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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. I'm the 1 Yes vote so far. Considering Rivera's numbers, the era that he has pitched in and his overall dominance within that era, I am not afraid to call him the best pitcher of all time.

  2. buckweaver Says:

    Greatest postseason pitcher ever? I might be able to live with that, although there's some strong competition.

    Greatest pitcher ever? It's impossible to give that title to anyone with just 1,132 IP over a major league career. Greg Maddux, for instance, had more than that by the end of 1991 — before he ever won a Cy Young.

  3. Mike Fortuna Says:

    Looking at those lists, the only thing I'm more convinced of is that Pedro Martinez is the best of all time.

  4. #2 Kind of sums up the answer to the question. Seaver had 1132 IP around June of 1971 by comparison.

    I don't think Relievers should be listed alongside Starting pitchers on those all-time rate stat lists, mainly because their roles are so different.

    I think in general, you take pitching rate stats with a grain of salt. And really the rate stats should be separated somewhat by time period. Take a look at the ERA leaders, they're filled with pitchers from pre-1900 and the dead ball era. Jim Devlin is third all time in ERA and he only played 3 seasons in the big leagues for Pete's sake. I think he had one season were he threw 600 innings! Most of the pitchers in the top 50 for ERA aren't even among the top 200-500 pitchers in baseball history.

    Rivera's is the best relief pitcher in baseball history mainly because of his durability and consistency. Most relievers come and go but Rivera keeps going and has consistently been one of the top 3 relievers in baseball year after year.

  5. I believe is Satchel Paige was able to play in the ML his entire career, he may be arguably the greatest pitcher. There were a number of great pitchers that played in the Negro Leagues that could, i.e. Smokey Joe Williams, Bullet Joe Rogan et al.

  6. Yeah, I have to agree with Mike Fortuna, Pedro Martinez is basically the answer to the question "What if Mariano Rivera was as successful as a starter?"


    Rivera sits at 70.

    He didn't throw enough innings.
    Also, think of this way. Compare him to an average closer. The Yankees would only lose 1-2 (and at most 5) more games a year if Rivera didn't play. Take Maddux or Pedro out of the Braves or Red Sox during their primes, there is a much greater difference in innings.

    Greatest Relief Pitcher. YES!
    Greatest Pitcher Ever? This is a dumb question.

  8. I take exception to the notion that it's a dumb question. My goal in writing this post was to get some discussion going about how we can compare an elite closer with an elite starter, especially across the entire history of baseball. I don't think the actual question posed is answerable.

  9. It's an interesting question, but I agree that it's an impossible one to answer, because "best" and "most valuable" are such two different concepts. It's hard to argue that any pitcher in history has been "better" than Mariano Rivera, but it's not hard to point to scores of starting pitchers who've been "more valuable" to their teams. Mo's 70th position on that WAR list seems just about right.

  10. You have to pitch more than 1 inning a game to be considered great. grandmother can do that!

  11. Johnny Twisto Says:

    No, no she can't.

  12. Johnny Twisto Says:
  13. I think the roles of Starting pitcher and Relief Pitcher are just too different to truly compare them. Also I think a team might be better off having the best closer in the league rather than the best starting pitcher in the league for a whole season because of the number of games the closer could theoretically pitch. It is almost the same argument as having the best starting pitcher or the best hitter.

    That being said, however, I still think a Starter would represent the best pitcher due to the IP and the fact that truly great starting pitchers could make closers unnecessary. Let's say I had to play 1 game and could only use 1 pitcher - obviously it would be a Starter, and according to the statistics shown in the post that would probably be Big Train - only because I still have a personal dislike of Pedro. :)

    @7 - This post is not "a dumb question" if you are going to compare Rivera to the average closer than you have to compare Maddux or Pedro to the average #1 Starter (and then there would not be as much of a difference as you claim) - Or you would compare Rivera to all relief pitchers (and then Rivera would be MUCH more valuable than you imply)...I do agree with you, however, about Rivera being the best Relief Pitcher of all time.

  14. Andy, as you know it is not a stupid question, but my answer is no. I don't think all starter are automatically more valuable than all relievers, but a good starter has more impact on the outcome of more games over the course of their career. I think that's what we see in the WAR. Rivera's consistency and superiority in that role are unique, and that's why e can have this discussion and what will make him a first ballot HOFer. But the greatest ever? No.

  15. Lawrence Azrin Says:

    Greatest relief pitcher ever, yes. Greatest PITCHER ever, no. Even though the innings he pitches are more valuable than the average inning a starter throws, the greatest starters have pitched two/three/four (or more) times as many innings as Rivera has. This huge difference in innings pitched far outweighs the difference in "leverage" a closer has.

    As #3 states, looking at these lists actually makes a better case for Pedro Martinez as the best of all-time.

    If Rivera ptched 7 innings a game instead of 1+, I'm sure that huge career lead in ERA+ would shrink greatly (if he would even be #1).

  16. Watching David Robertson struggle to get 1 out (with a 3 run lead against the tail end of the Royals' lineup) for the save last night, made me appreciate Rivera even more than I did before...which I wouldn't think was possible.

  17. Chuck Hildebrandt Says:

    Jeff: It seems any someone puts together an historical list of greatest players, they could speculate the Negro Leaguers belong on it (e.g., Satchel Paige for pitchers, Josh Gibson for hitters). It seems logical that the greatest of those leagues would be the equal of the greatest of white Major Leagues, and contemporary anecdotes suggest that's a reasonable conclusion, and you could put it in that context. I don't think we could reasonably establish a ranking for them, though. I don't believe it can be said that Satchel Paige is the greatest pitcher of all time because there is no record to back it up -- again, all we have is anecdote, legend and sketchy newspaper accounts, not to mention that the consistency of the overall competition he faced was almost certainly not up to the par of the established white Major Leagues. I know you said "arguably", not "definitely", but I'm not even sure you can say "arguably" since the conditions, competitive level and record-keeping was so different. There's no argument to be had because there is no way to resolve it.

    There's no question that Satchel had the ability to play his entire career in the Bigs, and I don't think anyone seriously doubts he would have been a perennial All-Star and a Hall of Famer based on his likely ML performance. I just don't think we can label him the greatest, even on a qualified basis.

  18. Frank Clingenpeel Says:

    Don't change the name of the award for best pitcher to the Mariano Rivera Award -- at least until Rivera's total of career innings pitched passed Cy Young's best three-season total.

  19. joseph taverney Says:

    Everyone here keeps pointing to his 'lack of innings' - well... duh, that's his job. Granted it makes it harder to compare him to Maddux and Pedro, but they pitched 33 times a year, Mo, 66 times a year. Games and innings are very comparable. Games maybe harder. How many times was Rivera asked to get up and loose and not used. Maddux and Martinez were never asked to loosen up in the middle of a game. Not to mention, Mo never knew if he was pitching that day or not. That is an incredible thing to have to be ready nearly everyday. Psychologically and Physically. Today's starters not only know when they will pitch, they know who they will be pitching to. Watching tape of the entire team for a week, while having really no other game related work is much easier than prepping to pitch EVERY NIGHT. They also never inherit runners. They have a cushion (where they can let up three runs early, and still pitch successfully). Mo never had that cushion, one mistake - finished. If everyone of Pedro and Maddux's games were over if they surrendered a run in the first, their records would be far different. Managers loosing in the ninth inning also pull out all stops. That does not happen in the first 6 innings. Mo usually faces the best hitters in the hardest spots, with zero room for error.
    This is why very, very few relievers are able to do what Mo has done for so long. Hoffman comes close, but he played in a league with a little less pop, inside a very week offensive division, and I may be wrong, but I can't think of a closer going 4+ outs as often as Rivera has done since the '90s.
    Yes, It is hard to compare eras, starters over relievers, a setup man to a closer, a lefty to a righty, deadball to liveball.
    But this thread presupposes those things already.
    If I had one inning to manage: it'd be Mo everytime.

  20. He is one of the best, but not the best. That is difficult to give to a relief pitcher, but you could make a great argument for him.

  21. It's kind of shocking to me that there have been a significant number of people with answers other than "No." to this question. There's no argument to be made at all. And it's also incorrect to say Rivera has the best numbers in baseball history.

    Look at it this way: from 1997 through 2003, Pedro Martinez threw 1408 innings with 1761 strikeouts and a 2.20 ERA (213 ERA+). He had, in seven seasons as actually a pretty low-durability starting pitcher, Rivera's entire career, except (a) even better and (b) with 300 more innings. THEN, outside of that, he has ten MORE years as a starting pitcher, and mostly a really good one. How can you even start to think about trying to compare Mo's 65-70 innings a year to that?

  22. Ron Juckett Says:

    Best pitcher of all-time? No.

    Top Ten? I think so.

    The modern closer argument helps and hurts Rivera's cause. If he put up these kinds of numbers back in the 70's and 80's when they were called fireman and got anywhere from one to nine batters out, he would be considered top three at worst. I don't think you can count against him for filling the three out role that all closers have today. The game has changed that much in the last twenty years.

    His numbers are outstanding in a position where longevity is not the norm. Throwing hard to get three outs wears an arm out, Jonathan Paplebon is a good example of that. Where would have Eric Gagne been with the PED help? You have to be mentally tough to do the job, ask John Rocker or Brad Lidge about that. Mo Rivera has thrived for years under the exytreme pressure of pitching for the Yankees and has the numbers to back it up.

    Where he or any reliever has a hard time getting into the best ever pitcher category is the lack of going through a lineup multiple times a game. Mo does his job and he faces three batters. Sometimes it is the heart of a lineup and others it's 7-8-9 of the Royals.

    He is, however, so head and shoulders above other relievers that he is the all-time best reliever and the fact he has perfected the role of closer that he deserves a place in the discussion of top pitchers of all time, but that does not translate into best pitcher of all-time.

    (I'll join the others and marvel at what Pedro Martinez accomplished.)

  23. @18 -

    Cy young's 3 highest IP seasons = 1,299.1 IP
    Ed Figueroa's career = 1,309.2 IP

    It looks like we have a new name for the Best Pitcher Award.

  24. Not a good article, showing that closers are dominant. Comparing him to the best closers (guys with great stuff, no need for longevity or stamina) shows he's one of the best if not the best each and every year. The big difference is his Post season performance. Against the better/best teams (no AAAA clubs like KC and Pittsburgh) Mo does not maintain his excellence...he gets even better! All-Star games, too. Yeah, a few days in the season he can be off and some dudes can get a hit, but every other time it's curtains no matter who is batting.

  25. I'd go with one of the old-time, complete game-type guys (Grove, Johnson, Mathewson), as the best ever. Or how about Cy Young? They did name the best pitcher award after him. Before anyone thinks I must be some kind of stubborn, old World War One veteran, I do think that Rivera is the top one-inning reliever of all time.

  26. BTW there is something to be said for comment #3...Pedro sure comes out of this analysis looking like the best starting pitcher in history.

  27. I agree with the consensus. Mariano has to be in every conversation for the greatest reliver of all time. But, I just don't think any reliever (especially closers who almost never even pitch 100 innings a season) can be in consideration for best pitcher of all time.

    Though, someone upthread said it, and it's an interesting question to pose. If you could have any pitcher for one inning and one inning only, who would it be?

    Would the situation matter? (for example, some sort of odd mythlogical 1 inning baseball game vs. the bottom of the 9th inning with a 4-3 lead of the same mythological game)

    Would the users choose Pedro or Koufax or whomever over Mariano?

  28. Johnny Twisto Says:

    I don't believe it can be said that Satchel Paige is the greatest pitcher of all time because there is no record to back it up

    Well, there are records of his Negro League performance, if not quite as complete as we would like (and you are correct the quality of competition was inconsistent). Not to mention the records of his impressive major league performance, all done when he was over 40.

    How many times was Rivera asked to get up and loose and not used.


    [Starters] also never inherit runners.

    Rivera rarely does, compared to top relievers of the past.

    Pedro sure comes out of this analysis looking like the best starting pitcher in history.

    He has the same issues as Rivera, on a different scale. Many fewer IP (even relative to his peers) make it easier for him to put up such dominant numbers.

  29. Lawrence Azrin Says:

    "Andy Says: BTW there is something to be said for comment #3...Pedro sure comes out of this analysis looking like the best starting pitcher in history."

    Andy, that's because the article uses career RATES, and doesn't account for career longevity or career value. By pitcher's WAR, Pedro at #23 is way behind Cy Young/Walter Johnson/Roger Clemens, and Mariano at #70 isn't even in the discussion. Dennis Eckersley (#46) is the only reliever ahead of Mo by WAR, but the Eck had a very substantial career (361 starts - basically his first twelve years) as a starting pitcher before he became a closer.

    Of course, this does not address the "peak versus career" argument.

  30. A couple of numbers to chew on...
    Career numbers in save situations
    Mo 18-21 1.85 644 G 719 IP 657 K 142 BB 0.919 WHIP
    Goose 27-38 2.41 455 G 714 IP 685 K 253 BB 1.905 WHIP
    Trevor 12-31 2.72 692 G 695.3IP 744 K 162 BB 0.978 WHIP
    Fingers 28-48 2.69 486 G 790 IP 614 K 193 BB 1.081 WHIP

    Obviously, usage varies, and these figures include set-up roles for Mo in '96 and Goose near his end. But even amongst the greatest, most durable closers, there's no contest in the closing role. Note also that Mo is the only one with a close to .500 winning percentage. So if he blew it, he managed to do enough to keep it winnable.

    For further contrast, Christy Mathewson, 1907-1908:
    Christy 61-23 1.68 97 G 705.7 IP 437 K 95 BB 0.887 WHIP

    So in about the same number of innings, Mathewson at his best was slightly better in WHIP and ERA as Mo. Take league into account, and I guess you could say the best starter at his best is on par with the best reliever at his 15-year ever-lasting best.

    One closing item. Mo had an iffy rookie year as a starter/reliever. He had a great 1996 as a set-up man. He has had an amazing postseason career. So his career figures can be slightly misleading when we talk about him as a closer. Here is a comparison between his regular season career totals and those in the closer's role, including postseason and non-save situations.

    Mo "regular view" 74-54 2.21 961 G 1132.3 IP 1042 K 263 BB 1.001 WHIP 550 SV
    Mo "the closer" 67-49 1.87 956 G 1071.3 IP 950 K 214 BB 0.943 WHIP 584 SV

    Best pitcher ever? Probably not, but not insane to bring up because of his consistency and ridiculous lead on others. Best reliever ever? Yes. Best closer ever? HELL YEAH!

  31. David in NYC Says:

    I'm somewhere between "one of the best" and "can't compare". I do think Rivera is a marvelous pitcher, and probably to definitely the best reliever of all time, especially considering his post-season performance. But (and this is a big "but") he is really a part-time pitcher. Would we ever have a similar conversation about the best player ever that included pinch-hitters (Smoky Burgess, anyone?) or even designated hitters? I don't think so.

