’t. Some are very good hitters, some aren’t. Despite being a left-handed hitter, Don Mattingly never had a problem hitting against the left-handed tosser Randy Johnson. Does that somehow diminish the Big Unit? Of course not. Tommy Hutton, a horrible hitter, had more ABs against Tom Seaver, perhaps the greatest post WWII pitcher, and hit him well. I think he actually stuck in the majors for a couple extra years just to bat against Seaver. Does that diminish Seaver as a pitcher or elevate Hutton as a hitter? Of course not. It means absolutely nothing.

    What we do know about Rivera goes beyond the couple hundred or so ABs on your list and the couple hundred or so ABs on my list. Over fifteen years we have collective body of hitting against Rivera by great hitters, some who hit him well and some don’t; very good hitters, some who hit him well and some don’t; good hitters, some who hit him well and some don’t; mediocre hitters, some who hit him well and some don’t; and horrible hitters, some who hit him well and some don’t. That’s the same for all pitchers, starters and relievers. The collective work for Rivera says he’s a great pitcher and the greatest closer ever. Not sure why you have difficulty with that unless It has something to do with the uniform he wears.

    Is it possible a batter will increase his hitting odds against Rivera the more times he faces him? Sure. That’s generally the same for all pitchers. Doesn’t mean they’re going to hit him all that hard, though. Most experts do agree that his cutter is one of the most difficult pitches to hit period. It’s not just unfamiliarity. In fact, if you look at the list of players who have the most ABs against him, you’ll find Manny Ramirez, one of the greatest right-handed hitters ever, at the top of the list with his triple-slash stats of .205/.273/.282. Rivera owned him. In fact, in terms of ABs, the ten hitters with the most ABs against Rivera produced the following batting averages: .205, .286, .179, .333, .000, .333, .240, .286, .130 and .125. And coming in #11 on that list is Frank Thomas with his 3/22 and .136 BA. So basically out of perhaps the top three right-handed hitters in the AL over the past generation (Manny, the Big Hurt and Edgar), one hit Rivera and the other two were putrid.

    Last, regarding Rivera still being at his peak at 40 because of less wear and tear, well, maybe, except there’s little evidence of that. In fact, there is some belief that the constant warming up and pitching in high-leverage situations can produce greater wear on an arm than pitching a regular set rotation. There are clearly starters who could not handle the grind of being a relief pitcher/closer. Arguments can be made on both sides.

    This is not a post to suggest Rivera is the greatest pitcher ever. I’m not in that camp because I do give credit to the extra innings of a starter. Yet I do think he is a great pitcher and the greatest closer ever, and do think he would have been a great starter if given the chance. I see no reason to diminish his accomplishments.

  5. Mike D (#204),

    I had already mentioned Manny and Frank Thomas' records against Mo. A few on your list only qualify (10 ABs min) since I compiled my list. Some others, (Cal, for instance), I left off because his career arc was on its downside by the time Mo came up.

    And I did not consider Ray Durham to be among the "elites" when I put my list together.

    Getting back to another part of my argument, if 200+ career ABs in Dodger Stadium is not enough to make a case regarding Larry Walker's probable career totals, what claim can you make about 10 at bats scattered over a 10-15 year period against Rivera? With all the other factors I also mentioned? Coming in fresh, with no need to worry about pacing, any closer can just come in firing his best stuff.

    Would that same stuff hold up over the course of an entire game?

    I've already conceded that he's the best closer. I just feel that "closing" can be over-hyped, when done as a matter of rote, rather than by game-on-the-line situation.

    I also feel that a reliever should have to face the tying or losing run (or inherit that runner) in order to get credit for a save. Anything else is just a hold, to me.

  6. Closer, over-rated, yes, but Rivera not great and a HOFer is just a ridiculous claim JeffW. There's NO objectivity and really just makes you sound like a Yankee-hater. Again, the closer is overrated, but go to a guy that makes a little sense. Use Hoffman to make such a claim at least --you could get some traction there since I think Hoffman is actually more a borderline in guy than a first ballot guy(again, I would vote for him but I;m just trying to say that you could argue Hoffman as a borderline in guy) , which is what I think he could end up being....or, he'll get in in the first few years, which definitely overrates him IMO.

  7. @205 -- JeffW, hence the problem with your list in the first place. Subjective, no context, and statically flawed. It's an attempt to use bias-based, self-selected statistics to support the story you want to tell. Okay, you didn't include Ray Durham because you don't view him as an elite hitter. He had over 2,000 hits, was an All-Star with a career OPS+ of 104. He was a fine player, but you're right, I don't view that as a elite hitter. Yet you include Michael Young, and his career OPS+ of 106. Durham had over 2,000 hits when his career ended prematurely, while Young at 32 has 1700 and counting. Durham's peak OPS+ season was 128, Young's is 131. We can give a slight edge to Young, but while I don't view Durham as an "elite" hitter, I also don't view Young as an elite hitter either, so if Young's on the list than so is Durham. Yet, as mentioned, there's no need for such a list on your part since all the players on both our lists are fine players. Some hit him well, some haven't. His career numbers speak for itself. Once you start subdividing to make your case, you've lost the argument and the point you were staring to make.

