by Mark Ross
With save no. 602 on Monday, Mariano Rivera became major league baseball's career saves leader and further cemented his legacy as not only the game's greatest closer of all-time, but one of the best pitchers period. The New York Yankees right-hander passed Trevor Hoffman for the all-time saves mark, one that won't be broken any time soon, if ever. The active pitcher with the second-most saves is Francisco Cordero with 323 or 279 fewer than Rivera. And even though Rivera will turn 42 in November, he hasn't showed any signs of slowing down as evidenced by his 43 saves and 1.98 ERA this season.
Rivera is a 12-time All-Star and five-time World Series champion in his 17-year-career with Yankees. For his career, besides the 602 saves, Rivera is 75-57 with a 2.22 ERA, 1,108 strikeouts and just 274 walks in 1,209 innings pitched. He has pitched in 1,039 games, which is the most among active pitchers and ninth-most in baseball history and is the all-time leader in games finished (881).
His 2.22 career ERA places him 13th all-time among pitchers with 1,000 IP. For perspective, Hoffman's career ERA of 2.87 puts him 127th on the all-time list, while the lowest career ERA among active pitchers belongs to Tim Lincecum, whose 2.95 ERA ranks 155th and barely qualifies given his 1,016 career IP. In fact, among pitchers with 300 or more career saves, the second-best career ERA belongs to Hall of Famer Bruce Sutter (300 career saves), whose 2.83 career ERA is tied for 110th on the all-time list.
Rivera also is one of the stingiest pitchers in baseball history. Using WHIP (walks + hits/IP), which is a measure of a pitcher's ability to prevent batters from reaching base, as the gauge, Rivera's current 0.99 WHIP is second on the all-time list, according to Baseball-Reference.com. The only pitcher with a lower career WHIP is Hall of Famer Addie Joss, whose career ended in 1910.
Since becoming the Yankees' full-time closer in 1997, Rivera has been the definition of consistency. He has accumulated 30 or more saves in every season but one, and that came in 2002 when he had 28 saves in a season shortened by injuries. He has eight seasons of 40 or more saves and two (2001, '04) with 50 or more. He has finished in the top 5 in voting for the American League Cy Young five times, including second to Bartolo Colon in 2005.
As a closer, Rivera is certainly no stranger to late-inning, high-pressure situations, and his production and effectiveness during them is further evidence of his greatness. For his career, Rivera has saved 89 percent (602 of 674) of his save opportunities.
He has inherited a total of 350 runners in his career, meaning they were already on base when he entered the game, and he has only allowed 102 of them to score. That translates to a strand rate of 71 percent.
It's no surprise that the majority of Rivera's innings (872 1/3) have come in the 9th. In that inning alone, Rivera's career numbers are a 2.01 ERA, a .208 opponent's batting average, a .254 opponent's on-base percentage, a .281 slugging percentage and a microscopic 0.95 WHIP.
As impressive as Rivera's regular-season numbers are, he's been even more dominant in the postseason. He is the leader by far for career postseason saves (42) and games pitched (94), and he also holds the career marks for ERA (0.71) among pitchers with 30 IP in the postseason. His 139 2/3 IP are the most of any relief pitcher and tied for the seventh-most in postseason history, and his 109 strikeouts place him ninth all-time. He has a 8-1 career postseason record, has given up a total of two home runs in his 139 2/3 IP and has a microscopic WHIP of 0.77.
He has pitched in a total of 31 postseason series (15 AL Division Series, nine AL Championship Series and seven World Series) and was named the World Series MVP in 1999 and the ALCS MVP in 2003. And he will have the chance to add to these numbers as his Yankees are most likely headed to the postseason for the 16th time in his career.
Rivera along with Derek Jeter, is synonymous with the Yankee teams of the late '90s and 2000s that won those five World Series titles and he will go down in his career as one of the greatest to ever wear the famous Yankee pinstripes. In fact, the only part of the game where Rivera has fared poorly is at the plate. He's gone hitless in six career at bats (including postseason), although he did reach base once via a walk. So Babe Ruth he's not.
But like the Bambino, it's not a matter of "if" he gets into the Hall of Fame, it's only a question of when and will he be a rare first-ballot inductee, which is another perceived measure of greatness among baseball's elite.
As impressive as his resume and statistics are, it also should be pointed out that he pitched during what is considered the "Steroid Era," a time in baseball marked by prolific offense, not to mention the "live-ball" era, which make his numbers stand out even more. So regardless of what your opinion is when it comes to the debate of starting pitcher vs. relief pitcher as it applies to legendary status, the numbers speak loud and clear in the case of Mariano Rivera. He is unquestionably one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history.