    And I know it is entirely up to the manager how often and how long a relief pitcher goes in any game, but Rivera has been overwhelmingly in the 1-inning save category (I blame Tony LaRussa for that nonsense). If we check for saves with more than 1 inning pitched, we see Rivera as:

    4-out (or more) saves: 11th (114, #1 is Rollie Fingers with 200)
    5-out (or more) saves: t65th (45; #1 is Fingers with 170)
    6-out (or more) saves: t327th (11; #1 is Fingers with 135)

    So, I guess if you need a pitcher to pitch one inning, Rivera is your guy. Any more than that, and not so much. (Much as others have noted how much more impressed they are with Pedro, I must say that I am now much more impressed with Rollie Fingers.)

  32. I dont think any relief pitcher belongs in the hall of fame. You're awesome at pitching one good inning, wow, how impressive.

  33. If he can pitch his next 3,500 innings with an ERA+ of about 135, he'll certainly enter the discussion.

  34. Lawrence Azrin Says:

    "Justin F Says: I dont think any relief pitcher belongs in the hall of fame. You're awesome at pitching one good inning, wow, how impressive."

    Well, that ship sailed a while ago, as Wilhelm (1985), Fingers (1992), Eckersley, Sutter, and Gossage are in the HOF, and other worthy candidates are either on the ballot (Lee Smith), or finishing their careers(Hoffman/Wagner/Rivera).

  35. The question always comes back to... what would Pedro or RJ or Clemens or Gibson or Koufax have looked like pitching 1 IP every other game? Obviously, we can play "what if's" all day, but given that we pretty much KNOW it is easier to be a relief pitcher than a starting pitcher and FAR MORE VALUABLE to be a starter than a reliever, when factoring all that in, I just can't imagine ANY reliever being considered the best pitcher ever.

    Now, if I needed one inning pitched, Rivera MIGHT be the guy. But if I needed a game started and was randomly choosing a guy from any point in his career, Rivera would never be the guy.

  36. #31 David in NYC - I believe you are referring to Rivera in the regular season? Because in the playoffs, Rivera is much more than a 1 inning guy.

    Rivera has pitched 88 games in the playoffs. He has saved 39 of them. Of those 39 saves, 30 were 1.1 IP or more:
    --9 of 39 saves were 1.0 IP
    --10 of 39 saves were 1.1 IP
    --6 of 39 saves were 1.2 IP
    --14 of 39 saves were 2.0 IP

    Rivera also has 8 wins in the playoffs. Of those 8 wins, 6 were 2.0 innings or more:
    --2 of 8 wins were 1.0 IP
    --4 of 8 wins were 2.0 IP
    --1 of 8 wins was 3.0 IP
    --1 of 8 wins was 3.1 IP

    Overall, of his 88 playoff games:
    --5 of 88 games were less than 1 IP
    --26 of his 88 games were 1.0 IP
    --24 of his 88 games were either 1.1 or 1.2 IP
    --33 of his 88 games were 2.0 IP or more

    In all those games, he has pitched 133.1 IP's. He has a 0.74 ERA across those playoff innings. If you factor his unearned runs into his overall average, his number skyrockets to a 0.87 RA.

    His regular season numbers are amazing and when you factor his dominance in the playoffs,

    In today's era, there is nobody like him.

    Mariano Rivera in my opinion does his job better than any single pitcher has done their job in baseball history. Does that make him the best pitcher ever? Some would say no, because his job is "easier" in their opinion that that of a starter. I would say yes, that does make him the best pitcher ever.

  37. Sorry.

    There is absolutely no way I give that kind of nod to someone who fails to prove he can work through a lineup two or three times in a game, and face the top sluggers mulktiple times.

    One or two looks (maybe) scattered across a full season with hundreds of other pitchers each hitter must catalog just doesn't provide a fair picture of his capabilities.

    His career as a starter lasted just 10 games, and provided a much different picture: 3-3, 5.94, hitters batted .306 against him, getting extended, repeat viewings.

    For all the flack about Edgar Martinez not playing in the field enough, Gar played third more than Mariano has been on the mound.

    I went into the stats and compiled a list of 19 of the best hitters in baseball during the arc of Rivera's career, guys that he faced at least 10 times (and even that is small potatoes). That group batted .329 against Mo. Take away the combined 11-60 by Manny Ramirez and Frank Thomas, and the remaining 17 hitters belted Rivera all over the place: .355 (92/259).

    Even Koufax, in his injury-shortened career, faced Aaron, Mays, Clemente, Frank Robby and Ernie Banks -- fellow Hall of Famers -- more than 100 times each! He earned his stripes.

    Juan Marichal pitched against the hated Dodgers so many times that Willie Davis, Ron Fairly and Maury Wills each have 150-200 plate appearances against the Dominican Dandy.

    Willie Mays batted against Warren Spahn 204 times in his career. That's almost a half-season worth of at bats right there!

    In 124 plate appearances, Johnny Bench homered 12 times and batted .298 against Steve Carlton.

    In each of these cases, a definitive argument can be made. When Dick Allen hit .371 against Marichal, it was a sampling of 105 PA's. Likewise Willie Davis' .181 lifetime average against Juan was "achieved" over 195 trips to the plate.

    Mo might face the 7-8-9 hitters with a three-run lead, something any Major League Joe on a cup of coffee visit should be expected to do.

  38. I should add that the numbers I used were as of mid-season last year, when I compiled the info for another site.

  39. Not even top 100. Best One-inning-per-game pitcher, maybe. Nowhere near the Walter Johnsons of the game

  40. Note: None of this is meant to take away from Rivera's career. Part of the problem living in Yankee-land, as I do, is that if you don't anoint Rivera as God-incarnate-on-earth, than you are somehow insulting him. There is no doubt that Rivera is the best modern closer ever. It's hard to compare him to the original firemen, only because the eras were so different, and impossible to put him on the same scale as starters.

  41. AlvaroEspinoza Says:

    I vote for Satchel. But when he got tired, I'd go to Mo.

    One of the interesting things you can pick up from Rivera from his interviews is his complete disregard for great hitters. He never describes the difficulty of getting one particular player out, planning to pitch around someone, or worrying about facing someone. In his mind, as long as he executes, all batters are the same. He went through Young, Hamilton, and Guerrero the other night like it was 7,8,9 on the Mets.

  42. I think it is also important to think about the TYPE of pitcher that Rivera is. He is a one pitch guy, though that one pitch is one of the best singular pitches ever. I think a few weeks back someone noted how he really can use that pitch in different ways, varying speed and break, but he's still essentially throwing the same pitch. With that approach, he could NEVER make it in any other role. If Rivera averages 70 IP a season, that works out to 4 or 5 IP against a given AL team (depending on how often he's used in interleague). With his WHIP, that works out to somewhere between 15 and 20 BF against a given team. Now, those won't be uniformly distributed, but it'd be rare that a given hitter sees him more than 3 or 4 times a year, and likely weeks or months apart (though it's certainly possible it could happen in successive days). Starters routinely face the same batter 3 or 4 times a game! They require at least 3 pitches to maintain success. Rivera has one fantastic pitch and not much else. Some closers/relievers have multiple pitchers, and maybe Rivera would have developed more pitches if he had been asked to, but we can't assume that. Rivera is clearly the best reliever on the Yankees (among other lists he'd top). But if you had to choose a reliever to turn into a starter, he'd never be the guy, and not just because of his age or effectiveness in the role. Even if he had the arm strength to throw 100 pitches, if he didn't have a better repertoire of pitches, he'd never make it.

    Rivera was put in the best possible position to maximize his talents and skills. There is no shame in that. But he did one singular thing REMARKABLY well, as well as anyone has ever done anything. But pitching, in all but that and very similar situations, requires a lot more than that one thing. And there is no evidence that Rivera could do any of the other things that those situations require.

  43. @37 JeffW - "His career as a starter lasted just 10 games, and provided a much different picture: 3-3, 5.94, hitters batted .306 against him, getting extended, repeat viewings."

    That was his rookie season.

    Let's look at some other rookie seasons from recent pitching stars...

    --Greg Maddux: 30 games (27 starts), 6-14, 5.61 ERA, 1.63 WHIP (and this doesn't even include his 6 game stint the prior year where he didn't exhaust his rookie eligibility and may have been worse than in his official rookie season)

    --Tom Glavine: 9 games (9 starts), 2-4, 5.54 ERA, 1.74 WHIP

    Obviously, things ended up working out for them. This isn't to say that Rivera would have been a Hall of Fame starter if he continued starting. My point is, judging someone on their rookie season is not the best case to make (and I know you made other points in your argument...just sayin' though). LOTS of great pitchers get killed their first time through the league. The Yanks decided to put Rivera in the bullpen. The Braves/Cubs decided to let Maddux & Glavine keep starting. It worked well for all of them. Maybe Glavine would have been a terrible closer if the Braves had moved him there and he would have washed out of MLB. There's a lot of "what ifs". Rivera took his role in the bullpen and has absolutely excelled at it.

  44. Why is it that in all other polls WAR is used as a major factor in rating a player, but in this lengthy post it is not mentioned once? Because it makes Rivera look bad. With all of his playoff success how come there is no mention of him single handedly losing the 2001 WS? If he is the greatest pitcher of all time and all he does is shut down teams for 1 inning you would think he would do that in game 7 of the WS (The ONLY time he has ever pitched in game 7 of the WS). Here is what this poll means:

    Is Mariano Rivera the greatest pitcher in major-league history?

    Are you a Yankee fan who is more delusional than average === Yes
    Are you just a regular Yankee fan === Among the best but not THE best
    Are you a fan of any other team or baseball in general === No
    Are you a realistic Yankee fan === I don't know--it's too difficult to
    compare modern closers with historical

  45. Johnny Twisto Says:

    BSK, Rivera of course did have other pitches when he was a starter. And if he had to start, I'm sure he could have made necessary adjustments (I won't endeavor to predict his success). He has made adjustments throughout his career, though it's usually ignored. As a reliever he started out throwing mostly high 4-seamers. Then he developed the cutter and consistently worked it to the left side of the plate. Then he got better at throwing it to the other side of the plate. Then he developed the sinker for use against righties.

    Mike, he singlehandedly lost a 7-game series? That's an incredible feat, I wish I had known that.

  46. "Mariano Rivera in my opinion does his job better than any single pitcher has done their job in baseball history. Does that make him the best pitcher ever? Some would say no, because his job is "easier" in their opinion that that of a starter. I would say yes, that does make him the best pitcher ever"

    Well then Lenny Harris is the greatest hitter of all time because he has the most pinch hits, he did that job better than anyone else.

    It is not an opinion that pitching 1 inning against the heart of the order 1/3 of the time where you may be allowed to give up 2 runs occasionally and still be called a success is "easier" than throwing 100 pitches and facing each hitter 3+ times and still allowing 2 runs or less. It is a fact.

  47. @44 Mike - you want WAR to be used? Some people think WAR doesn't give enough credit to relief pitchers but regardless, let's use WAR here...

    1996 - Yanks won the AL East by 4 games. His WAR that year was 5.4. Based on that, if the Yanks didn't have him, they don't win the division. If they don't win the division, they may not even advance to the World Series, let alone win it. This isn't to say Rivera single-handedly won the 1996 World Series by any means...but without him, they would not have won it.

    1998: Yanks won the division by 22 games, winning the most games in A.L. history up to that point. Rivera was part of that of course and he'll have to settle for that only this season.

    1999: Yanks win the division by 4 games. His WAR was 3.5. So it can easily be argued that the Yanks don't win the division without him. And then we go back to the same points mentioned for 1996...

    2000: Yanks win the division by 2.5 games. His WAR was 2.9. Echo 1996 and 1999.

    2009: Yanks win division by 8 games. His WAR was 3.1. There's a gap showing the Yanks win the division without him but I'm not so sure about that. Regardless, I'll give this one to the anti-Rivera crowd.

    So using WAR for the regular season, there is a reasonable chance the Yanks only have at best 2 World Series titles (instead of 5) in the Mariano Rivera era. Of course, Rivera was a huge part of those PLAYOFF teams too, so its possible they wouldn't have ANY World Series without him too.

  48. To reiterate what Dave V. said, one of the big knocks against Rivera is IP, both career and per game. Fair enough, if you are looking to compare to starters. But in the postseason he has pitched longer and against better competition and done even better than in the one-inning role.

    Does this make him comparable to Grove, Johnson or Mathewson, or Clemens, Maddux or Seaver? Not in my opinion. But it makes it reasonable to ask. Of the guys with 100 IP in the postseason, only Mathewson comes close for a body of work. Yeah, I know, more availability of playoffs in the modern era on a team like the Yanks, etc. But then, if you want to compare him to great starters in comparable innings against top competition, that's as close as you'll get -- and it bolsters his argument.

  49. Dave V-

    That assumes the Yanks replace Rivera with a replacement level player. Not likely. If they don't have Rivera, they probably acquire another top closer.

    Also, I don't know exactly how WAR is calculated, but I feel like with closers, in a lot of situations, we can directly point to whether or not they directly contributed to a win and how this compares with "replacement level". (Note: Maybe WAR does this for everyone equally well, but it's easier to see it play out with a closer.) For instance, in the recent game with a leadoff triple, I think we can say it's very likely that the replacement level pitcher would have allowed that run to score (we can quibble with whether they would have allowed the triple in the first place, blah blah blah). Rivera didn't. Point for him. Where I think WAR breaks down is that Rivera can enter into a 3 R game, let up no runs, and get the save. A replacement level guy might enter the same situation, let up runs, and the team still gets the Win. Now, obviously Rivera did BETTER there. But for that specific season and that specific game, even a worse pitcher could have come in, performed worse, and the Yanks still win. I don't know how well I explained this point, so excuse me if it's just rambling.


    I didn't know Rivera's history that well. Thanks for clarifying.

  50. @45 Johnny Twisto - I hadn't known Rivera singlehandedly blew the 2001 WS either, so you're not the only one. I do know that if the Yanks hadn't had Rivera, they wouldn't have come close to winning the series.

    Game 3: Yanks win 2-1 and Rivera gets the Save. 2.0 IP, 0 baserunners, 4 K's
    Game 4: Yanks win 4-3 and Rivera gets the Win. 1.0 IP, 0 baserunners, 0 K's
    Game 5: Yanks win 3-2; Rivera gets a ND. 2.0 IP, 2 baserunners, 1 K

  51. This is like calling a goal line specialist the "best running back of all time" because he has the highest touchdown rate. My answer isn't just "no", it's HELL NO. It's an insult to every pitcher who has to get through a tough batting order 2-3 times in an appearance to say that a one-inning pitcher is the best of all time. Yes, it's a dumb question.

  52. I always admired how effectively Mo Rivera made his way through a lineup the third time around.

    Oh. Wait...