    Jamie Moyer? Many players have hit him well, some haven't. As mentioned, Manny Ramirez was 8/39 against Rivera for .205, but 18/53 for a .340 BA against Moyer. (If it makes you feel any better, Durham didn't hit particularly well against Moyer either.) The list you developed against Rivera can be developed for every pitcher who ever played the game, which is why I questioned it before, and questioned it again today.

    As to your last point on Saves, we agree on one level. I think saves are a nonsense statistic as they are constructed. It actually hurts the way teams construct their pens and use their pitchers. Closers only want to appear in save situations now, which leads to cases where managers leave their best pitcher in the pen when the game might most be on the line. That could be in the 7th inning, not the 9th inning.

    I've never judged Rivera on his saves totals. He would have been a great reliever under the "old rules" when pitchers like Gossage would come in with runners on base and pitch two or three innings at a clip. Rivera is one of the few closers today who would thrive in that situation, as he has in the post season, or when he started his career in '96. And that gets back to one of my points. I don't think Rivera is just a great closer. I think he's a great pitcher who would thrive in multiple inning situations, be that long relief, as a two-inning-plus closer, and as an excellent starter. I'm not sure there are many other relievers, if any, I would put in that class. Can I prove it? No. Not anymore than those who want to prove the opposite.

  8. Rivera may currently be the best closer, but there are some who just may take that distinction away from him in the near future(ie Joakim Soria).

  9. @208, Insayne Says...You're right. Someone will if for no other reason than Rivera's age. It's a year-by-year situation for any player at that level. The one advantage I'd give Rivera, at least in being able to perform at a high level for a few more years, is that as his velocity has decreased (he used to be 96+ where now he sits in the low 90s) his effectiveness has remained high. As happened in last year's World Series against the Phillies when he had a rib injury, his velocity in the final game was only about 89, yet cutter still did the job. He might be around another three years.

    Soria seems as likely as anyone to take the crown. It's probably why the Yankees (and others) had an interest in him. Yet the only reason we're having this discussion about Rivera relates to greatness and longevity. In any given year there are others in his class (Nathan had been up there for about six years running), yet what separates him is his consistently high level of pitching over such a long period of time, as well as his post-season record. It's not unusual to see a closer have a fine five or six year run. No one has really done it as his level for fifteen straight years and counting.

  10. The question is a stretch at best. And, with all due respect to Andy, the argument presented is pretty weak, mainly based on the fallacies of using various "rates" as the criteria, as several have pointed out. Using that criteria, the inclusion of names such as Jim Devlin, Armando Benitez, Todd Jones, Charlie Sweeney, Arthur Rhodes vs. the exclusion of names like Grover Cleveland Alexander, Sandy Koufax, Bob Feller, Tom Seaver, etc. shows how useless the quoted tool is.

    Mariano get my vote for best CLOSER ever, although, at their peak, I would argue that Gagne, Eck, Radatz and Goose were on a par. But as best pitcher ever? It's kind of like claiming that Smokey Burgess and Manny Mota were better hitters than Ty Cobb and Barry Bonds.

  11. People keep mentioning Manny Mota because he had a lot of pinch hit at bats and hit .300 in those at bats. Lets use that example and try to compare with the pitching situation of Rivera. Rivera is closing in on 1200 IP, lets call that equivalent to 6 seasons of 200 IP. So for a hitter lets choose 6 seasons of 600 at bats which is 3600 ABs.

    Rivera's ERA+ is 206 which is ~33% better than the next best pitcher, the best starting pitcher in that category, Pedro Martinez. So lets say we had a pinch hitter who had an OPS+ 33% better than the best full time hitter, Babe Ruth. That equates to an OPS+ of 276. That's actually a better OPS+ than any season in history (Barry Bonds had 268 in 2002). Bonds actual OPS was 1.381 in 2002, so lets say an OPS+ of 276 is equivalent to 1.400 (I know it would vary depending on the ballpark).

    So we have a hypothetical pinch hitter who gets about 240 at bats a year for 15 years, and over that career his AVERAGE production is 276 or about 1.400 ie 33% better than Babe Ruth. If he was in the style of Barry Bonds this might equate to rates along the lines of .400/.600/.800. Remember this is his AVERAGE production over a 15 year career. His worst season would equate to the career average of Ty Cobb.

