The end of Mo’s streak, if not his career

From 1997-2011, here’s the number of pitchers with at least one 15-save season, by club:

  • Yankees — 1
  • Padres — 3
  • Angels — 4
  • Every other team — Between 5 and 11
  • Average of other 29 teams — 7.8

Mariano Rivera notched at least 28 saves for 15 straight years. The only other Yankee with as many as 7 saves in a season during Mo’s reign was Steve Karsay with 12 in 2002, when Mo hit the DL three times.

(By the way, that team went 103-58, their second-best winning percentage during Rivera’s time. My point is obviously not that they were better off missing the greatest closer ever for two months, but rather, that the loss of a great closer is not an insurmountable obstacle for a very good team. During his absences, they went 38-25, a 98-win pace.)

And if you missed it, Mariano said unequivocally on Friday that he will pitch again. I initially suspected that the injury might spur him to postpone his retirement for one more year, but I still wouldn’t put too much weight on a statement made one day after such a major injury. Let’s see how he feels after he’s been rehabbing for a while.

In case you wondered, relievers age 43 and up have logged six seasons of 2+ WAR — 3 by Hoyt Wilhelm, 2 by Satchel Paige, and 1 by Dutch Leonard. Is there any reason to doubt that Mariano could do what that trio did if he chose to come back? In his short time this year, he had sub-1 WHIP (for the 5th straight year), with a .200 BA, 4.0 SO/BB and no HRs. He had been virtually perfect since blowing a save on Opening Day.


The end of Mo’s streak, if not his career — 33 Comments

  1. I certainly hope he can come back. The Yanks have much greater problems elsewhere on the pitching staff than his loss. Closers just aren’t that valuable.

    Have you seen all the changes Sean Foreman has made to the WAR formulae? And even better, he has written documentation of the methods in great detail. I agree with almost all the now current methods. Almost all top position players career totals dropped, (A-rod is an exception.), while the top pitchers gained value with the revised measures. Before I think it was correct to call it rWAR because b-ref just took the numbers from Sean Smith’s site ( and put them with the other b-ref stats. (r is for rally, which is Sean Smith’s internet handle. It is short for rallymonkey, or really for rallymonkeyofanahiem.) With all the new changes, even though the framework and many of the details are unchanged, I think the new name should be brWAR.

  2. Saves are pretty much a garbage stat-it’s performing at a high level when everything is at stake that counts, and Rivera excelled at that. His post season record looks like a typo

    Interesting quirk about his record-he has only three of the fifty five highest season saves totals. Considering how healthy he’s been, it’s an interesting commentary on the stat itself

    But, in the end, you have to realize the psychological impact Rivera had on Yankee fans, and I would imagine the team and front office. We knew he was going to be there, we knew he was almost always going to be great, we knew there would be no drama. He gave us his unearthly sense of calm.

    I’m going to miss that this year. Robertson may turn out to be lights out, it may be just fine, but watching Rivera, in all his cool elegance, is an experience not easily replaced.

  3. # 2 all-time in WHIP, # 5 all-time in H/9IP, # 1 all-time in Adjusted ERA+, 0.70 ERA in postseason. If there were a stat for broken-bats/IP (is there?) he’d surely be toward the top of that list as well. Not simply the greatest reliever ever, Mariano is one of the greatest pitchers ever. By the way, his ELO rating is a travesty.

  4. The Yankees have deeper problems in their pitching staff than the loss of Mariano Rivera, I think. For Rivera to have had a maximum impact this year the team would have to be preventing enough runs to be in a save situation.

    This is not to diminish his career accomplishments in any way, but does Mariano frequently get the borderline (and not so borderline) pitches called his way? The “LeBron James” treatment from umpires?

    It may be only the small number of times I’ve seen him pitch on TV the last few years but this seems to be true of the recent Mariano Rivera.

    • Neil, I’m going to step over a line here on HHS, and do it with apologies. I’ve been watching baseball for close to fifty years, and I’ve seen a lot of great players. Rivera happens to be one of the best, in every way, thought of that way not just by (his) fans but also by his contemporaries. If he’s thrown his last pitch (and no one can know that) he should be permitted to retire without some of the revisionist comments I’ve seen. His stats speak for themselves, and if he’s overrated, it must be against a standard that no-one else has yet achieved.

      • Mike, do not apologize, you have not stepped over a line. I have not been following baseball for as long as you.