  53. 1967 WS

    Game 1: Cards win 2-1, Bob Gibson (W 1-0) 9 IP, 6 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 10 K
    Game 4: Cards win 6-0, Bob Gibson (W 2-0) 9 IP, 5 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 6 K
    Game 7: Cards win 7-2, Bob Gibson (W 3-0) 9 IP, 3 H, 2 ER, 3 BB, 10 K

  54. The game is on the line a lot more often for Mariano than it is for Lenny Harris the pinch-hitter or the "best goal line specialist". Those analogies don't even make sense and do a complete disservice to both Mariano and closers overall.

  55. The only reason the game is on the line is because the starter/offense got him the lead.

  56. @53 Mike

    1968 WS

    Game 7: Cards lose 4-1, Bob Gibson gives up all 4 runs and the Cards lose the World Series.

    I guess Bob Gibson singlehandedly blew a World Series too then, right?

  57. Its not the same, you could say he didnt get enough run support, for Rivera, all he had to do was pitch 1 inning and give up 0 runs, instead he gave up 2.

  58. Mike, I don't buy WAR. It's useful, I suppose, but is there any baseline? If it's supposed to measure impact on a season, why doesn't it add up? Unless I'm missing something, the first year I tested it on, the 2009 NL, it has Atlanta as the second best team when they finished seventh. San Diego is off four spots and Philly three. A team with the highest WAR means... what?

    For all the criticism I've heard, I like Win Shares. You take actual results and divvy out credit, not the other way around.

  59. This shouldn't even be a discussion. Look what Rivera did as a starting pitcher! Granted, he was a rookie, but it just goes to show how hard it is to get through a lineup 3 times. Look what Eric gagne did as a starte then as a reliever. How about John Smoltz? How do you think he'd have done had he been a closer his entire career? How good of a closer would Roy Halladay be? Or Tim Lincecum? Or any other Ace? Would Pedro Martinez still be pitching instead of retired after repeatedly breaking down in the latter part of his career?
    Mo is a GREAT closer. Best EVER. But you simply cannot compare him to SP's. Also, Walter Johnson was great, but he pitched mostly in the Dead-ball Era. Pedro has some of the most Era-defying stats you could ever imagine, and his 1999-2000 seasons at the peak of the Steroid Era, are almost unfathomable.

  60. It's not quite comparing apples to oranges, but it's similar to asking "what's better, the best tangerine or the best valencia?" Would there be any way with PI to look at pitchers' career stats with just the first time through the line-up? I know it's still not the same, but it would be a more accurate comparison. Or maybe we could settle for just best ERA+ among starters in the first inning. See if anyone's close to 200.

    As long as we're doing impossible comparisons, I think an interesting thought experiment would be best pitcher ever (without the 'major league' and 'baseball' qualifications). Then we could throw Jenny Finch and several cricket guys into the mix.

  61. And for Gibson, all he had to do was give up no more than 1 run to give his team a chance to win. And he didn't do that. He gave up 4 runs. He clearly sucks.

  62. I agree with whichever poster above said that this was a silly question. It's sort of like asking "Is [insert great career pinch-hitter here] the greatest hitter in baseball history?" Certainly, there's value to be had when you come in late in games, in high-leverage situations, and get a hit or score runs, but...

    The reality is, it's much easier to be a great pitcher for one inning (~10-15 pitches) than it is to be an above average pitcher for 6 or 7 innings (~90 pitches). A run scored in the first 8 innings of a game counts the same as a run scored in the 9th inning. The value of relievers is artificially enhanced because they are given extra-credit for always coming into the late innings of close games; it is also artificially enhanced because of the evolution of manager's pitcher usage patterns, and therefore is not a value that is really inherent to any particular pitcher.

    I think that Mariano Rivera has been a great, great closer, and if someone wants to make the argument that he is, per inning pitched, the best ever, well more power to them. But to suggest, as the WAR system does, that Rivera's career value is about the same as Roy Halladay's is, I think, preposterous. I would rather have the pitcher who faced 9100 batters with a 136 ERA+, than a guy who has faced 4500 @ 206. So needless to say, I would rather have a pitcher who faced 20,200 batters @ 143 (Clemens), 23,400 @ 147 (Johnson), 16,600 @ 148 (Grove), etc etc.

    And as someone pointed out earlier in this thread, modern closers never have to work their way through an opposing lineup. A pitcher who can get Albert Pujols out 3 or 4 times in a game is simply a better (or more valuable, if you prefer) pitcher than one who only has to worry about getting him out once.

  63. I would look at the issue as follows. (I'm using approximations to make the calculations easier.) Let's compare Mo to Walter Johnson. Innings/9 gives us almost 660 games for WJ and about 125 for MR. ERA+ tells use that if the league average ERA was 4.5 then WJ would have an ERA just above 3 and MR about 2.20. Next we need a figure for replacement level. I'm going to use 1 run above average. So, per 9 innings WJ was about 2.45 runs above replacement and MR about 3.3. But multiplying by In/9 gives us over 1600 RAR for WJ and about 410 for MR.

    For a starting pitcher we would use a leverage index of 1, WJ does not change. If we give MR full credit for his high leverage, (not at all clearly the right thing to do.), we will multiply the raw RAR by 1.845 to get about 750 RAR. WJ is far, far ahead. These are crude calculations, (I haven't tried to adjust for fielding and have done a very simplistic adjustment for the different run environments.) But they are not close in total value.

    As some have alluded to above, it is in general much easier to pitch out of the bullpen than to start. The relief pitcher won't face a batter more than once in a game, and doesn't have to pace himself in order to have something left in later innings. If WJ became a closer in his time I think his ERA+ would be considerably better than it was. If MR became a starter, it would not suprise me if he were below average. Having one great pitch works for a short reliever, it is not sustainable for a starter. This also means that we should use lower ERA numbers for average and replacement level for relievers. Further reducing MR's total value measured by RAR.

  64. Michael E Sullivan Says:

    I agree with both points about Pedro. But then I've though he had a case for best all time since he retired.

    His issue *is* the same as rivera's, fewer innings versus the guys he's in competition with, even the guys in his own era (johnson, clemens, maddux).

    I wanted to vote both 2 and 4 in the poll, because I think both are true. I went with 4, because I am more sure of that.

    I think Pedro's peak 7 year line as a starter pretty much demolishes the claim that Rivera deserves best all time pitcher based on his stats.

    But best closer is absolute, and I think best reliever is likely. I was surprised to see how much Wilhelm stands out on some of these lists. Like Pedro for Andy and #3, for me, Hoyt Wilhelm is the biggest surprise of the thread. I never saw him pitch (he retired when I was 4), nor knew much about him other than being a big name. I certainly have to think Wilhelm is more impressive than any other modern closer. Only Rivera has the game to make best reliever a question, given the numbers I see up there.

    I've thought in terms of comparing him to Fingers and Gossage as the fireman, and Eck, Hoffman, Nathan, Percival as pure closers, and he seems to tower above them all. But is he better than Wilhelm? Harder question. I think probably, certainly in the same class, even if he never got the same number of innings.

    BTW, I got a good laugh from #30, throwing out Christy Mathewson's raw numbers from 1908-1909. There's a reason they call it the "deadball era" Goof.

  65. joseph taverney Says:

    Why does every one keep comparing Mo to great pitchers from other eras, or saying he CAN"T be compared to pitchers from other eras, starters in general and the closers of the seventies.
    The whole point of ERA+, park adjustments, league adjustments, etc, is to be able to compare pitchers of different roles, eras, styles, etc.
    This conversation and those specific stats make the comparisons feasible.
    Everyones best argument is he is not facing the same hitters as many times as starters. It is a good point.
    Granted that in the smaller leagues of the past, guys faced eachother a ton more, but today's athletes are in a condition that can not be compared in the slightest to players of the past.
    Carl Furrillo was an iron worker in the off season.
    Yogi Berra sold cars and owned bowling alleys.
    You guys dismiss a cup of coffee late season call up, who faces a team for the first time when he gets shelled, now you use the same argument to support Rivera's dominance.
    Today's hitters have advantages yesterday's players couldn't even fathom.
    There was no video.
    There was no pitch data.
    There was no weight room.
    Multiple angle cameras.
    And why is no one comparing innings pitched, to games appeared in?
    Johhnny Tisto...
    I know starters don't inherit runners, that was my point that sailed over your head.

    And why should Rivera be punished for the way the game has evolved.
    You all act like he has demanded to be a three out pitcher.
    The fact is every team has a three out pitcher.
    That is the game.
    Yes, he hasn't started, except those ten games, but no one here claims he has.

    If baseball and its many accomplishments come down to winning championships, how many is Mo responsible for? (not counting 2001, Torree should of had the infield back).
    There has been many dominant closers.
    Mo has been the best in the late '90's, early '00s and now at 40 in 2k10.
    Comparing him to Walter Johnson means you just don't get the game or this conversation.

  66. Being the "Greatest" at something is really a subjective question because it all depends on how you look at something and how you measure something or how you define "Greatest".

    I think you can make a case that Rivera is/was the "most valuable" or "most productive" pitcher of all time or the pitcher who has given his team the most productivity/value per inning pitched.

    Rivera has 52.4 WAR in only 1132.4 innings pitched which is just an insane number. That works out to 4.62 WAR per 100 innings pitched. I would guess that there has never been a pitcher with that high a ratio in with a minimum of 1000 innings pitched in baseball history. Here's a list of few pitchers for comparison:

    M. Rivera: 4.62
    P. Martinez: 2.68
    R. Clemmens: 2.61
    L. Grove: 2.49
    S. Koufax: 2.34
    R. Gossage: 2.21
    T. Seaver: 2.20

    I couldn't even find another pitcher with 3/100 innings let alone 4/100 or 4.6/100. And this doesn't even take into account his post season work. Most of the the great pitchers I found were between 2-2.5 WAR per 1000 innings. You can definitely make a case that he is the Greatest per inning pitcher in baseball history.

  67. I think he is the best closer of all-time. I certainly don't think he is the best pitcher of all-time, or even in the discussion among the best pitchers. He's a failed starter and a one inning-one pitch pitcher. I'd like to see him pitch 7 innings with one pitch.

  68. Dave V. (#43),

    I might just as easily imply that the Yankees decided they would rather go with drug-addled Dwight Gooden, who had been out of the bigs for more than a year, rather than give Rivera another chance to prove he could start.

    It's my feeling that guys who are sent to the pen because they don't have what it takes to be a starter should not be graded on the same level as starters.

    Rivera's the best closer...fine. It's a manufactured job that lets guys excell who might not have what it takes to be frontline starters. Goose. Fingers. McGraw.

    At least those guys did it pitching 2-3 innings on many occasions. They worked through the lineups, faced the heart of the order, and often came around for a second look. They also had to pace themselves, not just throw 10-15 pitches (okay, sometimes 20+...) and call it a day.

  69. Michael, I did that for a laugh, too. I figured I could find some peak Mathewson numbers in similar innings... just curious for a "let's see." But the point remains -- the greatest starters at their very best are comparable in short spans to Mo over a career. So whose longevity counts more, the guy great for 1,000 IP over three years and not as good the rest of the way or the guy great for 1,000 IP over 15?

  70. To clarify, the original post points it out: Mo has been great EVERY year for a decade and a half. How many guys is that true of, regardless of innings? Pretty much nobody, unless you set the "great" bar down a bit.

  71. I haven't bothered to read all the posts here but some folks are hitting the nail on the head: a relief pitcher can't be mentioned in the same breath as a starting pitcher. How dominant would Walter Johnson, Bob Gibson, Sandy Koufax, Bob Feller had been if they only pitched one inning at a time? This poll is absurd!

  72. Somewhere on this site earlier this year we looked at comparing Rivera ERA to only other closers and his ERA+ went to like ~160, still great, but if you then compare starters ERA+ to only other starters I think a lot of guys would surpass that number.

    The reason his lack of innings is important is because those extra 15,000 pitches thrown by other pitchers has an impact on their ability to perform at high levels, which is why starters have such dropoffs while closers can remain effective at much older ages.

  73. @66 John Q - nice research there!

  74. @65 Joseph Taverney - many good points...and I'm glad someone else agrees with me in regards to how Torre never should have had the infield in.

  75. I got hammered in the Larry Walker thread, for implying that if he had played in L.A. his career average might have been much lower, because he hit .275 in a little over 200 at bats.

    I was told that 200 at bats was not a fair-enough indicator.

    The only hitter Mariano Rivera has faced as many as 40 times in his entire carer is Manny Rivera.

  76. Johnny Twisto Says:

    I know starters don't inherit runners, that was my point that sailed over your head.

    Sailed over my head? I quoted your line saying exactly that. I said RIVERA INHERITS VERY FEW RUNNERS AS WELL.

    John Q., if you wanted to make the WAR/IP a fair comparison, I think you need to divide Rivera's by his LI, because WAR multiplies his runs saved by LI.

  77. @72 Mike - you wrote "The reason his lack of innings is important is because those extra 15,000 pitches thrown by other pitchers has an impact on their ability to perform at high levels, which is why starters have such dropoffs while closers can remain effective at much older ages"

    I think this is a misconception that some people sometimes make with closers. Its assumed that closers can remain good forever because 1.) its easier than starting and 2.) because they have a lesser workload

    But if closers can remain effective so easily, why is it that only 71 players in baseball history have had as many as 2 30+ save seasons? Yes, saves haven't been around forever and starters used to complete their own games more in the past. The advent of big-time saves mostly begins around the 70s and takes off in the 80s. But with that said, that leaves room for many, many players to get 30 saves in a season. Only 71 have done it. Only 26 players have had as many as 5 seasons of doing it. Closers burn out for a lot of reasons. Sometimes people act like any "failed starter" can become a closer and that's not the case. The fact of the matter is that closers are a huge part of baseball today. Not every starter can close (even if they are a great starter) and not every closer can start. With the way starters cannot finish their own games much anymore, closers are more important than ever - and Mariano Rivera dominates at what he is trying to do more than any pitcher ever.

  78. When calculating WAR for Closers, what is replacement level? Is it a replacement level closer? Replacement level reliever? Replacement level pitcher? I think that matters quite a bit when considering WAR.

  79. @66, now redo it for the best 1132 inning of all those all-time greats instead of including their entire careers.

    A few include:
    Roger Clemens: '90, 92, 94, 97, 05 1120 IP, 40.8 WAR = 3.64 WAR/100 IP
    Pedro Martinez: '97, 1999-2003, 1173 IP, 44.4 WAR = 3.79 WAR/100 IP
    Lefty Grove: 1930-31, 1936-37, '39, 1285 IP, 41.9 WAR = 3.26 WAR/100 IP

    And those guys were facing every hitter 3+ times per game and had to deal with fatigue.

  80. I do not think that any relief pitcher ie(closer, setup or middle relief) can be called the greatest pitcher ever . Rivera has average 1.1779 innings per outting that means 4 batter outs per game how can anybody that pitches to so few batters be called greatest Bob Gibson averaged 7.356 innings per game over 17 seasons thats 22 batter outs per game 5.5 more outs then Rivera? That would be like taking a racehorse who runs twice a year and wins and saying he's better then Man O War or Secretariet it won't hold water. A great pitcher throws to whomever is batting a relief pitcher is a situation player who lots of times pitches to just one batter. No way, No how, Not now or ever will a relief pitcher be greatest.