    Would you consider this player the greatest hitter of all time? Or would you say that because Pete Rose had 4 times as many PAs that he wouldn't even warrant a mention in that conversation?

  12. Justin you contradict yourself - in your first comment you say Henke didn't get the credit deserves because people value padding numbers over peak value/dominance. Then in your second comment you say Rivera's dominance doesn't outweigh all the extra innings Warren Spahn pitched.

    re: Basmati@#158--

    I don't think I was contradicting myself. In the case of Tom Henke, I was suggesting that he was one of the greatest closers of all-time. I also posited that he's not usually thought of in the same company as Rivera, Hoffman, Gossage, etc, because he retired after a great, peak-type season, when he very easily could have added another 100 saves (or more) to his career totals.

    In the case of Mariano Rivera, I was simply suggesting that he was *not* the greatest pitcher of all-time, or as valuable as someone like Warren Spahn (who ranks lower than Rivera in WPA). Spahn didn't just pitch a lot more innings than Rivera, he was also pitching pretty well--he led the league in wins 8 times, ERA 3 times, WHIP 4 times, ERA+ 2 times, etc. 363 career wins with a winning percentage of about .600. That is hardly what I'd call padding.

  13. The true greatest pitcher of all time is Andrew Bailey with an ERA+ of 246. WOW!!!

  14. old thurm's katt Says:

    Geez Louise.
    Mo is the best closer ever. Done.
    Take the rest of those stats and throw them in the East River.
    High leverage domination people!!

  15. The CG/Save reference made me curious, so I did some quick research, and looked at Koufax in 1966, Ignoring the save for the last three innings pitched aspect, Koufax successfully pitched in "save situations" 15 times that year. He also had 6 games with a minimum of 7 innings and 2 or fewer earned runs allowed in which he received no decision. My favorite of those was an 11 inn, 4 hits allowed, w/16k's in which he left with the score tied 1-1, in a great matchup with Jim Bunning. With all due respect to Mariano, I don't think he compares.

    Basmati theorizes that a pinch hitter would have to hit .400 over an average of 240 at bats per season for 15 yrs. Hunh??

    I'd be more impressed by the offensive juggernaut that averages 80 games a year in which they bat around, in order for that PH to end up with 240 at bats. And if they hit like that, why would they be needing a pinch hitter? Must be an ugly pitching staff.

    And yeah, I get it that you're presenting a hypothetical case, but that misses the mark, because it's not practical to claim equivalency of performance when you're looking at a very limited volume of performance; be it with a pinch hitter or a reliever. One inning every three days, dominant or not, just doesn't compare favorably with 8 innings every 4th or 5th day.

  16. Mikey says: His job is to get the SAVE, and he's been the best at his job, and since he's a pitcher, he's been THE BEST pitcher of all time.

    Mariano also has 4 at-bats... since he's a hitter, he's also the best hitter of all time, too.

    One problem these days is that saves are dramatically overvalued by themselves. With a lead in the 9th, even the lousiest team is going to win the vast majority of the time no matter who happens to be pitching. Closers almost NEVER directly contribute to the win in that sense. Nowadays they usually start with a clean 9th after the game has already been mostly played... the runs have all been scored and its their job to... get three outs. What a feat. By weighing the saves themselves so heavily, all Mariano's dominant pitching stats mean is that he did the job more decisively than some other guys. But other guys do the job just as well. Mariano has only led the league in saves THREE TIMES which means that almost any given year odds are you can find somebody better than him by that standard. And so what difference does dominance WHILE doing things other guys can do just as well make...?

    This is more to stir the discussion than it is to try and minimize Mariano so hopefully nobody will take it that way.

  17. I say no just ask Mariano if he would like to play against my team and he will tell you no WE OWN HIM!!!! you cant be great if your rivals own you

  18. It really boils down to this. He pitches one inning a game and history has starters who put up 200 ERA+ seasons over 200-300 innings. What do you think Pedro Martinez's career numbers would look like if he only had to pitch an inning or two? 300 ERA+? 350?

    Think of the 1999 All-Star Game but instead of facing Larkin, Walker, McGwire, Sosa, Williams, and Bagwell he gets to face the Orioles for one inning.

  19. "I say no just ask Mariano if he would like to play against my team and he will tell you no WE OWN HIM!!!! you cant be great if your rivals own you"

    You must watch too much espn or take what broadcasters say too seriously because his rivals the Red Sox havn't exactly owned him in the post season.

    18.2 innings pitched 2 earned runs in his postseason career against Boston. ANYONE would sign up for that in a heart beat. Is that being owned?

  20. However, I do think if you were to ask Mariano if he is the greatest pitcher of all time he would laugh. He is far too humble of a man.

    Is he the best reliever ever and is the the best post season performer ever are probably the questions we should be asking. I only know one thing for sure, he is the best I've seen.