        What do mean by the revisionist comments about Rivera?

        Is it the under-appreciated role of a closer in general?

    • Over the years many established pitchers have benefited from their
      reputations to get close pitches called their way.

      This is not unique to Rivera and to imply that his success is at
      least partially due to an extended strike zone is unfair.

        • Not trying to stir the pot, but I don’t believe anyone should ever get any breaks from the officials because of his status or reputation. That’s like giving tax breaks to the wealthy.

          • But JA, it does happen. What about Ted Williams or Wade Boggs at the plate. A ball was any pitch they didn’t swing at.

          • Of course it happens, Neil. But I’m never going to say he deserves it.

            Don’t we value fairness?

            If I had to bat against Greg Maddux, I would have been really ticked about the calls he got.

            I understand that it may not be intentional on the umps’ part; when you know that a guy has great control, it influences your expectations. But since we know about that effect, and we want to have a fair game, the umps should take active steps to counteract the reputation effect.

      • Jason, you seem to have contradicted yourself. If, in fact, Rivera has been getting some “reputation” calls from umpires (which I haven’t noticed myself), how can it be unfair to say so, or to imply that it has benefited him, which it obviously would do?

        And Neil even prefaced it with, “This is not to diminish his career accomplishments in any way….”

        Mariano’s inarguable brilliance should not be used as an excuse to fault someone who makes an observation in a reasonable, thoughtful manner.

        • I never said that I thought Rivera goy reputation calls.

          I just acknowledged that it does happen. I too was thinking specifically of Greg Maddux when I wrote it.

          I think Rivera’s success is largely due to the cutter that has not been solved.

          I was at the 1997 Marlins and Giants playoff game where
          Livan struck out 15 and Eric Gregg was behind the plate.

          I sat in left centerfield and saw the result of an insane strike zone. That was crazy.

          What really drives me crazy with home plate umps are
          the make up calls. One pitch is a ball and than the
          same pitch is a strike.

          Sometimes I also think the pitcher will get the call when he hits the mitt, even if it is slightly off the plate.

  5. The only way Rivera has been overrated is because of how he’s been utilized.

    Everything he’s ever been asked to do, he’s done better than anybody ever has, in every way.

    • Sorry, Jimbo, what are you saying?

      That he would not have been overrated if were a starter?

      Why is opinion so polarized in the baseball community about Rivera’s place in pitching history?

  6. The closer role may be underappreciated, but that doesn’t change the fact
    that Rivera has done what he has been asked to do better than anyone who
    ever played the game.

    And it is not even close.

    Consider the DH, some may not like it. But
    Edgar Martinez was still an extraordinary hitter.

    Don’t diminish Rivera’s accomplishment because you don’t like the way
    the closer’s role has evolved.

    • Valid points, Jason, but are you attacking a straw man? I don’t see anything in the post or the comments that aimed to diminish Rivera’s accomplishments.

    • By the way, Jason, if you have an opportunity to use the Reply button, it helps make clear whom you’re responding to. I understand that some media platforms don’t provide that option, though.

      • I try to use the reply button, but it sometimes drops me below others who have replied previously to the same comment.

        Also, to Neil- I realize that you prefaced your comment about
        wondering if Rivera was getting close calls. I guess my point
        is that I don’t feel we need to look for other reasons to explain Rivera’s greatness.

        It’s there for all to see.

    • I don’t know that I would say “it is not even close” in comparing Rivera to other closers. The ERA+ gap that Rivera has over everyone else would not look quite so amazing had Billy Wagner gotten to 1000 IP. Wags only pitched 903 innings but compiled a 187 ERA+ in the process. While that doesn’t beat Mariano’s 206, it is well ahead of Pedro Martinez’ 154 mark for second place.

      Does Mo have almost 200 more saves than Wagner? Yes. Are his postseason accomplishments as a reliever without peer? Yes. Did Wagner stink it up in his brief postseason appearances? Yes. But in terms of pure unhittable nastiness over a long period of time, Wagner is perhaps Mo’s only comp.

      • In fact, Wagner’s career rate of 5.99 H/9 is almost a full hit better than Mo, and is the best ever for a pitcher with 500+ IP.