  81. Mike - you're cherry-picking the BEST seasons from the 3 BEST starters that John Q looked up in terms of WAR per IP...and they are all still WAY BEHIND Mariano Rivera's 4.62 figure which accounts for his entire career.

    I can accept people not believing Mariano is the best pitcher ever. There is no way anyone (on either side of the fence) can definitively prove this one way or the other. But I think Andy's original point remains is a question worth asking, as Rivera has been THAT good. And simply dismissing Rivera as someone who has no business being in the conversation is very narrow-minded IMO.

  82. @80 D J Jones - "No way, No how, Not now or ever will a relief pitcher be greatest."

    What if the reliever pitched 2 innings ever game, never blew a save and never even allowed a any game. Would that be good enough to call him the best pitcher ever?

  83. It is only a question worth asking in the eyes of Yankee fans, no one else thinks so. Anyone who would rather have Rivera on their team over Walter Johnson please become the GM of any rival team of mine.

  84. @82, then he would become a starter.

  85. The GM of Johnson's teams might have wished to have had Rivera. Walter Johnson only won 1 World Series. Mariano Rivera has 5 (and counting). Maybe if the Senators had Rivera closing out games for them... (I kid)

    But yes, I would take Mariano Rivera over Walter Johnson. I suspect I'm not the only one who would say that...Yankee fans and non-Yankee fans alike. Take a look at Johnson's numbers after the dead ball era ended. They aren't nearly as good as his dead ball stats are. Yeah, he was older but the fact remains, his numbers took a nose dive.

    Now that I answered your question...would you take Mark Buehrle over Mariano Rivera?

  86. No one's arguing that Mariano Rivera isn't a great pitcher, because its pretty clear that he is. And closing isn't something that any failed starter can do--heck, most relievers can't even do it for a few weeks if the regular closer gets hurt. But closing games an starting them are two entirely different types of pitching. A closer needs 2 pitches, and can afford to throw one of them almost all the time (as Rivera does) assuming he can control it. All he needs to o is get 3 outs. If he can pound the strike zone and get ahead of hitters and then put them away or keep them off balance, he can be effective. This is difficult for a lot of successful starting pitchers, especially finesse guys who pitch to contact. Hitters (at least smart ones) are generally more patient in the 9th inning of a close game, so they'll be less likely to swing at pitchers' strikes. Also, strikeouts are exponentially more important for a closer than a starter: a starting pitcher generally want to get outs on as few pitches as possible, since he needs to stick around for 6 or 7 innings if not more. But at the same time, anything can happen once the ball is put into play, so in an extremely high stakes situation a strikeout is the best way to shut an opposing offense down. Starting pitchers can afford to give up a few runs per outing; as long as they keep it close and give their team a good chance to win, they've done their job. For a closer every out is crucial, and mistakes are much more costly.

    Basically, a closer needs to get 3 outs as close to perfectly as possible, and a starter needs to get about 20 outs (but more is always a plus) and be very, very good. The two tasks are basically incomparable. That being said, I tend to think that it's much harder to pitch 200-300 innings per season at a certain level than it is to pitch at that same level for 70 innings per year. Ultimately, the guy who pitches 70% of a game once a week is more valuable than the guy who pitches 10% of a game 4 or 5 times per week at the same level. Of course, that's not a foolproof assessment, but even if it's not unreasonable to call Mariano Rivera the greatest pitcher in baseball history, it is basically impossible to make a compelling case that he definitively is.

    Also, the WAR argument is a little bit silly. Does anyone seriously think that the wealthy, dominant Yankee teams of the late '90s and early 2000's would have a replacement level closer if they didn't have Mo? Of course not. If it wasn't Mo, it would've been some other big name closer, someone like Trevor Hoffman or Billy Wagner. Realistically, his yearly WAR for those years would be maybe 1 or 2 at most. In fact, I don't think any team in the Major Leagues would have a "replacement level" pitcher as their closer. That's generally the job you give to your best reliever.

  87. I do not believe he is the best pitcher of all time simply because I don't believe any pitcher used as a "closer" (in today's view of the term) can win a game by himself. I know that starting pitchers don't win games "by himself" either, having defenders - especially good ones - is a key part of the game; but, a closer (if used as the baseball community - read: not sabermetric community - uses them in today's game) only comes into games with a lead and only having to get three outs. An average starter, even in today's game, is expected to get anywhere between 15 and 21 outs to keep his team in a game and/or win a game.

    By today's definition of "closer" and possibly any definition of "closer," Mariano Rivera is the best I have ever seen or heard of on the basis of an entire career...and I wouldn't even try to make an argument for anybody else.

  88. Closers are a dime a dozen, it is pretty easy to find someone for the role who can be decent and even good. Sure Rivera is the best, but good closers seem to be independent of team success (except for save opportunities) whereas good starting pitching always correlates with the best teams. Some average closer may blow around 5 more saves than Rivera, which dont always turn into losses anyways. Roy Halladay replacing your 5th best starter is much, much more valuable.

    I would rather have any all-star starter over Rivera, easily.

  89. Johnny Twisto Says:

    John Q, re my #76, actually you should divide Rivera's WAR/IP by about 1.4 (halfway between his actual LI and 1.0; that's what his RAR are being multiplied by).

    BSK, there is a different replacement level for relievers.

  90. @86 Malcom - you're treading on interesting territory there with WAR. Would all big-budget or large-market teams have a replacement level player in place of a star that disappeared? If the Cards didn't have Albert Pujols, would they not try to get a Mark Teixeira or Prince Fielder? If the Red Sox didn't have Manny Ramirez, would they not try to get a Jason Bay? Most teams would replace their biggest stars with someone better than a replacement level player. That doesn't mean the star with the high WAR is useless to that team though.

  91. He didn't have his cutter until '97 so ignore his 95 rookie season when thinking about the following: For all of those who say they'd like to see him do it for 7 innings 3 times through here is my question to you.. Batters have not been able to hit his cutter for the last 13 seasons... He usually goes through the 9th inning with like 10-15 pitches... What makes you think they'd be able to hit his cutter the second and third times through? They know its coming every time and they still can't hit it. In my opinion it wouldn't matter 2nd time or 3rd time through the lineup because nothing is changing. They'd still no it's his cutter coming and still wouldn't be able to hit it. They've seen it for years now, just what adjustments are they going to make mid game that they havn't been trying to make for all these years?

    I think Riveras small frame was probably one of the factors (along with his dominance in relief against seattle in '95 playoffs) that lead to his shift to the bullpen. As a reliever in '96 he was more valuable to the team then he would have been as a starter.

    To do what he has done in the steroid era is amazing. The only lefty hitter to own him was Raf. Palmero and he is on the PED list.

  92. Dave, I wasn't there of course, but I'm going to take a wild guess and say most starting pitchers' numbers declined after the end of the dead ball era... and yet between 1920 and 1927 Walter Johnson still went 120-88 with a 3.33 ERA, led the league in strikeouts 3 times, had back-to-back 20 win seasons in which he completed about half of his starts (hence the win-loss record actually meant something), and was the MVP in 1924, which suggests that he was one of if not the main contributor to the Senators' World Series title that year. I'll take that over a closer who I can only use on the occasions that the Big Train isn't finishing his own work.

  93. If you dont have good starting pitching you dont even need Rivera, he only has value if you have great starting pitching or else he is just saving worthless games for the Pirates who are not in the playoff hunt.

  94. Johnny Twisto Says:

    Plus the Senators had the OG closer, Firpo Marberry.

  95. @90 (Dave): Yes, those are exactly the kinds of questions that I'm asking. The main problem with WAR is that a "replacement player" is made into a universal constant, which baseball players aren't. A replacement player on the Pittsburgh Pirates will not be the same thing as a replacement player on the Boston Red Sox, who seem to like to take other teams' overpirced/underachieving but still talented veterans and put them on their bench. WAR is a useful metric for assessing player value, but it is by no means an absolute--no statistic is.

  96. @88 Mike - "I would rather have any all-star starter over Rivera, easily."

    So that means you would rather have Pettitte or Hughes (not to mention CC) over Rivera then. Wow. Who knew that Rivera was no best then the 4th best pitcher on his own team. I guess it is silly to ponder whether he could be the best pitcher of all time when you think about it THAT WAY...

    And Buehrle made the All Star team as recently as 2009, so you are confirming that you want him over Rivera. Thanks for answering the question.

  97. If I was starting a team from scratch, there are more than 30 pitchers to pick from before Mariano Rivera in regards to that team since before anything, my starting rotation and the best defensive catcher available, would be the bases of the team. In that case, we may not need a Mariano Rivera, who without a doubt is the greatest closer; not the best pitcher ever.

    Those who may choose him as the best pitcher ever, may not even need him if they are behind in the score over and over.

    Saludos y MUCHAS GRACIAS.

  98. Replacing your 5th starter with an all-star is much, much more valuable than replacing any average closer with Rivera. If the Yankees didnt have Hughes, Pettitte and CC Rivera would be worthless and just saving games for a last place team.

  99. "...whereas good starting pitching always correlates with the best teams"

    I'm going to have to disagree greatly with that statement. Let's look at this year for example:
    Of the top 25 pitchers in ERA+ so far this season, 7 are on division leading teams. The Yankees with the best record in baseball have only 2 pitchers in the top 60 (with 3 above league average, Hughes just barely sneaks in there). Seattle with the 3rd worst record in baseball has 4 pitchers in the top 60 (includes Lee). In general the best pitchers pitch wherever they pitch and can very easily have great seasons on bad teams. Just look at Grienke last year. No matter how good a starter is, he's only going to make a difference every 4th/5th game.

  100. Magnesium Sulfate Says:

    If you were a GM starting a team, would you pick Rivera before you picked a starter? Even in Rivera's prime, I cannot imagine any sane person would say they'd do that. Rivera has had an incredible career not pitching in 80-90% of every game in which he's made an appearance.

  101. Malcom - agreed that Johnson isn't the only one whose numbers went up after the dead ball era. And I'm not trying to imply he wasn't good post-dead ball either. But he was not as good as he had been and he was not the legendary figure he had been earlier.

    Also, I don't think he would be completing most of his games these days...not in today's day and age where 100 pitches gets most pitching coaches and managers worried 😉

    I agree with your comments about WAR. The only reason I mentioned it in the Rivera context is because Mike had wrote "Why is it that in all other polls WAR is used as a major factor in rating a player, but in this lengthy post it is not mentioned once? Because it makes Rivera look bad."

  102. walter johnson was pedro 2000 for the entire 1910s but with double the IP every season, and a typical all-star of today with double the IP from 07-10 and 21-26. i still think you need to count starters above relievers in general, i don't know how much rivera's era+ and whip would hold up over 200 IP a season. johnson is still the best.

  103. JT-

    Thanks. So when we say Rivera's WAR was X, we are saying that he was X wins better than the worst reliever in the league? That seems too broad. Shortstops are compared to shortstops. First basement to first basemen. Closers, to me, should be compared to other closers. If Rivera went down, the Yanks wouldn't bump their worst reliever into the role, they'd move the 8th guy to the 9th, 7th guy to the 8th, etc, etc, etc. Obviously, the aggregate would still be taking Rivera out of the pen and putting a minor leaguer into it, but consider how roles are defined and the leverage of those different rules, it's not really apt to say Rivera was "replaced" by that guy. It seems like this might really inflate closers WAR. I'm curious to hear more about this. I realize it is hard to strictly define closers because of how fluid the role is (even with the Yanks, other guys get Saves here and there), but it doesn't seem like the best way of measuring value if the "replacement level" guy would never actually replace the guy's actual innings/leverage/etc.

  104. Very good point BSK, for all hitter they have a WAR column for Rpos which accounts for the specific position. Pitchers dont have this, how is this accounted for with pitchers (if at all)? By using the leverage index?

  105. JT-

    I realize that replacement level doesn't necessarily equate to "worst reliever", but just used that to illustrate the point.

  106. I love this discussion and thanks to Johnny Twisto at #94 for bringing up the original stud reliever, Firpo Marberry. I understand he hated the Firpo nickname and preferred to go by Fred.

    Anyway, I am in agreement that while Rivera is the greatest one inning closer of all time, I just can't see how he is greater or more valuable to his team than: Pedro, Randy Johnson, Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux or any other Ace starter who goes 7 innings or more 30+ times per year.

    Rivera's greatness lies in his ability to do his job, exceptionally well, 50 times per year, year after year.

  107. If I were magically a GM starting a team and all of the active players today were magically 25 years old to equal things out, then yes, I would take Mariano Rivera over any other pitcher. I'd be secure knowing that I could have Rivera for the next 15 or more years and be completely set in the bullpen. No matter how good of a starter I take from amongst all active pitchers, I don't think he'd have the impact that Rivera would on my team. Later in the draft, I'll end up taking Tim Hudson (instead of Tim Lincecum, who I could have had in Rivera's draft slot) and let Mariano close out the win, instead of Jonathan Broxton blowing Lincecum's should-be win.

    Maybe I am not sane though...

  108. Twisto,

    That's a good point, I just kind of threw those names up rather quickly. I was just trying to point out how valuable he's been on a per inning basis.

    I've also been thinking about Buck Showalter during this thread. The Yankees were up 4-2 going into the bottom of the 8th and he let David Cone give up the lead and pitch 147 pitches before he replaced him with Mariano Rivera. And then Rivera came in and struck out Mike Blowers with the bases loaded. Who knows how history would have changed if he brought Rivera in when the inning started or after Griffey jr. hit the solo shot.

  109. dave and others,

    johnson's dead ball era stats are legitly superlative. he was as dominant as they claimed regardless of the time. look at the stats that you can compare to the league avg. if anything they make him look even better. it is pedro 2000 for ten years, like i said.

  110. This is like saying Johnny Bench is better than Lou Gehrig because the gap between him and the next cathcer is larger than between Gehrig and the next 1st baseman. But if you are not biased towards Bench because you are a Reds fan or he is your favorite player you know that is rediculous.

  111. I think it's probably too hard to compare a relievers to Starters. Typically speaking a starter during the regular season is almost always going to be more valauble. In the playoffs the reliever can be on much more even ground in terms of value.

    I don't know if he's the best pitcher ever... but the fact that he's even in the discussion for some people is a remarkable feat for a closer. He has been the most valuable Yankee for the past 14 or however many years. Those that dissagree with that statement, arn't Yankee fans I'd bet. If you follow the yankees, you know how important this guy is to the team.

    He has to be in serious consideration for best post season pitcher ever and is going to make just about everyones short list for greatest reliever ever. He's an amazing pitcher and appears to be a class act human being as well.