  21. WanderingWinder Says:

    Another point, which I don't think anyone has brought up yet: closers, at home, generally have a maximum number of runs they can cough up. For example, they come in for a one run save, they can give up, at most two runs; for a two run save, they can't give up more than three, etc. I think that over a given season, this protection could save them a third of a run (or more) of ERA pretty easily.

    Bottom line: in my eyes, Rivera's not the best pitcher of all time. He's not even close. But he is one of at most three (and probably not that many) basically pure-relievers who I wouldn't think you crazy or ignorant to toss out in a discussion of all time best pitchers. I WOULD probably assume that you're a pretty young Yankee fan though. In recent times, he falls clearly behind Maddux, Pedro, RJ, and Clemens, almost certainly behind Smoltz, falling in probably right around the Santana, Halladay, Schilling area - probably just behind all three.

    Interestingly, those last three guys all have longevity as the biggest wall between them and the HOF, even though they've all pitched way more innings than Mo. Furthermore, while I'm not sure I'd put any of them in the Hall, at least on what they've done thus far, AND with my thinking that all three are slightly better pitchers than the Sandman... there's no way that Rivera shouldn't basically automatically make the Hall (assuming, of course, no PED linkage).

  22. Here's a thought experiment: Let's assume that there are two teams that are composed of identical, league-average (or replacement level, if you prefer) players, with the exception of their pitching staffs. On Team A, all five starting pitchers are Warren Spahn, and all of the relief pitchers are league average, 4.50 ERA-types. On Team B, all five starting pitchers and middle relievers are league average 4.50 ERA-types, but its closers are Mariano Rivera, who we are generally in agreement is the greatest closer of all time. Yes, I know average ERA is not always 4.50, but play along anyway.

    Let us assume that on average, the usage patterns of Spahn and Rivera hold true: Spahn averaging 7 IP per appearance for 162 starts(though historically his average per start was closer to 8, but, whatever, let's keep it simple). Rivera will average 1 IP per appearance (it's 1.1, but let's round down).

    Let us also assume that Team A and Team B play a 162 game schedule against one another in a neutral park.

    Over the course of a 162 game season, which team wins more games, Team A, or Team B?

    In most of these games, by the time Team B gets to the 9th inning, they are trailing Team A by a score of 4-3 or 4-2. Rivera comes in for the 9th inning, and only gives up one run every 4-5 appearances...but that does nothing to overcome the run deficit he inherits. Team A, by contrast, doesn't even use its relief pitchers in 92 of the 162 games, because 57% of Spahn's starts were complete games. True, to average things out, in the other 70 games Spahn will only go 5 innings. It stands to reason that in such a scenario, in the 70 games where relief pitchers of any kind are used by Team A, they will be exceptionally fresh and well-rested in relation to Team B's. Still, that leaves Team A only giving up about 3.6 runs per game in those 70 games on average, enough to beat Team B.

    If anyone else has a better way of thinking about this, or can whip out some advanced math to work this scenario out, go for it. My own rather quick & dirty take on this is that it's no contest: Team A would win a lot more games than Team B, and that this is a piece of evidence that argues against the contention that Mariano Rivera is either the Greatest Pitcher of All Time, or more valuable than your run-of-the-mill All Star-caliber starting pitcher.

  23. Mike Felber Says:

    Mo is a great guy, the best closer ever, superb in the Post Season, & only IP give any doubt whether is is the best reliever ever. But most here can see: there is no way that pitching about 1/3 of the innings of a starter can he create nearly as much value. He may have been an excellent starter, but this is not a near sure thing-having to excel for most of the game is more challenging, & it is unknown how good new pitches developed would be. Which would be necessary to be nearly as effective.

  24. JeffW,

    Moyer as a starter and Mo as a closer just doesn't cut it. Mo is infinitely more valuable.

  25. Ok lets say I'm convinced Rivera is not the greatest pitcher of all time. For me he is a definite hall of famer despite the valid points people have made about saves being overrated and closers not being as valuable as starters. For someone to have such dominant stats in so many categories cannot be ignored despite the relatively low innings totals.

    So who is the greatest pitcher of all time, if it is not Rivera?

  26. WAR. What is it good for?

  27. Where do you put Trevor Hoffman? He's within fractions of Rivera's best categories, such as ERA+. is he #2 then? Top 15?

  28. Matt Y, MikeD,

    First off, I am not a Rivera hater. I question whether or not reliever stats are inflated by the fact that they hardly ever have to pitch more than one inning, and rarely suffer from over-exposure. There's no need for the pacing and larger repertoire that most starters feature.

    Clearly, the stats can be used in several different ways, as is usually the case. When I compiled my list of hitters, it was to highlight not just their effectiveness against Rivera, but also to contrast with the starters I then mentioned. Ten, 15, or even 34 at bats against Mo...versus literally hundreds of at bats against several top starters.

