Mariano Rivera's Place in Baseball History

After another sterling post-season, and as he rapidly approaches the age of 40, even if he’s showing no signs of slowing down, I’d love to hear the opinions of Doper baseball fans on Mo’s place in the pantheon of Baseball.

Certain HOFer.
First ballot?
Greatest reliever ever?
Greatest post-season pitcher ever?
How does he compare to the greatest pitchers ever?

Not going to take a side but I found the first point in this ESPN column to be very interesting.

It’s probably a little too long to post here.

He’s a first ballot Hall of Famer, yes. He has been a rock at a position where most guys, even if they do really well for a while, cannot stay on top for very long, and his playoff record is phenomenal. I’ve heard it argued that he’s the most valuable player in the current Yankee franchise, and I’m inclined to agree.

Easily the most dominant performer at his position for a (very) extended time. Greatest reliever ever (who’s better?). Can’t compare relievers to starters, though. First ballot.

Absolutely the greatest relief pitcher of all time, and in my opinion, it’s not a close call. First ballot selection, no sweat.

Comparing relievers to starters is difficult, because they pitch so few innings. Rivera’s pitched 1090 innings, which is a fraction the number of innings of any starter you’d consider for the Hall of Fame. But some would argue that a relief ace pitches more important innings than a starter because almost all his innnings are in close games. I dunno how you’d figure that out. I’m pretty sure Rivera doesn’t quite come up to the level of guys like Tom Seaver.

But Rivera is SO dominant he’s certainly a Hall of Famer. Among all pitchers who’ve thrown a substantial number of innings he has the best ERA (as compared to his peers) by a shockingly wide margin. And that’s without counting his playoff performance, which is even more astonishing.

Now, greatest postseason pitcher ever? I’ve got to think so. Unlike comparing him with starters, in postseason he DOES have the innings - 133 innings with an 0.74 ERA. There are pitchers with more innings but none are anywhere near Mo in his total dominance. Andy Pettite has 249 postseason innings but a 3.90 ERA, which is nothing to sneeze at but obviously not anything like Mo.

The scary thing is Rivera doesn’t look like he’s ready to quit anytime soon. He still blows them away. He is clearly some sort of pitching android.

First ballot? He is one of those few players who should not even be on the ballot, just give him his spot when he decides to retire.

Well, but a top-flight reliever is not as valuable as a top-flight starter. Not even close.

Total Red Sox fan here

Yes, first round HOF.
Probably best reliever over his career.
Not sure about best post-season reliever, he gave up a few games, but at least top 2-3.
Not the greatest post-season pitcher - too many starters would be more valuable than him.
Too hard to compare relievers to starting pitchers.

He might be the first unanimous HoF pick. Even Seaver, who tops the list of highest percentage of possible first-ballot votes (I think he’s at 98.7% or something ridiculous like that), was not as widely considered to have been the very best at his position the way Rivera is. The reliever thing will probably cost him a few votes, but I don’t know of anyone who passes the “Was he the best player ever at his position?” test better than he does.

Total Sox fan, btw.

I would weasel on that one and say greatest postseason pitcher of the modern era or something like that; sure, he has more innings than Sandy Koufax (of the sub-1 ERA), but only 36 of them are in the World Series, while all of Koufax’s are. (And Koufax has a better World Series ERA than Rivera does. As does Babe Ruth, for that matter.)

You can use a stat called leverage, which is based upon the probability of a team winning when you enter the game and when you exit. According to baseball reference “A value of 1.00 indicates this player appeared in plays of average importance. Above 1.00 indicates they had higher than normal importance (for example, a closer typically has leverage around 1.8). A mopup pitcher, on the other hand, will have a likely LevI of much less than one.” So a closer is more valuable than his initial numbers would indicate, but not enough to make him comparable to an ace starter.

I agree that Rivera is a first ballot hall of famer, but I don’t know about best ever. Again innings are important, and Rivera has thrown significantly less than the relievers of 20/30 years ago. Of course he has shown no signs of slowing down, so he could get there eventually.

Well, fair enough, but let me play devil’s advocate.

  1. The ALDS and ALCS are just as important as the World Series. After all, you’ve got to win them, too.

  2. It’s true that the pitchers of ye olden days didn’t have the opportunity to pitch as many innings in the postseason. However, you could also argue that this simply means postseason performance is more important today, because there’s more of it. Nobody holds Willie Mays’s career .247 average with one homer in the postseason against him because he only played in four World Series and two short-format NLCSs. But if he played today he’d play in three times as many postseason games and if he kept hitting that poorly it would be fair to say that his postseason struggles hurt his team more than they did back in 1951-1973.

Because of the expanded playoff format, the postseason can now represent a bigger chunk of a player’s career, and so it’s fair to consider that as a factor in the player’s value.