  112. Using the definition of WAR given, they describe a player as 0-2 WAR as replacement level. Last year, on the Yanks, Alfredo Aceves had a WAR of 1 over a full year. Now, obviously, that makes him slightly better than replacement level, but whatever, we'll use him as an example. So a WAR of 4 or 5 for a closer means they are 4 or 5 wins better than Alfredo Aceves, not other closers. To me, that doesn't seem all that impressive. I want to know how many Ws Rivera is worth compared to other closers, not the guy who is the 12th pitcher on the roster.

  113. I'm not saying Rivera isn't impressive. Just that WAR seems to overstate the value of a closer because of what they are using as a baseline.

  114. Johnny Twisto Says:

    BSK and Mike, I'm not sure. I believe Tangotiger has mentioned using a different replacement level for closers, and Sean Smith developed WAR in connection with Tango. I know there are separate replacements for SP and RP but the B-R glossary doesn't make clear if there is another one used for closers as well. You are of course correct that Rivera would not be directly replaced by AAA reliever. That "chaining" effect is why his RAR are multiplied by the average of his LI and 1.0 (rather than directly by his LI as I mistakenly said in #76).

  115. bluejaysstatsgeek Says:

    I would consider him among the best, but some valid points were made in the article that make it difficult to compare a reliever with starters that have more innings. As a former Expos fan, I'm embarrassed to admit that I didn't realize that Pedro was THAT great!

    I generally dislike the Yankees, but Mariano is one of the players that I respect and admire the most. If anyone hasn't read the NYT Magazine article that was referenced in the first of the "related articles", you really owe it to yourself to read it.

  116. JT-

    Thanks for the info. I'll see what I can find over at those sites. By the way, I wasn't meaning to be critical of any of the work here, just trying to better understand it. As far as I'm concerned, a stat is only as good as it is understood. If we don't know what a WAR of 5.0 for a closer really means, it's not as impactful as it might be for hitters or another number that we are clearer about. Thanks!

  117. "He has been the most valuable Yankee for the past 14 or however many years."

    He only has value because his teammates handed him the lead to defend. Im sorry, but if you dont have the team to give you that lead consistently you are not that valuable. If they didnt have him they would just have Billy Wagner who may blow a few more saves each year but it doesnt affect the Yankees that much. You people defedning Rivera act like if you put him on the Pirates they would make the playoffs, which is obviously wrong.

  118. Johnny Twisto Says:

    BSK, I know that, and I'm happy to see you ask good questions rather than just dismiss something because it doesn't "feel" right. If only I had all the answers....

  119. "He only has value because his teammates handed him the lead to defend. Im sorry, but if you dont have the team to give you that lead consistently you are not that valuable."

    But fortunately for him he does have a a winning team to hand him the ball consistently... therefore he does have value. It's not his fault he's on the Yankees and not the Pirates...

  120. True and he is the best at saving wins for his team, but he is not more valuable than the guys who give him the lead. If he was on the Pirates he is still the best closer in MLB, yet not very valuable to his team so they guys who come before him in the game are much more valuable than any closer, especially a mostly 1 inning closer, could ever be.

  121. @110 Mike - "This is like saying Johnny Bench is better than Lou Gehrig because the gap between him and the next cathcer is larger than between Gehrig and the next 1st baseman. But if you are not biased towards Bench because you are a Reds fan or he is your favorite player you know that is rediculous."

    I don't know about that. It might be like taking Johnny Bench in place of Albert Pujols.

    Gehrig is EASILY the best 1B of alltime - and one of the overall best players of alltime. Without a doubt. I don't think there is an active starting pitcher we can say that about. So taking Rivera (the best RP ever) instead of someone who isn't the best starter of alltime is nowhere close to taking Bench instead of Gehrig.

    It might be like taking Bench over Pujols. Pujols is an amazing, fantastic player. His WAR is 9.60 ahead of Bench's. So maybe some people would take Pujols. But would I argue with people who thought Bench was a better choice. No way. I could see the reasoning for either. Just like I see the reasoning for taking Rivera (if they were the same age and Rivera wasn't 40) over a great starting pitcher.

  122. oops.

    From #75. I meant to say the only hitter Rivera has faced more than 40 times is Manny Ramirez (not Rivera).

  123. WAR is very interseting with closers because WAR is based on runs saved above some level, but for closers runs dont really matter as much as saves. If you have 2 closers, each with 40 saves in 43 chances, but 1 has an ERA of 1 run lower, WAR would rank him much better, but really in terms of wins they have the same value.

  124. @117 Mike - "You people defedning Rivera act like if you put him on the Pirates they would make the playoffs, which is obviously wrong."

    Nobody said such a thing. But you said earlier that "good starting pitching always correlates with the best teams". Does 2009 Zack Greinke agree with you? Does this year's Josh Johnson? Or any numbers of great starting pitchers throughout the years?

    Just like Rivera doesn't transform Pittsburgh into a playoff team...neither does an amazing, Cy Young-winning or caliber starting pitcher. Unless you think if Pittsburgh had traded for Halladay instead of Philly, that they'd be a playoff contender this year?

  125. "True and he is the best at saving wins for his team, but he is not more valuable than the guys who give him the lead. If he was on the Pirates he is still the best closer in MLB, yet not very valuable to his team so they guys who come before him in the game are much more valuable than any closer, especially a mostly 1 inning closer, could ever be."

    If lets say Andy Pettitte goes 8 solid innings and then hands the lead over to Joba who promptly blows the game and the Yankees lose. Just how valuable were Pettittes 8 innings? Sure he saved the bullpen a little work I guess, but other then that not so valuable in my mind.

    But if Pettitte goes 8 innings and Rivera saves it... then both Pettitte and Rivera were valuable. Pettite more so yes because he went 8 innings as opposed to 1, despite the 1 being more leverage.

    But i'm not trying to argue that Rivera is the most valuable player on the Yankees during the REGULAR season (he isn't), I said he has been the most valuable Yankee for the past 14 years. That doesn't just include regular season, but the post season as well. The post season is where Rivera has shown great value. And it isn't his fault that he has had a winning team to get him there. You can't hold that against him, that wouldn't be fair.

    In the playoffs a reliever can dominate a short series just as much and sometimes more then a starting pitcher. And Rivera has done that time and time again. The Yankees simply don't have 5 championships without him. I think they'd probably have won 2. That along with his consistency year and and year out is why I say he has been the most valuable Yankee for the past 14 years.

  126. Starting pitching is more than 1 player. OK, I went to far to say it always correlates instead of most of the time. I said people act like Rivera is so great and valuable so I gave a rediculous example to make a point. Clearly, the pirates would benefit more from a starter than Rivera. The Pirates have 13 blown saves this season and the Yankees have 11. So a perfect Rivera could add 2 wins. Not close to as valuable as Halladay.

  127. "The Yankees simply don't have 5 championships without him. I think they'd probably have won 2."

    This is rediculous, without Rivera they would not have had Joba or some other horrible pitcher, they would have signed the best available closer.

    Who knows what would have happened in 2001 though, it is more reasonable to argue the Yankees would have won 6 WS instead of 5 rather than saying replacing him with some other closer would have cost them 3 world series!

  128. Most dominant; Yes.
    Best; No.

    He just hasn't pitched enough innings to accrue the value necessary to be "the best ever".

  129. @126 Mike - "Starting pitching is more than 1 player. OK, I went to far to say it always correlates instead of most of the time. I said people act like Rivera is so great and valuable so I gave a rediculous example to make a point. Clearly, the pirates would benefit more from a starter than Rivera. The Pirates have 13 blown saves this season and the Yankees have 11. So a perfect Rivera could add 2 wins. Not close to as valuable as Halladay."

    You do realize those "blown saves" occur across innings before the 9th, right? If Pettitte pitches 5 innings and leaves the game ahead 3-2 and then Joba gives up a run in the 6th, that accounts for one of those "blown saves". You're not even comparing apples and oranges there...that's like comparing apples and dog food.

  130. I love how many people are saying something to the affect of "ALL he has to do is get three outs." Comparing it to pitching the 1st inning or whatever (someone tried to say we should only look at a starter's first time through the order when accululating comaprison stats). Has anyone ever watched a baseball game?

    Is there the same stress/competition level in the first 3 innings of the game as there is in the 9th. No. During the innings 1 thru 3 people are getting their food and going to the bathroom. During the 9th you would let your bladder explode rather than miss a pitch. There is a difference. Getting those last 3 outs is very hard to do. It is also why the Win Expectancy goes up and down 1-3% per batter during the first 6 innings and then it goes up and down 10-20% per batter in the 9th.

    I am not saying that any closer should be regarded as the best pitcher, because that would definitely be reserved for a great Starter who repeatedly gets those last 3 outs in close games himself. But I am saying that being a closer is not easy, a dime-a-dozen, or for failed starters. There have been NUMEROUS failed starters over the last 15-20 years and you would think that teams would be smart enough to save 10 million per year by just using their 8th best starter as the closer.

  131. Johnny Twisto Says:

    9 of the Pirates' blown saves have been in the 8th inning or later. Only 4 of the Yankees' have been. The blown "saves" in the 6th or 7th don't really have much to do with Rivera, or Dotel, or any closer.

  132. @127 Mike - "Who knows what would have happened in 2001 though, it is more reasonable to argue the Yankees would have won 6 WS instead of 5 rather than saying replacing him with some other closer would have cost them 3 world series!"

    I give up. I thought we already covered this topic. The Yanks probably don't approach a Game 7 without Rivera's perfect (no runs) stretch prior to Game 7. And there is NO WAY they would have won all of their other World Series, if they simply had another "good closer". No way.

    But if you persist, I guess the Cards would have had an extra World Series in their history if Bob Gibson wasn't such a choke artist...

  133. "This is rediculous, without Rivera they would not have had Joba or some other horrible pitcher, they would have signed the best available closer.

    Who knows what would have happened in 2001 though, it is more reasonable to argue the Yankees would have won 6 WS instead of 5 rather than saying replacing him with some other closer would have cost them 3 world series!"

    Oh great maybe they would have had 1 of the 7 other closers in the postseason last year who all blew saves and were huge factors in their teams being eliminated from the playoffs?

    They make it no where near game 7 in 2001 without him. Torre rode him as long and as hard as he could that postseason. He went multiple 2 inning saves and until game 7 hadn't given up a run in like 33 consecutive innings or something crazy.

    You seriously underestimate how good he has been in the postseason if you think he could have been so easily replaced. IMO.

    I can't prove how many W.S. they would have won without him but others have tried and I'll look for a link for you, because it's a good read if nothing else.

  134. Yes I know how blown saves work, the point is that adding Rivera to a team that does not have good starting pitching does not make them better by very much. Adding Roy Halladay instead of their 5th starter makes them much, much better. Look at the Brewers from 2008 to 2009, essentially the same team with Sheets 08 = Gallardo 09, and 2009 had a better offense and a better closer. What is the only difference? They replaced CC Sabathia with a replacement level pitcher and they go from playoffs to below .500.

  135. Since he's in the results of the players with the most seasons with an ERA+ of 170, is this a good forum to say Tom Henke has been severely overlooked by HOF voters? I'm not even a Blue Jays fan but he had a really great career.

    And he wasn't even used as a closer in the "modern" sense (ie one inning per apperance) until the 1990s. In the 80s, he had seasons like 63-G/91-IP and 72-G/94-IP etc all while pitching really, really well.

  136. Torre rode him? He pitched 6.1 innings over 9 days.

    You could say the Dbacks rode Curt Shilling who pitched 21.1 innings over the same time with the same ERA (1.69 Curt, 1.42 for Mo...who also allowed an unearned run due to his own throwing error) or Randy Johnson who pitched 17.1 innings with a 1.04 ERA.

  137. Also, I think it's quite possible that if the modern closer formula had started sooner and Eckersley started doing it at 25 instead of in his 30s, we may be talking about him instead of Rivera as the greatest closer ever.

    He once had a 610 ERA+!! He's also had two seasons of an 18.00+ strikeout to walk ratio.

  138. Maybe I missed it, but in the long comment trail I don't thing anyone has used perhpas the best stat available for evaluating relievers together wiht starters and putting their respective performances in context.. That stat is Win Probability Added (WPA). The whole pont of WPA is to combine the element of situational leverage with traditional areas of evaluation. WPA requires play-by-play info so the WPA stats here only go back to 1950, but with PI we can look at the leaders in career WPA by a pitcher since 1950:
    1. Clemens 78.3
    2. Maddux 59.9
    3. Seaver 56.1
    4. Pedro M. 54.1
    5. Big Unit 53.6
    6. Mariano 50.7
    7. Palmer 45.8
    8. Spahn 43.4
    9. Mussina 40.9
    10. Smoltz 40.6

    WPA reflects the importance of the number of innings pitched, but it also reflects the importance (leverage) of the innings pitched as well. I think the list above puts Mariano in the right context. Note that this list reflects only regular season performance.

  139. Mo has the huge advantage of ONLY pitching in high leverage situations so that is not really a fair comparison.

  140. "Torre rode him? He pitched 6.1 innings over 9 days."

    I wasn't only talking about the series against the diamondbacks, but that postseason Torre relied on Rivera heavily as he always did. Asking him to pitch 2 innings on many occasions when a closer is used to throwing only 1. Riveras velocity was down in that final inning agains the diamondbacks, most likely due to fatigue. Schilling and Johnson were asked a lot from to I agree with that.

    Torre abused many relievers while with the Yankees, It's amazing Riveras arm didn't suffer the same fate as proctor and sturtz.

  141. I am a great admirer of Rivera (I say this as a Red Sox fan), and I think he has pitched as well as anybody could in the role that he has had. I don't think there's any other pitcher in the history of the game that you could plug into Rivera's role and expect to perform any better. If you need a guy to pitch one inning to save your life, you'd do as well to pick Rivera as anybody. There are many other guys you could pick with confidence, but, in a one-inning situation, you couldn't expect them to outperform Rivera.

    That said, ask yourself this: if you reversed their roles, would you have more confidence in Randy Johnson reproducing Rivera's results, or in Rivera reproducing Johnson's? Replace Johnson with Seaver, Clemens, Maddux, Walter Johnson, any other elite starting pitcher you want. Would you put your money on Rivera? I can't say I would. We've seen guys like Eckersley and Smoltz be dominant as closers; I can believe that guys like Pedro and Johnson could have been as well. Rivera might very well have been a great starter, but we'll never know, and I just don't think we can project Rivera as a starter with as much confidence as we could any of those other guys as a closer.

  142. Mike - you're saying you know how blown saves work but you quoted blown save numbers that have no merit being in this discussion. Here's something for you...just looking at blown save numbers, let's switch Jonathan Papelbon and Mariano Rivera around.

    The Yanks are 71-43 this season.
    The Red Sox are 66-50 (6 games back).

    Rivera has blown 2 saves this season. The Yanks won 1 of those games anyway.
    Papelbon has blown 6 saves this season. The Red Sox won 3 of those games anyways.

    So if the Yanks had won all of Rivera's save opps, they would be 72-42.
    If the Red Sox had won all of Papelbon's save opps, they would be 69-47 (4 games back).