    I go back to the Larry Walker discussion (again) because I was told repeatedly that even as many as 200 sample at bats was not sufficient to determine how he would have hit over the course of his career, had he played regularly at Dodger Stadium, rather than Coors. If 200+ is not enough, how can you judge 15-20 ABs, scattered over the course of 15+ years, in many cases?

    I believe that, in most cases, repeated at bats against one pitcher over the course of a game makes it more likely that good hitters will get things like pitch movement and timing down. Hitters don't get that against rivera, or any top closer.

    My point on Moyer was in responding to the matters of age and exposure. Moyer is supposedly not HoF material, and has been throwing the same stuff since Rivera was in the minors.

    He's 47, and was still getting the hitters out well enough to be a top winner on a pennant-contending club over the last four years. He's considered to be hittable, but frequently isn't. He survives on a cutter, like Rivera, and his killer change.

    Could Rivera be as effective, if hitters saw him as much as they face Moyer? That was the point of the comparison. In converting Mo to relief, the Yankees clearly thought "no".

    The role of relief pitchers has changed greatly over the last 100 years. Even in the last 20, or so. At one time, relievers were the low rung of the staff, cannon fodder and innings-eaters when the starters failed to do their jobs.

    When it came to clutch outs in key games, a manager would likely go to his best pitchers -- his starters. Three-Finger Brown, Walter Johnson and others all started 35+ games a year, plus pitched relief as many as 15 or more times a season. They completed their own starts, as well as finished numerous others.

    In the mid-'20's some clubs hit on the idea of setting one hurler aside to finish games, as their staffs were being pummelled in the early years of the Lively Ball Era. Firpo Marberry was among those early firemen. Even Firpo, however, started his share of games most years. He was primarily a reliever-only in just two seasons.

    The role evolved gradually, though many of the pitchers groomed to be finishers still came from the ranks of hurlers who didn't have what it takes to be frontline starters. That was true, even into the '70's with the likes of Rollie Fingers, Tug McGraw, and Goose Gossage.

    Converting to reliever added years of top-of-the-line effectiveness to Dennis Eckersly's career. John Smoltz made the conversion, as well (then went back to starting).

    Like it or not, Rivera also fits that mold. He came to the bigs as a starter. His first eight appearances in the Major Leagues were as a starting pitcher in 1995, and 10 of 13. After his 10th (and last) start, he was 5-3, 5.61. Two of his wins had come in relief outings. He was sent to the pen and never returned to the rotation.

    Going back to his minor league days, Rivera was clearly being groomed as a starter. Following his first year (1990, rookie ball), in which 21 of 22 stints were in relief, he became a starter. After splitting time between the two roles in '91, he opened 1992 as a full-time starter at Fort Lauderdale. From '94 through his arrival in New York, Rivera pitched 85 games, all as a starter.

    The loss of Jack McDowell and the uncertainty in the Yankee rotation made getting another starter a priority during the 1995 off-season. Rather than give Rivera another shot, however, they went out and signed Dwight Gooden, who hadn't pitched in the Major Leagues in almost two seasons.

    Even with a top-tier closer (John Wetteland) already in place, they kept Mo in the pen. Okay, he was a rookie. But that first sampling was evidently enough to convince New York brass that Rivera did not meet their most prominent need at that time.

    Rivera was perfectly suited, as it turned out, for the role of closer. After Wetteland's contract expired, they installed Mo as their closer and have never looked back.

    If it appears I malign Rivera, it is only in the context of closers vs. starters. The closer role was created to cover the deficiencies of teams' starting staffs, not to supplant them as a team's top hurlers.

    Closers are irrelevant without leads to close out, period. They are there to ensure that a team does not blow a potential win that it already has lined up. The pressures of closing are largely (though not completely) over-hyped nonsense, except if said hurler will actually face the tying or losing runs.

    Any starter who throws a complete game with a winning margin of three runs or less is doing no less. In fact, he is doing much more.

    Every inning a starter throws makes a manager's job that much easier. Every inning beyond the sixth for a starter brings with it much more value, in the rest it provides for the bullpen. A stud ace, who can complete 10 or more games (there are plenty who could successfully do it, I believe, if given the chance) is invaluable.

    It's said that a good pen takes the stress off the starters. The opposite is also true. The more innings the starters can give you, the less the pen has to work, and the more options a manager has.

    When staffs consisted of four starters, a spot fifth starter/long man, and four shorter-stint relievers, it gave managers much more flexibility, in the form of bench strength. Those were the days when top closers were capable of going two or three innings.

    Now, with starters groomed to go seven, and a pen full of one-inning relievers (not to mention the one-batter lefty specialists), benches are down to four or five guys, including the backup catcher. That bench used to have as many as seven players. You could platoon, or have plenty of defensive/pinch hitting/pinch running specialists available.

