By Christian Binder, WSOE Sports
Let’s pretend for a minute that Mariano Rivera was actually a starter for the Yankees. After all, that’s how he was brought up in the farm system. Would they have won four championships in five years? Would they have won 10 division titles? Can you even imagine someone else closing games for the Bronx Bombers? I sure can’t.
On Sunday, June 28, Mariano Rivera saved his 500th career game, good for second on the all-time saves list. He is also only the second player to achieve the milestone behind current saves leader Trevor Hoffman of the Milwaukee Brewers. There is great debate about who the best closer is of all time and I have to say it’s Rivera. Let’s take a retrospective look at Mo’s career.
Mariano Rivera joined the New York Yankees in 1995 as a starting pitcher. That year, he appeared in 19 games, starting 10 before being moved to the bullpen. He finished that season with a 5.51 ERA in 67 innings pitched. Once he was moved to the bullpen, he would never look back. In 1996, Rivera was the setup man for closer John Wetteland, who won the World Series MVP that year by saving four games in the series. However, ’96 was Wetteland’s last year with the Yankees, opening the door for Mariano Rivera to step in as closer. In 1997, Rivera’s first year as full-time closer, he had a 6-4 record with 43 saves and an astounding 1.88 ERA. In 1999, Rivera had 45 saves and a 1.83 ERA and he also earned World Series MVP honors in a sweep of the Braves. Rivera had 50 saves in 2001, the second most of any season in his career, despite having a losing record. 2004 was Rivera’s best year as a closer in terms of saves, as he converted 53 of 57 save opportunities. From 2003-2008, only once was his ERA over 2. In 2007, his ERA was 3.15. Fast forward to today. For his career up to this point, Rivera has a 69-51 record, 2.30 ERA, 500 saves, and a nearly 4:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio (973 strikeouts to 247 walks). What is more impressive is his performance in the postseason. He is 8-1 all-time in the postseason with a 0.77 ERA and 34 saves.
In fairness, there has to be a comparison. Trevor Hoffman’s career numbers: 57-67 record, 2.76 ERA, 572 saves, and a nearly 4:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio (1074 strikeouts to 279 walks). In the postseason, Hoffman has a 1-2 record with a 3.46 ERA and 4 saves. Strictly by the numbers, Mariano Rivera is better in every catergory except saves. I think that what cements Mariano Rivera as the greatest ever is his unbelievable consistency and the fact that he plays in the American League where there is the DH, whereas Hoffman plays in the National League where the pitcher bats. Hoffman is currently in a one-year deal with Brewers and it very well could be his last season. Rivera, on the other hand, still has a good three or four years left in him, plenty of time to catch up to Hoffman if he retires after this year. Here’s to you, Mariano Rivera, the greatest closer of all time.