    And Papelbon blew a save vs. the Yanks (and the Sox lost that game). So the Yanks would actually be 71-43 (or back to what their actual record is). They'd only be 3 games behind the Yanks. They'd also only be 1 game behind Tampa Bay in the wild card race (as opposed to 4 games behind them).

    Papelbon is considered one of baseball's best closers. But he's no Mariano Rivera - and his team's record reflects that.

    I realize that in a given season, Papelbon might have a better season than Rivera. Or another closer could as well. The point is, that its not so easy to just replace Mariano and assume the Yanks aren't affected. Rivera is ALWAYS great and is a huge asset to the Yanks. In the regular season. And even more so in the playoffs.

  143. Well there have been a lot of relievers who were nowhere near as good as Rivera who have put together good starting season. Like C.J. Wilson on Texas this year, or Ryan Dempster on the Cubs. There have also been starters who failed as closers and vice versa. We will never know if Rivera would have had a successful career as a starter like you said but if they can't hit the cutter 14 years later, what magic adjustment would allow them to hit it the 2nd time or 3rd time through order? If there is such an adjustment why havn't they made it yet?

    His small frame I believe would have been his most challenging thing to overcome as a starter. However he has great mechanics and has had longevity so who knows.

  144. Now do the same for a team that isnt in the top 10 for wins and who cares it doesnt matter. Now replace Jon Lester with Jeff Suppan and how are Sox doing?

  145. I believe that Mariano is the greatest closer of all-time and perhaps the biggest difference maker in the last 20 years. He gives the Yankees a huge edge when it comes to post season play as no team right now has a closer on the level of Rivera.

    In regards to the greatest pitcher in history. I believe a lot of people on the thread are correct that Pedro may be the best. The problem becomes how you define these guys for which era they pitched in. The game today has become more of a specialist role with regards to pitching, which is why Rivera stands out amongst the rest.

  146. I've thought about this a lot today and one thing that I keep coming back to is perspective. I hate these discussions when a player is active, becasue we really don't have perspective. It's similar to the hype before the Super Bowl last year when everyone was asking if Peyton Manning was the best QB ever. You really can't answer that while the player is still playing.

    Now, there is probably not anything Mariano Rivera will do in the remainder of his career that will change his overall numbers that much. If he pitches the next two years with an ERA of 5, well, he was at the end of the line anyway. I suppose if he pitched another 5 years like he has for the last 15, then we'd have something to REALLY talk about. Anyway...

    Part of the perspective is also the continued evolution of pitchers and the role of the "closer." The closers of the 70's and early 80's had a different role - generally fewer appearances (unless you were Mike Marshall), more innings, more decisions, fewer saves. Were these pitchers automatically more or less valuable due to their roles? Of course not.

    But what also happened is that you had a lot of one or two year wonders. Go look through the save leaders to find the Bill Caudills and Ernie Camachos - guys who would blow out their arm after one or two good years and never be heard from again. Of course there was Goassage or Fingers or Sutter, but even they weren't that dominant year after year. It wasn't really until LaRussa started using Eckersly (who also made his relief pitcher money with basically one pitch thrown again and again with great consistency and accuracy) for one inning at a time that we saw the rise of consistently dominant relivers - Hoffman, Rivera, etc. As of now, Rivera is the best of the lot.

    But, we need some perspective before we can annoint him the best of anything. In 15 years, will there be another reliever whose stats are as good (or nearly as good) as his? I don't know and neither do you. But given that the evolution is not yet done, I wouldn't bet against it. Maybe the best time to have this debate is 2025.

  147. It's hard to directly compare replacing a good starter with a replacement starter. There are more variables involved, mostly around the offense of your team and the run support that starter gets. Your teams offensive output could be impacted by how your starter does (ie. play small ball, go for big innings with HRs) in any given game. In a save situation, its your closer vs the other team, and it decides whether you win, blown save and you bat again because its tied, or blown save and you lose without batting again.

  148. Although Mariano Rivera is a amazing closer, Part of a great pitcher's success is the team's defensive ability. For example, last year, when Mark Buehrle got his perfect game, he wouldn't have a PG because of DeWayne Wise's catch at the homer-robbing catch.

  149. #91

    It's not even seeing his cutter over 13 years, it is the fact that he would not be able to do it every inning because it will lose it's break and effectiveness and he wouldn't have the control of it after the 2nd inning.

  150. #149

    He didn't seem to lose any break or effectiveness of it in game 7 of the 2003 ALCS and he pitched 3 shutout innings with it. If his stamina was built up like a starter I don't think he'd lose the effectiveness of it. He has mastered the pitch.

  151. "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."

    I've thought about it, and am still wondering why most assume that the home team's starter's 1st inning (or 2nd, 3rd, 4th, etc. if the score remains 0-0) seems any less difficult than Rivera's inning. The other team still is within the same threatening striking distance.

    Keep in mind that Rivera (as fantastic a closer as he is) was a failed starter. If you really think that one play makes or breaks an entire game, you're crazu. A game is decided over 9 inninga of play, not 1.

  152. "Keep in mind that Rivera (as fantastic a closer as he is) was a failed starter"

    Based on what? his rookie year? A lot of great HOF pitchers struggled badly in their rookie years. We don't really know if he would have failed as a starter or not. He was moved to the bullpen because he dominated out of the pen in the '95 playoffs. Plus he didn't have his legendary cutter at this time yet either.

    He had a game against the whitesox where he was throwing 95 mph and struck out 11 in 8 shutout innings. Most of his rookie year stats are skewed when he was pitching with a sore shoulder and only throwing 90 mph. When he came back up in the second half he was a diff pitcher, as evidenced by hid domination over the whitesox. John Kruk said they read the scouting report and were shocked when he was blowing people with 95 mph four seamers.

  153. WanderingWinder Says:

    Surely nobody would be foolish enough to argue that Rivera's rate stats wouldn't suffer if he were a starter, right? It seems like that's exactly what some of you are arguing. With the combination of fatigue and in-game adjustments (which all the evidence, from scouts and players through sabermetrics tells us are more important than any game-to-game adjustments), the expectations simply go down as the game goes on. The only real reason why the first inning is tougher is that there's a guarantee of the best part of the lineup being there. Also, I don't think anybody's mentioned that starters have to sit in the dugout inning-to-inning while their team bats, and NL and pre-DH starters also have to worry about batting, which relievers very rarely do. (Incidentally, statistical analysis shows that starters pitch worse from the very first batter than they would as relievers, simply because they are starting - they have to pace themselves or mix in more different kinds of pitches)
    I mean, if you want to take that argument, I'll argue that Larry Walker would have hit just as well had he played his whole career for the Oakland A's.

    So, OK, it's pretty clear that his stats would be worse if he were a starter, but how much worse? Well, You can certainly make an argument that it would be "the normal amount" - I can't remember exactly what that is, though I vaguely want to say it's AT LEAST a third of a run - but I would argue that the difference would be even bigger for Mo. Why? He's got ONE pitch. Sure it's a really good pitch, but as a starter that doesn't cut it*. Would he have developed and worked in other pitches? I have to assume he would have, but I also have to assume that they wouldn't have been as good as the cutter. And while most starters as relievers use less different kinds of pitches (and relievers as starters use more, etc.), usually it's less of a jump, from two plus pitches to using a third, etc. etc.
    *the exception to this rule is the knuckleball

  154. The problem with Rivera is that he's a two pitch guy:it's either the two-seamer or cutter. In a way that's even more impressive in that hitters have a better idea of what's coming and still can't do anything with it.

    On the other hand if they saw his 2 pitches over 3-4 AB's every game he might start to become very predictable.

  155. @#135:

    I agree completely about Tom Henke. One of the very best closers of all time. He is a very underrated player because a) he didn't become a full-time "closer" in the modern sense until he was 29 years old, and b) he retired at age 37 after a season in which he had 36 saves with a 231 ERA+. I think it's fair to say he left several more seasons of 30+ saves on the table by retiring when he did. Unfortunately, HoF voters pay more attention to padding numbers at the end of a career, rather than peak value, dominance, etc.

    @Birtelcom #138:

    It's a list like that one that causes me to question the accuracy and efficacy of WPA. The suggestion that Mariano Rivera has had more value, or more win-probability value, than, say, Warren Spahn, is just silly, in my opinion. Later innings are higher-leverage, and closers deserve credit for that, but a) Rivera comes into comes into games almost exclusively when the Yankees have the lead, and b) only for 3 outs. It's not that Rivera shouldn't be noted for his excellence, but at the same time we must recognize that in most instances league-average pitchers are not going to blow a 3-run lead in one inning. A 4.50 ERA pitcher is giving up one run every two innings. I'm being quick and dirty about this, but you see my point.

    Runs scored in the first 8 innings count as much as runs scored in the 9th. There is not even a "save opportunity" if the starting pitcher/other relievers haven't pitched well enough to establish a lead. Mariano Rivera has faced 4500 batters with a 206 ERA+. Warren Spahn faced 21,500 batters with a 119 ERA+. Is Rivera's 73% edge in per-inning effectiveness enough to outweigh Spahn's 470% edge in innings pitched? Think about it. Of course not. If Rivera had to work his way through a lineup 3 or 4 times, his ERA+ would come crashing back to earth. It is partly due to his skill, but it is also largely attributable to the narrow circumstances under which his managers use him, a product of something not inherent to his ability (or only inherent in terms of his lack of stamina/endurance/versatility). Also of interest is the hidden value that a pitcher like Spahn has over Rivera--Spahn pitched 382 complete games in his career, and averaged close to 8 innings per start. Spahn is, through his ability, saving his team a roster spot that could be used on another bat on the bench, or defensive reserve; in today's game, such a spot would invariably go to an extra relief pitcher.

  156. I'd like to see Mo start a game and see how the batters do when they see him a 3rd time in a single game. Then I could start to have an idea whether he's the best that ever was. I do say he's one of the best ever though.

  157. Lets forget the insignificant stats like ERA+ and look at the meaningfull stats, like IP, ERA, hits allowed, etc. He only pitches maybe 70-80 innings per season, so why on earth would you compare him, or any other RP to a starter? Roy Halladay pitches 3 times as many innings as Rivera, so he has my vote as best pitcher before Rivera, along with several others.

    On top of that, the odds of any team, with any offensive combanation coming back from 1-3 runs with only 3 outs avalible is highly against them. Even guys like Pujols or Ichiro or whoever, only averages a hit every 3 AB's, so whether the guy is 0-5 or 5-5, the odds are they aren't getting a hit. Rivera is expected to face 3 batters, and he probably wont face the middle of the opponents order. A starter has to face the middle of the opponents order at least 2 or 3 times.

    So, in short you cant compare him to the great pitchers like Tom Seaver, Satchel Paige, Sandy Koufax, Greg Maddux,or any of the guys I'm leaving out. Even in the last ten years, Rivera doesn't make the top 10 or even 15-20 pitchers, for the sole reason that his job is much easyer than a starters job.

    Best RP pitcher of all time? Most definatly in the top 3. Best overall pitcher of all time? Not even close.

  158. 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.

  159. @157 Evan K - "Lets forget the insignificant stats like ERA+ and look at the meaningfull stats, like IP, ERA, hits allowed, etc."

    Okay, we will overlook ERA+ and look at ERA as you suggest. Rivera has a 2.21 ERA. That is 13th alltime. EVERY pitcher ahead of his pitched most or all of their career in the dead ball era.

    Hits allowed, you mention that as well. Let's look at that in the context of WHIP, which is the easiest way to sort that out. Rivera has a 1.00 WHIP. That is 3rd alltime. The 2 pitchers ahead of him pitched in the dead ball era. And just to make sure there is no confusion, the low amount of innings relievers pitch compared to starters in no way makes them likely to appear in this category. The next reliever on the alltime list in the WHIP category is Hoyt Wilhem...who comes in at #36 alltime. Bruce Sutter is next at #47. Dan Quisenberry is #89. Eckersley and Smoltz are also on the list, though they are starters/closers. So clearly, closers are not predisposed to appearing on this alltime list due to low innings.

    So, in summary, Rivera is better THAN ANY OTHER PITCHER IN BASEBALL HISTORY that was not primarily from the dead ball era, in both ERA AND WHIP...the two categories you said we should focus on.

  160. @Dave

    Yeah, through 80 innings, make him pitch 150 or more, and they'd go up big time.

    I should have been more specific, but oh well.

  161. No way any pitcher whose entire value can be manipulated by the previous pitcher(s) is the best ever. A pitcher who decides the game by himself in this era or any era is a far better pitcher than any reliever or closer. The easiest analogy in my opinion is from a different sport, football. Look at the players that continually lead the league in scoring, kickers. They are specialists who thrive on situations that are set up for them to succed in. Do their points have value just as any other points scored? Yes. Are they sometimes in high pressure situations that can decide the outcome of the game? Yes. But if you have to choose only player on a football team to score points and you chose a kicker then you should be locked up in a straight jacket. Even the best kicker is no where near as valuable as the average quarterback or running back to any football team. The point is that Rivera is what every modern day closer is, a specialist just like a pinch hitter. Whoever stated that this question is truly an admission of how delusional someone is as a Yankees fan is right on. He may be one of the best specialists of all time but in no way, shape or form is he the best pitcher ever.

  162. You're talking about a guy who averages about one inning every other game. It doesn't matter how good he is. He doesn't play enough.

  163. "On the other hand if they saw his 2 pitches over 3-4 AB's every game he might start to become very predictable."

    First of all, he wouldn't be any more predictable the third or 4th ab's then he already is now. They all know what's coming and can't hit and havn't hit it for 14 years...

    Secondly, baseball has changed, not many pitchers now are being asked to face batters 3-4 times in one game. The Bullpen has taken on a very important role.

  164. If I had to get out of an inning Sandman is my man.

    If I am choosing my pitching staff for the next 15 years from MLB pitchers of the past 50 years he is my number 4 to 6 pick after the best starters (in no particular order):

    Seaver, Clemens, Johnson, Carlton, Gibson, Marichal, Palmer, Maddux, Perry, Jenkins, Martinez, Koufax...

  165. I will say Mo is the greatest closer/relief pitcher of all time. I can't say he's the best pitcher. Call me old-fashioned, but I'd have to say Walter Johnson. After that, I think I'd pick Lefty Grove, Christy Mathewson, Warren Spahn, Tom Seaver, Steve Carlton, Greg Maddux. Sandy Koufax and Pedro Martinez would be next, I'd have to knock them down slightly for longevity-related issues. I think I'd insert Mo after that. But that's without looking at numbers and just off the top of my head.

  166. @154, if Rivera was a starter, he'd have to add a third pitch in and would use his cutter a little less frequently, although certainly using it in more crucial situations. He also might not maintain his velocity further into the game, yet we've seen that Rivera's cutter is effective, even when he's down to 89. I think he would have made an excellent starter, but that's one of those questions we'll never know the answer to he's always been a reliever outside of a handful of starts early in his career when he wasn't yet the Mariano Rivera we know today.