    Using that pen by rote, with the set-up guys and closers, also leads to trouble when a club gets into extra innings. It used to be that, when a starter got through seven or eight, one reliever was capable of handling two innings -- maybe three -- if a game went long. Now, it seems that the pen is practically empty, if a game gets to the 12th or 13th.

    Now, a stretch of three or four games, where the starters have trouble getting through seven, seems to put a level of stress on a pen that never existed as recently as 30 years ago. Guys are tired after throwing one inning three days in a row. Well, if that's all they are trained to do, that's all they'll be prepared to give.

    This whole point of this thread was to ask if Mariano Rivera is the greatest pitcher in Major League history. I -- and most of the voters seem to agree -- that the answer is clearly " no," for all the reasons stated.

    I never said Rivera was not a great reliever, or that he shouldn't be in the Hall of Fame for his body of work as a closer (as I also believe the elite DH's and defenders -- specifically Vizquel) should be in.

    I simply believe that elite frontline starters -- from Mathewson, Walter Johnson and Alexander -- to Grove, Dean, and Feller -- all the way up to to Clemens, Randy Johnson, and Halladay -- are more important.

    Mo is the top dog of one-inning closer specialists. Had he been effective enough as a starter when the Yankees needed one, however, the story might have been written differently.

    That's not extreme justification to make a case. It's true.

  29. Sorry, but your post just misses the point very, very badly. Mo was converted before he even leatned his cutter, something that's been said 10 times on this thread but is ignored.

    I think we all agree that the save is overrated, but you diminish Mo's accomplish sooooo ridiculously much that he is "scads behind Mr Cutter-Killer change Moyer that has been a top winner on a contender for 4 years".

    Moyer's stat on Phillies

    2006 5 2 .714 4.03
    2007 14 12 .538 5.01
    2008 16 7 .696 3.71
    2009 12 10 .545 4.94
    2010 9 9 .500 4.84

    He had one good year, other than that Moyer has been a serviceable inning eater mentoring 4th-5th starter. Just ridiculous.

  30. Once again, you are missing the specific context on Moyer/Rivera: that of constant exposure, over time, as a starter, rather than Mo's reliever status, and comparatively few opportunities.

    Maybe that's my fault in explaining it.

    If hitters got to face Rivera as many times as they do most frontline starters, would Mo still come out looking so dominant?

    The combination of that, plus the age factor that was being addressed, were the points of the comparison, not to simply say that Moyer was "scads better" as a pitcher, but that he has an obvious leg up in surviving both age and repeated viewings as a quality pitcher.

    As far as misleading win totals are concerned, how many hurlers have done better at Moyer's age?

    I simply don't believe that Mo could have done that. For one inning, though, he's as good as it gets.

  31. re: Basmati@#225--

    I agree, Rivera is a Hall of Famer. I would hate to think that anyone arguing against his being the GOAT is misinterpreted as arguing against his being valuable, or being a great player. He's certainly both of those things.

    As to who the GOAT at pitcher is, it really depends on what criteria you use to define greatness. I think it is some matrix of dominance (peak value) and longevity. Once you've got the group that meets both of those criteria, you start picking nits--did they pitch in a hitter-friendly era, or a run-starved pitcher's era? Were they strikeout pitchers, or groundball pitchers? If you assume that the quality of play/competition has increased over time, by what amount has it done so? Were they key members of championship teams? Did they use steroids/HGH? There's a ton of factors to consider, and how much weight you choose to place on each one will determine who tops your list.

    If Roger Clemens weren't a PEDerphile, he'd have a pretty good argument as the GOAT, I think. Since he is a cheater who clearly prolonged his career at an unusually late age, I think it's fair to take him down a few notches in these sorts of debates. I think he's still one of the best pitchers ever, but I couldn't put him above *everyone* else.

    I think that the most reasonable argument for GOAT pitcher is contained in Bill James' New Historical Baseball Abstract. Lefty Grove was 9% more effective than Walter Johnson per inning pitched...but Johnson pitched 50% more innings. Other players, like Pedro Martinez, face a similar obstacle in comparing their values to Johnsons. Even if Martinez was 50% more effective per inning than Johnson (he wasn't, it was more like 20%, I think), Johnson still pitched 3000 more innings.

  32. I understand the difference you're trying to get at (starter v. closer), it's just very weak at best IMO.

  33. Being a serviceable 4th-5th starter at age 47 is an impressive accomplishment, but Moyer's basically 2-3 notches below borderliner Tommy John and 1-2 notches below Kaat. There are a boatload of Moyer's metrics that fall well short of even the borderline HoFer line. Surely an inspiration for all us 40+.