(I’ll also add that Rivera’s World Series performance is certainly better than Babe Ruth’s, when one considers how few runs were scored at the time Ruth was pitching in the Series. The major leagues at the time scored very few runs. Koufax, you’ve got me there.)

pseudotriton ruber ruber:

No way, unless all of the dinosaur HOF voters who refuse to vote for any first balloters “because no one should ever be unanimous” have died out by then. And I’ll certainly applaud to discover that it’s happened, because it’s such a stupid attitude. Yet they are still allowed to vote every single year, even as they absurdly turn in ballots where names like Aaron, Mays, Seaver, Brett, Ryan and Henderson are not checked off.

I agree. Rivera isn’t human. If Rivera isn’t the best closer ever, it’s Eckersley, but it’s a real close call.

It’s quite possible. I don’t see Rivera retiring for another 35 years.

I strongly suspect that the old crop who refuse to vote for (whoever) because Ruth/Cobb/Aaron wasn’t unanimous will be replaced by new voters who refuse to vote for (whoever) because Henderson and Seaver weren’t unanimous.

Arguably (But that’s faint praise)
How about that Bob Gibson. Witness the 9 WS games started (3 per 3 series…es), 7-2 record, 8 complete games, 2 shutouts, 1.89 ERA, .8889 Walks + Hits/ IP.

Rivera doesn’t really stack up with with the greatest starters, not even close in my opinion. Consider this not so much an indictment of Mariano as it is an indictment of the of the prima donna status of modern closers. Bill James (who is far from infallible, but offers great ballpark numbers of player’s worth) has Sutter ranked 57th amongst pitchers, Hoyt Wilhelm 27th, Eckersly 32nd, Goose Gossage 37th and Dan Quiesenberry 68th.

Shooting from the hip, Rivera will probably finish somewhere in the high 40’s/low 50’s on that totem.

And I have to object to Rickjay’s stance on playoff importance in ranking people, not because it excludes old players, but contemporary players on shitty teams. It’s Yankee extra credit, and I’m not buying. Sure use postseason performance as a sort of tiebreaker, but don’t try to paint it as 20% of someone’s worth. (Not @ RickJay, just people in general)

Faint how? Relievers are important, probably now more than at any other time. If Rivera is the best reliever ever, he’s at least in the discussion. That’s enormous praise. How many championships might the Braves of the '90s won if they’d had one of the best relievers ever, or a total bullpen that stacked up to the Yankees in the same period? If Brad Lidge were a better close or even if he’d pitched like he did a year ago, Philly might’ve won this year.
Everybody and his mother has pointed out that closers had a really bad postseason in 2009, which highlights how amazing it is that Rivera has been consistently outstanding for close to 15 years. (He’s blown a couple of high profile games, but with another closer the Yankees would not have been in so many big games in the first place.) He pitches fewer innings than an old-time reliever, but he is much more likely to go for two innings than most other current closers.

Rivera has not only been great in the regular season, he has been BETTER in the playoffs, in more difficult situations against better competition. Bullshit that’s “extra credit.” It speaks volumes to how good he is.


Interesting. What about Rollie Fingers?

Faint praise from me, because modern closers are vastly overrated. He probably tops those I listed strictly as a reliever, but most of those guys pitched 500 more innings than Rivera. Eckersly has 2200 more innings and 100 complete games. To address your “relievers are important…”

From here.

So yes, relievers are important, but it’s increasingly likely that a team’s 2nd or 3rd best reliever is pitching the most important innings. The simple fact as that from the mid 80’s to present, Closers have become prima donnas. Saves became sexy, so managers used their best relief pitcher to pitch the ninth with leads of 3 runs or less. The bitch of it is that the team would be better served if they used their best reliever in some dicey situations with men on base in the 7th and 8th instead of waiting for an easy save opportunity. That would cut the save totals by probably 25-40% and ruin alot of pretty ERA’s-but the teams would win more games.

As best I can tell in regular season 2009, Rivera came in in the ninth with a three run lead 19 times, thereby increasing his team’s chance of winning from about 95.5% to 97.5% each time. (From here.) That’s nineteen appearances of next to no value.

Hell look at the WS-Rivera came in with two 3-run leads and a 4-run lead. Not exactly high pressure situations. He deserves credit for pitching 2 innings with a 2 run lead in game two, but come on, two great innings? Fourteen years almost totals up to one Bob Gibson WS.

But yes, Rivera has been absolutely better than his peers, and has absolutely stepped up in the post season. But would you make the same argument if he’d pitched just as well in 1 post season like Sutter (2-0, 3 SV’s 3.00 ERA), instead of 14? Rivera has had very little to do with the Yankees getting to the postseason year in and year out. (In 1998 James has he and Chad Curtis (who hit .243) recording the same value, tied for 10th on the team.)

His postseason stats are phenomenal, but the fact that he gets to pitch in the postseason at all is due more to his circumstance than his regular season performance. Like I said, Yankee extra credit.

CMKeller, James has Fingers outside the top 100, probably 105 or so, and gives reasons for the slight, among them that Fingers’ reputation is skewed by his team’s success…