    BTW, BaseballThinkFactory has an a note thread on this topic. The conversation over here is more intelligent than what's going over there.

  167. Comparing starters and relievers is kind of like trying to compare the defense of a centerfielder and a shortstop. They're both doing the same basic task but... it's just kind of different.

    It's interesting to discuss how Mariano compares to a starter... could he start? Essentially throwing one pitch has worked for decades one inning at a time but would that really work in a start? Probably not... but if he was going to be a starter he probably would have worked on off-speed pitches and breaking stuff. Maybe it would have worked and he would have been great... or maybe he would have failed miserably, we'll never really know.

    Or flip the issue around... could Maddux have been a dominant closer?

  168. joseph taverney Says:

    @ Dave V

    Great point. Best Point so far.
    If it is so easy for a guy to pitch one inning and amass Rivera's totals and averages, where are they. Every team in baseball, every season for over 20 years has had a one closer system (give or take a few teams).
    So why is Mo the only guy to put up 'DEAD-BALL' era numbers.
    Some guys have for 1-3 years. But Mo does it EVERY YEAR, for 15 years.
    And the argument that Mo playing for a winner is the reason for his greatness is crap. Brian Harvey had one of the best relief seasons for the expansion/last place Marlins.
    Also the arguments that the smaller divisions of yesteryear had more one-on-one match-ups against the great hitters of the day stinks. It also gave pitchers 200 PA against some punch and judy hitters and don't forget pitchers. Mo never had the luxury to throwing to pitchers.
    Also, the talent pool was miniscule compared to today. Latin America alone is 20% of the league. Walter Johnson may have faced the best players of his day. But Mo faces the best from Japan, Korea, Dominica, Puerto Rico, etc... Not to mention... AFRICAN AMERICANS!
    Before the 60's, there was no organized little league. Guys taught themselves how to play on sandlots, without coaches and weights and gloves. Today, kids are taught fundamentals from 5 years and up. They have literally been honing one skill for 15 years, under the best conditions. 60 years ago, guys would learn how to play inbetween farm chores.
    To compare todays athletes and their conditioning to yesteryears is a joke.
    Jim Thome has lifted weights evryday of his life for 25 years, just to be able to hit a baseball.
    walter Johnson never faced guys the size and shape of ball players today.

  169. Um, I cannot possibly say NO strongly enough. The guy failed as a starter and throws exactly one plus pitch (a super-plus, but still). He's entered a game with runners on base less than 18% of the time during his closing career (1997-Present), meaning he's almost never had to clean up messes. I'm sorry, but if a guy's only job is to avoid giving up one big multi-run inning (and the vast majority of saves come with 2+ run leads), he can only rise so high on a list of all-time greats. We know that closers can be wildly successful for several years with only one or two good pitches, and we know that many quality closers began as mediocre-at-best starters. I'm not saying that relief pitching isn't important, or that good starters are automatically great closers. I'm saying that they are two distinct positions with different skill sets, requirements, and standards. They really can't be compared terribly well. But if we have to, this can't be ignored: starting is much more valuable than relieving because of the massive innings pitched advantage.

    I will also say that Rivera may be strongly benefitting from his era. If he had been placed in the role of the '70s ace reliever - clean up messes in the 7th or 8th and still stay in to finish the game - I don't know that he would have enjoyed the same longevity or success. Would he have been better then, or even as good as Rollie Fingers or Goose Gossage*? Mo's fantastic at what he does and has been for a long time, but I'd argue that a number of relievers have contributed more during their heydays, and a pitcher's longevity is definitely affected by his usage. In all honesty, he's playing a position that's only been around since Tony La Russa started overmanaging and it doesn't even vaguely resemble any other, so you can only really compare him against his contemporaries and immediate predecessors.

    Let's leave it at this: Mariano Rivera is - by far - the greatest modern closer. He excels at what he is asked to do, and he completes that task better than anyone else who has ever been given those instructions. That deserves tremendous praise, but also recognition of its context.

    *Crazy note about Goose. In 1975, he made 62 appearances. 60 began with runners already on and the other two were multi-inning games he finished out. Would any present-day closer be asked to even read numbers like that?

  170. Arthur Rhodes is the big surprise for me. With his ERA+ numbers shouldn't he be considered one of the greatest pitchers ever? Of course not. The only reason people would suggest Rivera or any other closer is the best pitcher of all time is because they get saves. What is a save? A situation which most often requires a pitcher to get only three outs before giving up three runs. If you can't do that consistently you don't belong in baseball. Whereas a middle reliever like Rhodes comes in more frequently with the game tied or a one run lead and protects the lead or tie. But of course middle relievers don't get saves, just holds, which nobody cares about.

  171. Unable to read through all the post but something truely amazing I found in my stat search Mariano is 1 of only 6 Pitcher in history of baseball with 1000 innings with a (RA) runs allowed under 3.00. 1. Ed Walsh 2 Mariano 2. Joss 4. Johnson 5. Three Fingers 6. Babe Ruth . Hoffman was at exactly 3.00 until this year fiasco.

  172. If there's one thing not "complex and muddled" in the world it is the lengthy and intensely analyzed regular and post season work of Mariano Rivera. Regarding the ungracious, unclutch Gossage, there are many more stats than a couple years of ROB he beats to death day in day out to anyone who will listen. In other stats and many other years Gossage didn't look so great, failing when it mattered most, such as in post season and all star appearances. He showed a lack of mental toughness, for example defying his manager who told him to walk a batter in a post season game. He refused to, because he was a "man" and subsequently gave up a home run. He should take a look at the multiple innings Rivera has pitched in the post season. Gossage must have an obsession about Rivera, because he can't discuss his own career without bringing him up. If nothing else, they are from different eras. Gossage's own record in post season and all star games shows a player who failed too much under the brightest lights. It is right there for anyone to see.

  173. Please keep in mind that Mariano Rivera, for all his "postseason heroics" has also singlehandedly lost 2 World Series for the Yankkes.

    In Game 7 of 2001 against the Diamondbacks, he came in for the 9th with a 1-0 lead, and blew it.

    In 2004, with a 3-0 game lead against Boston in the ALCS he couldn't close out either Game 4 or Game 5, entering both 9th innings with leads.

    His post-season failures alone disqualify him as the "greatest pitcher ever" nevermind the position or statistical arguments.

  174. Zach @173,Please keep in mind that Mariano Rivera, for all his "postseason heroics" has also singlehandedly lost 2 World Series for the Yankkes...His post-season failures alone disqualify him as the "greatest pitcher ever" nevermind the position or statistical arguments.

    Ding, ding, ding. Congraulations, Zach, With post #173, nearly 20 hours after the original story, you win the award for most idiotic comment. Your reward is two tickets to the Red Sox post season, game #1 of the 2010 playoffs.

  175. Zach: 2004 was NOT a world series, dumbass.

    What i see here is there are a lot of wannabee staticians who love to handpick data to try and throw dirt in the BEST PITCHER of all time because their team most likely has not had the same closer for 10+ straight years (and since no real yankee fan doubts mariano is THE BEST, there's only 29 teams left to root for that people), his job is to get the save and he has done his job.

    Cy Young? he started 815 games, he had a legitimate shot at 815 wins, and "only" had a 62.69% success in getting the win.

    Pedro Martínez? he started 409 games, had a legitimate shot at 409 wins, and only got 219 of them, a 53.54% success rate.

    Christy Mathewson had a 67.57% success rate winning 373 of his 552 starts.

    Roger Clemens 354 out of 707 chances, a bit over 50% (50.07% actually).

    Trevor Hoffman has had 673 chances to get the save and finish the game, he's had a 88.70% success rate.

    Mariano Rivera? he's had a legitimate shot to save and finish the game 604 times, and has a success percentage of 91.72%

    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.

  176. Here's some interesting context. When Francisco Rodriguez came up with the Angels in 2002, he was a 20 year old kid with unhittable stuff. In 24.1IP in the regular and postseason that year he gave up 5 runs, 4 earned, on 13 hits and 7 walks. He had 41 strikeouts. I remember my friend saying to me he hoped the Angels would use him as a starter not a closer.

    Over the next 6 years, although Rodriguez was a very successful reliever and closer, the league slowly worked him out, having slightly more success each year. From 2003-2008, his H/9 went up every year from 5.2 to 7.1. His BB/9 went up from 3.7 to 4.5. His SO/9 dropped from 13.2 in 2004 to 10.1 in 2008.

    Compare that with Rivera. As people have stated the league's had 15 years including video technology from every angle to work out how to hit 1 pitch. They know it's coming and they still can't hit it. At age 40 his numbers are better than his career average as they were last year and the year before.

    I think there's no doubt Rivera is the most effective pitcher for a long time, quite possibly ever. A lot of people are reluctant to call him the greatest as they feel starting pitchers are more valuable than closers. I think endurance may have prevented Rivera being a great starting pitcher but not the issue of people working him out.

    Here's an interesting take on the argument. People are showing that Pedro in his peak years basically had the same numbers as Rivera. But Pedro could only keep that up for 7 years. So what is more valuable to a team? And what is the best way to get the most out of each pitcher over their career? Why not have ten or eleven guys who pitch one or two innings but every two days? Then they can give it 100% and last for 15 years like Rivera instead of saving themselves a bit knowing they have 100 more pitches to throw. In theory you can stretch out 1000 innings of peak performance for 15 years intead of 7 years of peak performance and another 8 years of below peak performance as fatigue and injuries start to catch up.

  177. At this point, no one is really saying anything new, but everyone else has gotten their two cents in, so why not me?

    Anyway, there have been a lot of excellent points. One of the reasons WAR, Win Shares, ERA+ and the leverage index exist is so that we can compare pitchers over eras. That's why we do it. However, so-called "counting" stats tend to be more valuable in some ways, because they take into account volume, as well as effectiveness. If you take a look at Win Shares, or WAR, Rivera does not rank as the best pitcher of all-time. He is far and away, though, the best reliever. There is no doubt in my mind that this is accurate. Personally, I think that Rivera is obviously one of the greatest pitchers of all time, but with the limited volume of innings, it would take four or five Riveras to equal one Maddux. That's just the truth, in terms of innings. I know people have brought this up already, but is there any doubt that Koufax or Walter Johnson would have been as effective as Mariano? I don't think so.

    One more thing: one of the things I really like about this blog is that, in general, people tend to disagree with one another respectfully, and in general don't call one another "stupid" or "idiotic." I can say that, in the three years of reading every blog post on this website, that has been one of the reasons I enjoy this blog the most of any baseball blog online. In this post, however, there has been a lot of name-calling and rude language. You can call me a pansy if you want to, but, frankly, I would prefer it if we went back to the way things should be: polite disagreement, and plenty of chances for everyone to be heard.

    Sorry for the super long post.

    Have we set the record for most posts yet? We've got to be close, if we haven't done it yet.

  178. I'd rate him as the best relief pitcher of all time, but not particularly close to the best pitcher of all time.

    One of the things that makes Rivera stand out so much on the career rates list is the arbitrary 1000 IP cutoff. He's just a little bit over that cutoff, where most modern relievers don't make it to 1000 IP. Most of the arguments in favor of Rivera in the article would also be true of Billy Wagner, had the arbitrary cutoff been set to 850 IP instead of 1000, and Wagner's someone who isn't even seen as a sure-thing HoFer, let alone one of the absolute best pitchers of all time. Wagner's not as great as Rivera, but comparing them does show that the gap between Rivera's per-inning effectiveness and the rest of the field isn't quite as much as the 1000 IP cutoff makes it seem.

  179. I enjoy these discussions immensely. And I have a couple observations/ questions. Wasn't Pedro a failed reliever? When he came up the Dodgers had Ramon as a starter - and I think a pretty good one. The had Pedro in relief for a year before trading him to Montreal for Delino DeSheilds. Montreal had him start. Just makes me curious how many failed relievers become starters.
    The other thing I thought of was that many of the great starters were also used often in relief. Some with 100s of appearances during their career. I have always wondered how much this had an effect on career and even some season stats.IT seems like Mordecai Brown was used alot as both a starter and reliever, probably alot more. I remember back in the 70s when Bob Locker set the record for most consecutive relief appearances for a career and people remarked on the specialization of pitchers then.

  180. Wagner has a very good ERA, WHIP, ERA+ etc, but he's still miles behind Rivera in terma of WAR, WPA, REW, RE24 and of course saves. Even if Wagner has a couple more good years I'm not convinced he will compare with Rivera.

  181. @ Andy re stupid question vs. one to stimulate discussion. Well played.

    "Mike, I don't buy WAR. It's useful, I suppose, but is there any baseline? If it's supposed to measure impact on a season, why doesn't it add up? Unless I'm missing something, the first year I tested it on, the 2009 NL, it has Atlanta as the second best team when they finished seventh. San Diego is off four spots and Philly three. A team with the highest WAR means... what?"

    Thanks, I keep asking myself why Aubrey Huff is the best player in the NL based on WAR.

  182. Perhaps one of the greatest pitchers of all time, but clearly not the best pitcher of all-time. I can't compare a starter with a closer. With that said, Rivera is THE reason why the "no closer should go into the Hall argument is nothing short of ridiculous!! It is beyond a weak argument at this point.

  183. #100 --Rivera is still in his prime, at least by his pitching numbers he is. It's almost all been prime ---that's what makes Rivera a first ballot HoFer and why someone saying they would not vote for a closer is preposterous.

  184. Some people have repeatedly mentioned the league-wide failing with regards to figuring out how to pitch Rivera's 1 pitch. That implies that teams are sitting around, painstakingly trying to figure it out. They're not. Most teams only see Rivera 4 or 5 times a year, for 1 inning at a time. Why would they stress over that?

    Yes, the league should have figured him out by now if he was just any other pitcher with a great pitch. But he's a phenomenal pitcher with one of the best singular pitches of all time. His continued success absolutely speaks to his brilliance.

    But if the argument in favor of him being the GOAT is predicated on the league's failure to figure him out, that's just wrong headed. Teams don't spend that much time analyzing a guy they might see for 6 IP all year and without any guarantee he'll pitch in any given game.

  185. Greatest relief pitcher ever? - YES
    Greatest postseason pitcher ever? - YES
    Greatest pitcher ever? - Among the best. It is hard to call him or anyone "THE BEST" but he certainly deserves to be in the arguement.

    At 40 years old he's still doing incredible things. This season he has given up only 5 ERs.

    The most important stat of them all = 5 World Series rings. Look what happened in the 2009 post-season with all the top closers in the game... all of them faulted except Rivera. He is the reason the Yanks won in 2009.

  186. joseph taverney Says:

    @ 169

    Babe Ruth 'failed' as a starter, should we discount his hitting thereafter.
    And, dude, come on, is ten starts really a failure?