  34. @228, JeffW -- "Could Rivera be as effective, if hitters saw him as much as they face Moyer? That was the point of the comparison. In converting Mo to relief, the Yankees clearly thought "no"."

    That statement is not correct, or at the very least it's a little too strong when it comes with the supporting qualifier "clearly." As I think you correctly noted, Rivera ended up in the pen out of circumstance, or to fit the needs of the Yankees at that time. Rivera became a very different pitcher as he developed from '95-'97, as his fastball as a starter increased into the mid-90s and then he mastered his cutter in '97. The Yankees were developing him as a starter, but injuries, arm surgery/rehabilitation and normal development for someone who didn't start pitching reguarly until he was 20 made him both a work in progress and someone difficult to project, especially prior to the emergence of his fastball and cutter. What they basically knew about him is he was a very good athlete, very smart, highly competitve, and seemed to have natural feel for pitching considering how late he started. His best pitch in the minors was his change-up, which he shelved once he went to the pen.

    After Rivera reached the majors for the second time in '95 with his newly found fastball, the Tigers inquired about Rivera as part of trade for David Wells, with the goal of making him a starter. (The M's, after facing Rivera in the '95 playoffs, also asked for Rivera when they were working out a deal with the Yankees for Tino Martinez, and then later again, hoping to steal him for Luis Sojo, figuring the Yankees weren't sure on if they were going to turn over the SS position to some rookie named Jeter in '96. Ha! Unknown if the M's planned to use Rivera in the pen or as a starter.) Gene Michaels, fortunately, passed both times, even though they weren't 100% sure which direction they wanted to go with Rivera. Ultimately, they decided he would help them best out of the pen because that fit their needs.

    Years later (I'm guessing around '02 or '03), I saw Michaels interviewed about Rivera. He was asked if he thought Rivera would have made a good starter. He laughed. His answer was something like, "of course, he'd have been a great starter. We just didn't know then what we know now." The interviewer then asked Michaels if they had a mistake, and should they have made Rivera a starter. He responded with the same laugh, and answered, basically, "considering what he's done, it would be hard to say it was a mistake."

    My point on all that is that it wasn't clear, because Rivera was a work in progress and was only just reaching his peak with velocity, and hadn't quite mastered the cutter that would make him a legend. Andy Pettitte throws a cutter, and it's a good one, but he has nowhere near the level of control or break on it as Rivera's. It would be a mistake to assume that multiple looks at it means MLB hitters would figure it out. I think the odds are they wouldn't.

    Yet this is all a guessing game on both our parts. We'll never know, because they sent Rivera to the pen. No one can argue with the results.

    Happy to see this thread kept going. Andy (I think it was Andy) get's an A for creating a poll that kept high traffic, and even spread to other baseball sites.

  35. MikeD,

    Thanks for filling in some of the specifics on Rivera's backstory. I admit to having studied the BBR stats on Rivera, and noted that he didn't "age" well in his starts. But they obviously don't tell the whole story.

    My read was that the second and third times through the lineup, he got roughed-up pretty good (allowing that his 7th-8th-9th inning work was almost all in relief).

    He did fine the first time around, however. To me, that meant the hitters adjusted well to what he had in subsequent at bats (something that relief work can hide, to a degree).

    Or, he didn't have the stamina to make it through six or seven innings on a regular basis at the Major League level.

    I would guess that he also learned quite a bit from Wetteland (just a hunch, as Wetteland is now Seattle's bullpen coach).

    I agree that 10 starts in one's rookie season isn't necessarily the be-all and end-all of whether a pitcher can make the grade. For whatever reason, I always just assumed that things worked out well in the pen.

    Thanks again for the nice explanation.

  36. Hoffman's ERA+ is surprisingly low actually (for a closer of his stature) at 141 (1200+IP), whereas Wagner's is 185 (just under 900 IP), and Mo's is 206 (just under 1200IP).

  37. Mike Felber Says:

    10 starts before his superb pitch & before his velocity emerged told nothing. He may have been a very good starter, though it is unlikely he would have been just as dominant in the more challenging role. Johnson was also better in peak value than the others: that is a combination of IP & efficiency. Would he have pitched nearly as effectively his whole career in the modern era, w/mainly just a great fastball? That is the key question.

  38. My comment before was deleted so i might as well say... blahblahblah

  39. @ 186

    Ruth didn't fail as a starter. Hell, he'd have won the Cy Young at least once if they'd had such an award. My point was that the Yankees decided Rivera couldn't handle starting duties. I'm sorry, but smart teams don't throw guys for 70 innings a year if they can throw 'em for 200, and for all their faults, the Yanks aren't stupid. Whether he could have handled starting or not is mostly irrelevant (I personally think not - even Sandy Koufax needed two pitches, and his heater and curve may be the best of their kind ever thrown). The point is that his own team didn't really even try him in the Majors despite the fact that he'd come up as starter. Since we absolutely know that starters provide more value than relievers, there's no way Rivera can be more than the best modern closer.

