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Color by Numbers: How Do You Spell Relief?

Posted By William Juliano On September 15, 2011 @ 9:18 am In 1990s,1: Featured,2000s,21st Century,Baseball,Baseball Musings,Games We Play,Yankees | Comments Disabled

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Milestones are usually defining moments in a player’s career. In many cases, the achievement and performer become synonymous. Pete Rose and hits, Barry Bonds and home runs, and Nolan Ryan and strikeouts are examples of players being permanently linked to the records they hold. However, when Mariano Rivera passes Trevor Hoffman on the all-time saves list, it will be nothing more than footnote because, in this instance, the man is so much bigger than the milestone.

Breakdown of Mariano Rivera’s 600 Saves

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Source: Baseball-reference.com

Six hundred saves is not an insignificant accomplishment. The longevity and consistency required to reach the plateau are attributes that not many relievers possess, but in the case of Rivera, such traits are woefully inadequate when it comes to defining his greatness. After all, the Yankees’ closer has done more than just compile saves over a long career. He has dominated at every step along the way.

Pitchers Who Most Benefited from Rivera’s Save Total

Winning Pitcher #
Andy Pettitte 68
Mike Mussina 49
Roger Clemens 35
Orlando Hernandez 32
David Wells 25
Chien-Ming Wang 24
Ramiro Mendoza 23
David Cone 20
Mike Stanton 17
CC Sabathia 16

Source: Baseball-reference.com

So, if not saves, what is the best way to measure Mariano Rivera’s success as a reliever? If you are a pitcher like Andy Pettitte or Mike Mussina, a handful of extra wins would be a good place to start. Opponents could probably start with the sinking feeling that comes when Enter Sandman begins to play, but for those who prefer a more tangible metric, the forest full of broken bats created by Rivera’s cutter would suffice. For the Yankees’ organization, an extra championship or two seems like an appropriate yard stick, especially when you consider his 0.71 ERA in 140 post season innings. Finally, many Yankees’ fans can probably translate Rivera’s success into lower blood pressure readings and better overall mental health. Forget the sweaty palms, pounding hearts, and upset stomachs. In 552 of his 600 saves, Rivera pitched a scoreless frame, and in 341, he didn’t even surrender a single hit. Ball game over.

Rivera’s Overall Performance in Saves

G IP H ER ERA BB K P/IP Strk %
600 636 2/3 358 47 0.66 95 578 14.2 69%

Source: Baseball-reference.com

Although some closers have approached Rivera’s level for a year or two, none have remained on that plateau for a prolonged period of time. Even Trevor Hoffman, whose record Rivera will soon break, shrinks under the scrutiny of a side-by-side analysis. In many ways, comparing Rivera to his peers only serves to illustrate the degree to which he stands alone. As Sparky Anderson might say, “you don’t ever compare anybody to Mariano Rivera. Don’t never embarrass nobody by comparing them to Mariano Rivera”.

Tale of the Tape: Hoffman vs. Rivera
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Source: Baseball-reference.com and fangraphs.com

There is no one way to measure Mariano Rivera’s greatness. Even his failures speak of success [4]. So throw out the numbers and just sit back and enjoy. For over 1,000 games, the great Yankees’ closer has been second to none, and, for all we know, the best may still be yet to come.


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[1] Image: http://bronxbanter.arneson.name/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/MO-JOGGING.jpg

[2] Image: http://bronxbanter.arneson.name/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/MoSavesBreakdown.bmp

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[4] Even his failures speak of success: http://www.bronxbanterblog.com/2011/08/11/color-by-numbers-measuring-success-by-failure/

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