  187. joseph taverney Says:

    @ 184

    Good point.
    But good hitters still watch tape and get pitch records of all the pitchers of an opposing team.
    Granted, you are right, they don't spend an incredible amount of time watching Rivera (reliever) tape, because its a 1-20 chance they might get that one at bat a series against him. But your argument fights itself. If it IS only one pitch, then it wouldn't take very long to review the tapes of Rivera. Its not like watching Halladay's 5 pitches and mastering them all, seeing where there are thrown in what counts, what situations; it is one pitch. The video sessions cannot be that long. 2-1, 2 outs; 0-2, 1 out; 0-0, 0 outs, you know what's coming.
    It is like when Nomo came to the NL. His weird Japanese delivery baffled everyone. But two years later, people figured it out. While he still had plus stuff, he was much more hittable. Mo is not.

  188. The only reason that people think Rivera is the best closer of all time is because he is a Yankee on a dominant dynasty type team that has won several championships in so many years. If he was on any other team throughout the same time period he would not even be in the conversation for "best pitcher ever", he may not even be in the conversation for "best closer ever". It is because of the team that the pitcher is so revered, to me this means he is not even close to being the best pitcher ever, it's actually a pretty ridiculous question and poll. The only reason that there are so many votes that aren't "no" is because there are so many people who think that all these people who talk on the radio and tv actually know what they are talking about, THEY DON'T! They build up the most profitable teams, not the best teams. Also the fact that Yankees have literally bought every championship they have gotten in the past 4 decades also really diminishes the seriousness of this question or the legitimacy of their winning.
    I also love how people put so much stock in these stats that aren't even fact, that's what a stat is, its supposed to be what is. When did statistics become subject to so much opinion?

  189. Mikey (#175) and a few others,

    Just because you don't agree with someone's point of view, you don't have to resort to name-calling and insults.

    I love the discussions here, the opinions that everyone brings to the table. But you don't (or shouldn't) have to trash people you don't agree with to make your own point.

    I understood in a heartbeat what Zack was saying. No, the loss to Boston was not a World Series, but the point was that New York's inability to close out the Red Sox three straight games cost them a trip to the Series. By extension, he was right.

    You can't just say that Rivera is the best, because he can pitch one scoreless inning, even if it is the ninth. Most closers would pick up at least 2/3 to 3/4 of the saves Rivera does. Those are the games Mo enters with the bases empty, with a lead of two or three runs.

    There are hundreds of hurlers who toss hundreds of scoreless innings every year. They also have to learn to pace themselves to throw 100+ pitches, which means they almost certainly have to have an above-average command of more than one pitch.

    Maybe Rivera can throw his cutter to a batter in one PA in a game, twice in a season, two-three-maybe four months (or years) apart, but can he throw it with the same success to hitter after hitter, inning after inning, in the same game?

    As a starter, could Rivera even match Jamie Moyer, who has managed to get away with the 82-mph cutter in oin the fists (and that wicked changeup)? To me, Jamie is scads better, because he backs it up through repeat showings.

    What happens when batters get a chance to watch it over time -- over the course of multiple innings in one game? Could he have faced the same hitters 10-20 times a season and been as successful?

    I think not. The more pitchers a hitter sees over the course of a season, the tougher it has to be to keep them fresh in their minds. When you maybe get one chance a year against a guy, who knows what might happen?

    Edgar Martinez had Rivera for lunch over his career (10-16, .625). Here's that list of top hitters who had 10+ ABs against that I mentioned earlier:

    Edgar Martinez, 10/16
    Manny Ramirez, 8/38
    Rafael Palmeiro, 8/24
    Frank Thomas, 3/22
    Carlos Delgado, 8/21
    Pudge Rodriguez, 6/20
    Michael Young, 6/20
    Juan Gonzalez, 6/18
    Carl Crawford, 6/17
    Nomar Garciaparra, 7/18
    Ken Griffey Jr., 4/12
    Magglio Ordonez, 7/14
    Alex Rodriguez, 3/11
    Albert Belle, 4/13
    Jason Giambi, 3/11
    Mo Vaughn, 5/12
    Ichiro, 3/11
    Carlos Lee, 3/11
    Mark McGwire, 3/10

    How much has he been protected by not having to face these guys two or three times a game? What would have happened if he were seeing these guys 10 times each season, rather than maybe once or twice?

    And, to the point that Mo is still at his peak at age 40. How much of that is simply less wear-and-tear, in the form of 150 fewer innings per year than most frontline starters will throw?

    Also, how many saves would he have in an era where closer-by-rote wasn't in effect? Where starters finished what they started.

    How would he have survived in an era when your staff simply consisted of the guys who were good enough to be the starters, and the rest of the innings-eater scrubs? When a club's best starters (Johnson, Brown, for instance) were the guys who were called on to get those clutch outs for those who couldn't? Between their own scheduled starts, no less.

    Here's another way to look at it: What makes Rivera/K-Rod/Nathan any different (or more important) than a pinch-hitting specialist?

    Manny Mota was a career .300 hitter as a pinch hitter, one of the toughest jobs in baseball. His 589 pinch-hitting PA's is an extremely sizable sample, given the basics of the job.

    He was also a very competent player when he played in the field as a regular. As a pinch hitter, though, he'd get one chance to make good, usually against a pitcher he only saw a couple of times in a season.

    And many of those at bats were late against closers.

    Yet, no one would seriously begin a campaign for Manny Mota as one of the greatest hitters of his generation, despite his extraordinary level of success in his specialized field. He did hit .304 for his entire career, which covered 3,779 at bats. Not exactly chopped liver.

    But it was a highly specialized career in his later years. He spent much of it doing the same thing any closer does -- nothing. He'd wait for six-seven-eight innings, doing whatever it took to be ready when called on. Then he'd grab his bat and do the job he did better than just about anyone else. Ever.

    One chance to succeed -- and possibly help turn a game around -- versus a closer's simply (usually) trying not to blow up a win he's being asked to close out.

    And without that lead, then where is Mo? Without that lead, Mota is still a key component.

    What is Rivera's value, without a lead to close out?

  190. I think Frug (all the way back at 128) put it best: Maybe not best, but most dominant. And that counts for something. In fact, look at how much people focus on six years or so by Sandy Koufax and ignore how short a body of work of dominance he had because, well, it was THAT great. In Mo's case, the innings are few, the matchups limited per game and season, but the dominance actually stretches over 15 years and is THAT great. If you buy that Koufax, an iffy starter for half his career, is one of the best ever, how do you not buy into Mo? And if you point to what-if-no-injury, that's just as much speculation as making Mo a starter. He was who he was.

  191. What a great debate about one of my all-time favorite players.

    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.

    Certainly the pressures and expectations of being a modern-day closer are different from being a starting pitcher who can usually afford one bad inning as long as he keeps his team in the game. While a starter may have more pressure situations in one game, none is so magnified as the situation at the end of the game (and, yes, I realize that closers often have a three-run cushion and come in with the bases empty). Is it more demoralizing for a team to lose a well-pitched start 3-2 than a 3-2 loss in which a two-run homer given up by the closer gives up the game? I really don't think so. After all, as humans with a finite life span we are conditioned to focus on the end result, whether it's a game or even a person's existence. The two-run homer in the fourth inning just doesn't feel as essential as the two-run homer in the ninth even though they count for the same amount of runs.

    Given that pressure of extreme spotlight, could any of those starting pitchers have had a season or several in which they were as dominant as Rivera? Most likely, yes. Could they have kept it up for as many seasons as Rivera has? Not too sure about that. Even as a Yankee fan and a rooter of Rivera I can't call him the best pitcher of all time...the sheer number of innings logged by starters really can't be denied. But for what he's been asked to do in this modern era he's pitched as well as anyone.

    Why can Rivera succeed in those late inning situations year after year (even when he's had some unfortunate defeats among his many triumphs)? I always think back to Buster Olney's book "The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty." If the Yankees would have won the 2001 World Series, utility infielder Enrique Wilson would have been on the Dominican Republic-bound flight that crashed on takeoff from New York. Rivera simply said, "Then I'm glad we lost because it means I still have my friend."

    That's a humble man with perspective, a man who sees the big picture. One loss or blown save does not get to him. That's why he's succeeded in his job for so long. Best pitcher of all time? Probably not. One of the best people who's ever pitched? He gets my vote.

  192. "What is Rivera's value, without a lead to close out?"

    What is Clemens value if Rivera doesn't protect his lead? 7 innings hands the lead over and bullpen blows it? was Clemens all that valuable?

    No one is really valuable when it comes to losing. Rivera goes hand in hand with winning.

  193. Yes Mariano was fortunate to play for the team he plays for and have been given such a chance to succeed in the playoffs.

    However, he did the most with those chances. Other players have been great in the postseason as well and we don't hold it against them by saying "oh well it's only cause he was on a great team that was able to get him there" In fact we use those post season successes if they had them and glorify the person even more. After all they're doing it on the most important stage against the best players in the game.

    Why should Rivera be treated any differently?

  194. Yes.

    Clemens' effort contributed to the team's opportunity to win the game.

    If Mo blows the save, he will have had a negative effect, rather than a positive one.

    Without the lead, a closer is useless, as such. Without Clemens' effort, Mo's value is mostly negated.

    Perhaps the question becomes "Would the team have still won, had Clemens pitched the distance, or if someone else had finished the game?" That, we don't know. We don't know whether his success rate would have been any better (or worse) than Mo's, in retaining that lead.

    We only know anything for sure if Rivera blows it.

  195. "Clemens' effort contributed to the team's opportunity to win the game."

    glad he contributed and gave an oppurtunity but it means a bunch of diddly squat if they lose in the end. IMO

    If a hitter gets 5 rbi in a game but the team loses, I don't think the 5 rbi are all that valuable unfortunately.

  196. #188.

    While some of your points have merit, respectfully it largely smells of a Yankee-hater and a very, very near-sighted approach. Perhaps Mo wouldn't be in this argument if not for being a Yankee, however, his stats are what they are, and if he was a Pirate with those stats and 5 championships, I still think we'd be having this POLL. His dominance, albeit as a one-inning specialist, represents a freakishly amazing accomplishment. While I don't like comparing starters and closers, I would say that the evidence at this point strongly suggests that it's easier to be a very good starter for 12+ years than it is to be a very good closer for 12+ years --I personally value a starter over a closer. I personal don't think one can compare starters and closers, but I think this POLL is worthwhile, at least as an educational piece.

    As for being a Yankee helping him, I'd actually argue with proof that being a Yankee has perhaps hurt players chances at being in the Hall over the last 30 years. Yes, being a Yankee pre-1975-1980 helped some players get in (Pennock and others), but since then other players were perhaps deserving and still are not in. Munson was a HoFer I'd vote for and he's not in even though he compiled enough as a catcher to be in before his tragic death that cut his career short by 2-4 years --others have argued that Nettles, Randolph, and Guidry should be, but they are not in as well. Even yet others think Mattingly should be in, and he's not in. Some will argue that Gordon and Rizutto going in is evidence that being a Yankee helps them --perhaps, but both of these players played eons ago and Gordon was clearly Hall-worthy and actually quite overdue. As for Rizutto, I think most don't realize how good he was (MVP, many championships, a WAR of 44 as a premier SS and he lost 2-3 years in his prime due to WWII), although I wouldn't have voted him in, neither would I have voted for Mattingly, Nettles, Randolph, or Guidry. This idea that being Yankee helps a player is just not true anymore, just like the statement liberal media isn't true anymore --not with hacks like Fox Noise around.

    As for #189, Moyer better than Rivera is very weak. Moyer, while having a nice career, has WAR of 48 in 24 seasons, Rivera has a WAR of 52 in 16 seasons and WAR shortchanges closers. Moyer and Rivera are apples and oranges.

  197. That's why there is so much pressure on a closer to make sure the starters effort wasn't for nothing. Not everyone can handle that kind of pressure. Just ask Tom Gordon who was throwing up before games in the playoffs when he'd have to come out of the bullpen.

  198. Matt Y,

    My point was more to the nature of their roles. Moyer faces hitters over and over, repeatedly, while Mo rarely sees most guys.

    Despite the repetitiveness exhibited in Moyer's role as a starting pitcher -- the repeat viewings hitters get in each of those starts -- Moyer has still pitched effectively up to the age of 47.

    In that sense, he has survived more intense scrutiny over what he serves up than Rivera could ever imagine.

  199. Michael E Sullivan Says:

    Mike@127: "This is rediculous, without Rivera they would not have had Joba or some other horrible pitcher, they would have signed the best available closer."

    You could say the same thing about the Yankees with *any* position. When you have the revenue and willingness to support the highest payroll in baseball by 40-50%, you don't generally put replacement players at *any* position, except in an emergency, or when said replacement player is a prime prospect that you do not expect to perform at replacement level for long.

    If the yankees did not have Derek Jeter, would they play a replacement level shortstop? Without Robbie Cano, would they play a replacement level 2B? Of course not, not long term anyway. Only to replace them on the DL, or to test out a prospect who has the potential to be a solid starter or all-star level player.

    And in fact, *no* team with playoff aspirations intends to put out a replacement level player except to fill a spot during a short layoff.

    The point of replacement level is to set an arbitrary level against which to measure a player's worth. It's not about looking at who would be on a given team if not for that player, it's about looking at who any team can find in seconds for little money to fill a position.

    Now, I agree in one sense that it's hard to judge replacement for a closer. It's like suggestion replacement for a #1 starter, because if you lose your #1 starter, unless you can find an ace before the trade deadline, you don't bring your new guy in as a #1, you bring them in as a 4 or 5 and adjust the rest.

    Same in the bullpen, if you can't find a real closer, you generally promote your best set up reliever, who on a good team will rarely be replacement level.

    That said, replacement level still works to an extent, because when you promote your setup guy to closer, now somebody else has to be the setup guy, and then somebody else has to do whatever that other guy did. At each step, you presumably lose something, and if the final guy you bring in who wasn't on your team before is replacement level, then you've essentially lost from the guy who left/got hurt, to replacement level.

    So no, you don't compare him to some "replacement level closer", you compare him to a general replacement level pitcher, a back bullpen guy.

  200. Here's something to consider. He's only pitched 1132.1 innings in his career yet is 38th all-time in adj. pitching wins. Greatest of all-time? Not sure about that. But you can't debate his impact on what he's done for the Yankees throughout his whole career!

  201. 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?

  202. 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.

  203. 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.

  204. @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.

  205. 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.

  206. 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.

  207. @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.

  208. 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).

  209. @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.

  210. 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.

  211. 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?

  212. 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.

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

  214. 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!!

  215. 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.

  216. 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.

  217. 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

  218. 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.

  219. "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?

  220. 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.

  221. 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).

  222. 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.

  223. 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.

  224. JeffW,

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

  225. 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?

  226. WAR. What is it good for?

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

  228. 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.

  229. 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.

  230. 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.

  231. 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.

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

  233. 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+.

  234. @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.

  235. 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.

  236. 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).

  237. 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.

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

  239. @ 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.

  240. "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.

  241. #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...

  242. 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.