    I'll tell you what. Mariano has averaged about 70 innings a year since he became a closer. Tom Seaver averaged about 240 a year over his entire career (and over 260 in his prime). Prove to me that 70 innings of Mariano plus 170 innings of replacement value equal 240 innings of Seaver and we can start talking about Mo as the GOAT.

    If the greatest pitcher title is supposed to lead to something tangible, that's the only way to do it. If it's purely an aesthetic thing, there's even less a chance that Mo's the guy. The man throws one pitch. I'd say that he's a thrower more than he is a pitcher. Where's the artistry? Where's the thinking? Hell, the cutter isn't even that entertaining a pitch. Give me a Maddux or a Pedro or a Seaver or a Carlton throwing tricky heaters and shifty breakers. Those are pitchers.

  40. "Where's the artistry? Where's the thinking? Hell, the cutter isn't even that entertaining a pitch. Give me a Maddux or a Pedro or a Seaver or a Carlton throwing tricky heaters and shifty breakers. Those are pitchers."

    Having watched him for the last 14 years I think he is like a surgeun on the mound or a picasso. When he is on,(which is most of the time) it is very entertaining to watch him carve up batters with pin point precision and make major league hitters look like little leaguers. Rivera is also a smart pitcher, he pays attention to hitters approaches and makes adjustments based on what he has seen during the game and from past games. He might throw them 4 inside cutters so they're thinking its coming again and then paint it back door. Or he might start the at bat with a two outdoor cutters cause he knows the hitter is expecting it to be inside. He mixes in two seamers vs right handers, climbs the ladder. You get the idea.

    "there's no way Rivera can be more than the best modern closer."

    He could also be considered best closer ever not just modern closer. Along with best postseason pitcher ever. One could make very strong arguments for those claims.

  41. #204 & @207 MikeD - you make a lot of great points in your posts and I'm in agreement with your statements. Since JeffW brought the topic up though (and many others within this thread think that hitters would feast on Rivera if they saw him as much as they do a starter), I wanted to take a look at the top 25 guys in terms of plate appearances vs. Rivera. If you combined all of their numbers, what would they look like?

    The top 25 guys in plate appearances vs. Rivera have:

    --618 Plate Appearances
    --560 AB's

    Well that works out kind of nicely, as that's pretty much a regular season's worth of appearances and AB's. So what are the "season" numbers for the Top 25?

    --618 Plate Appearances
    --560 AB
    --139 Hits
    --13 HR
    --62 RBI
    --49 BB
    --5 HBP
    --99 K's
    --.248 Batting Average
    --.312 OBP%

    MikeD mentioned many of the guys Rivera has faced the most. Of the Top 25, taking away the PED issues, you have at least 5 HOF'ers (Manny, Palmeiro, F.Thomas, Pudge & Thome). You have 2 borderline HOF guys (Damon & Edgar). And you have many other players who have had good to very good careers (D.Ortiz, Tejada, Delgado, M.Young, Durham, G.Anderson, V.Wells, Huff amongst them). At the least, of the Top 25 guys he's faced, the majority were All Star caliber at points in their careers.

    We'll never know how these guys would have done if they faced him 3 to 5 times a game as a starter. And I agree with MikeD in that some guys do great vs. pitchers, others don't and that you can't judge pitchers (or hitters) just based on things like that. But we do know that if we took a "season" from the guys who have faced Rivera the most, that "season" would be pretty putrid...

  42. Do we have stats on Rivera's performances in games when he doesn't get a W/L/S/BS? Saying he's 'no use unless he has a lead' isn't necessarily true. Keeping a game close so that his team can come from behind later or break at tie is an important contribution. Yes, the numbers are astounding in pressure situations, but what are they the rest of the time?

    Would Rivera struggle 3rd time through a line up? Yeah, but only a little. Would Seaver, Koufax etc struggle pitching day after day in high pressure situations with everything on the line? Possibly, but only a little.

    The job of a pitcher is to get outs without giving up runs, and Rivera has done this as well as anyone throughout history. The job of the team is to win and every save (however flawed the stat) is a W for his team that they wouldn't have got if he'd failed on that day.

    A starter can help you win every 5 days but a reliever is pretty much available every time you need him. Roger Clemens couldn't start games 3, 4 and 5 in 2001 WS but Rivera played a big part in helping them to win all 3. (Taking selected examples isn't ideal, but this is just illustrating a point, not proving it.)

    Some have stated they'd prefer an ace starter over an ace closer. But a shut out is only any good if your offense scores a run as well. Starters need runs to get a win, closers need a lead to get a save. Every statistic needs qualification.