        Then again, Armando Benitez has the 3rd-best hit rate ever. And as any Mets fan will tell you, we wouldn’t trust either of ’em in a tight spot. :)

        • @23, sorry, but I think that last sentence says much more about Mets fans than it does the pitching abilities of Billy Wagner. Wags had a 180 ERA+ in his time with New York and an 86% save percentage (for whatever that’s worth). The only NL reliever with a better ERA+ over that period (150 IP) was Takashi Saito of the Dodgers.

  7. Wagner was sneaky good, and it is a shame that he retired so close to the requisite 1,000 innings or 1,000 decisions that would have placed him in the all-time career rate categories. But he didn’t reach those plateaus and Mo River did.

    So consider that Mariano Rivera ranks 13th all-time in ERA. The next active player is Tim Lincecum who ranks 180th. Rivera is up with pitchers from the dead ball era.

    Through 2004, when he was 34 years old, Mariano had tallied a career WHIP of 1.067. That is an impressive number for a pitcher. Since then, his WHIP has been 0.896 – which has allowed him to lower his career WHIP to below 1.000
    His ERA during the 2005-2012 seasons has been 1.89

    His post season numbers speak for themselves, but incase you forgot he has pitched 141 post season innings to the tune of a 0.70 ERA and a WHIP of 0.759
    The fact that his ERA is lower than his WHIP is so ridiculous as to defy comment.

    42 post season saves (how appropriate). Second place is Brad Lidge with 18
    Yeah I know the modern era has ruined most post-season career leader charts. But even if you just count the World Series he still has an 11-6 save lead over second place (Rollie Fingers). He has more World Series appearances than anyone.

    On the subject of #42, for the last nine seasons he has been the only player to wear the number full-time since it was retired by MLB in 1997. Before holding this honor for almost a decade he had to outlast 20 players playing for 26 different teams who had also been permitted to wear the number.

    His all-star numbers: 8 appearances, 0.00 ERA, 4 saves and allegedly teaching Roy Halladay his cut fastball.

  8. Too many places to hit reply to, so I’m going to take this in pieces. Bstar@21 is correct to bring Wagner into the discussion. The 1000 inning cutoff is arbitrary, and Wagner was certainly great. I would only note that Rivera did his 206+ in a third more innings, and that doesn’t include his post season, which was effectively two more seasons. As great was Wagner was, Rivera’s sustained excellence sets him apart. On the “Mo gets the close calls” which began with Neil’s post at 5 began this, fairly bluntly, with the “Lebron treatment” comment. Rivera probably gets some close calls, but I agree with JA @17-a) it shouldn’t happen for anyone, and b) I haven’t seen a lot of it. Maddux (who I really admire) and Clemens (who I don’t) both benefited to a much greater degree than any subtle favoritism Mo may have received. To make a more general comment about Mo’s usage as a closer, and, again, noting Neil L (this time @11) about the “polarization”of opinion in the baseball community about Mo, I don’t understand why there should be, especially among the readers of HHS. We’ve discussed endlessly on this site overlooked players for the Hall-players like Raines, or Blyleven, or Santo, were not given their due because their reputations did not fully reflect their stat. Now, ook at Rivera’s stats, place them in the context of baseball history, leaven it with the knowledge that everyone, even the greatest, occasionally fail, and if you can’t see that he’s one of the greats, that his reputation is confirmed by his statistical accomplishments, I just have to shake my head and say we just don’t see the same reality.

  9. It’s hard for me to put Rivera up there with even Pedro or Randy Johnson or Maddux or Halladay or any of the other great SPs in the past 20-30 years. Now maybe I’m nuts, but if we took a top-line starter’s first-inning stats and compared them to Mo’s, would there be a spectacular difference?

    Now Mo’s a HOFer, and the best relief pitcher ever, but the reason people try to downgrade his accomplishments is that we really don’t know if that amazing success could have been sustained if he had to pitch 200 innings a year instead of 65. Facing that same hitter the second, third, or fourth time through the game… maybe they start to figure out that cutter?

    And maybe they don’t… and if that would have been the case, shame on the Yankees for under-utilizing an incredible pitcher for 15 years.

    • I don’t think you have to put Rivera up there with Maddux, Pedro, etc. They were different and performed different functions. If I were a GM and were given perfect foresight to pick Mo or any of the really great SP of the last 20 years, I might have gone for the starter. I think you accept he was the best at what he did for a very long time. I’m not sure the Mo “debate” is much different than comparing Boggs to Schmidt, or Ichiro to Bonds. All were great, just different.

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