It goes without saying that Mariano Rivera will go down as the greatest closer of all time. Anyone who tries to argue different needs to get off the crack pipe, to put it bluntly.
From Cliff Corcoran at Sports Illustrated comes this (which most of us already knew, but it’s incredible every time we read it):
Here are Rivera’s rate stats for the last 16 years combined:
2.03 ERA (224 ERA+), 0.97 WHIP, 0.4 HR/9, 8.3 K/9, 1.9 BB/9, 4.32 K/BB
Rivera has averaged 71 innings pitched per season over those 16 years (including the current, incomplete campaign). Over that span, only three pitchers have equaled or bettered each of those rates in a single season of 50 or more innings pitched: Pedro Martinez in 1999, John Smoltz as a closer in 2003, and Jonathan Papelbon in 2006. Rivera has put those rates up over 16 seasons.
To be fair, he hasn’t had a single season in which he has matched or beaten each of those marks, but he hasn’t strayed far from them either, and he has only become more consistent over time. Since 2003, Rivera has had an ERA+ below 200 in just one season and has put up these rates over the last nine years combined:
1.88 ERA (237 ERA+), 0.93 WHIP, 0.4 HR/9, 8.4 K/9, 1.5 BB/9, 5.47 K/BB
Yes, that’s a 1.88 ERA over 588 games by a pitcher in his age 33 to 41 seasons.
Well, Rivera’s career ERA+ of 205 is the all-time record among pitchers with at least 1,000 innings pitched. Pedro Martinez is second at the list at 154, not even close, and the next relievers on the list are Wilhelm and Dan Quisenberry at 147. One could counter that by pointing out that Rivera hasn’t had his decline phase yet, but he’s 41 years old.
At this point, he’ll either retire without declining (a possibility seeing as he’s only signed through 2012), or retire at the first sign of decline. Meanwhile, he is on his way to his 12th season with an ERA+ of 200 or better.
Using a minimum of 50 innings pitched, the next two men on that particular list are Martinez and Joe Nathan, both of whom did it five times, or less than half as many times are Rivera. He is also the only man ever to have two seasons with an ERA+ above 300 in 50 or more innings, doing so at ages 35 and 38.
How about this: according to bWAR, a cumulative stat, Rivera has been almost as valuable in 1,206 career innings as Dennis Eckersley was in 3,285 2/3 career frames (55.8 wins above replacement to 58.7), and exactly as valuable as Sutter (25.0) and Hoffman (30.8), two other Hall of Fame closers (one already in, one a shoo-in), combined.
Then there’s the postseason.
That’s right, Rivera dominates his field that completely without even factoring in the 139 2/3 innings of a 0.71 ERA that he has contributed in the most important games of his career. That’s the equivalent of two more seasons of some of the best pitching of his career against some of the stiffest competition.
In 94 postseason appearances, 58 of which have lasted more than one inning, Rivera has posted a 0.77 WHIP, a 5.19 K/BB, and allowed just two home runs (and, considering the milestone that prompted this piece, saved 42 additional games).
Included in those 139 2/3 frames are a postseason record 34 1/3 consecutive scoreless innings compiled from 1998 to 2000, three seasons which ended with Rivera recording the final out of a Yankee championship.
Rivera’s 2012 spring debut was a 1-2-3 inning against the Phillies Sunday in Tampa. He threw a total of 14 pitches, but only because Luis Montanez somehow managed to wrangle up a 10-pitch at-bat.
Rivera summed it up best. “Just trying to get people out, and go home,” said the greatest closer of all time.
Couldn’t have said it better.