There is no fanbase in sports more spoiled than that of the New York Yankees. Yankees fans have witnessed 27 World Series championships and enough great players to overload an ocean liner.
Mariano Rivera is one of those great players, and today I'm thinking no player who's ever worn pinstripes has spoiled Yankees fans quite as much as he has.
I'm thinking this today because it's official that Rivera isn't going to be around for much longer. Rivera announced Saturday morning that he will retire following the 2013 season.
It was hardly a shocker, and I've already written that the Yankees could make Rivera's pending retirement an excuse to make him their Chipper Jones in 2013. If he really is going out, he deserves to go out on a high note.
Simply knowing that this is Rivera's final season has everyone in the industry looking back on his career. I resisted the urge at first, but when I finally did sit down to take a look back at all Rivera has accomplished with that cut fastball of his...
Man, what a career. Seriously, what a freakin' career.
I want to be as sure as I can that you Yankees fans out there appreciate Rivera's career just as much as I do. For that, please come this way and take a look at a few numbers.
608, 892 and 42
You'll recognize that first number, as it's the one number that Rivera is most often associated with these days. 608 is the number of games he's saved in his career, an all-time record.
Rivera didn't compile the bulk of his saves in a relatively short run of success. He saved at least 28 games every year between 1997 and 2011, and ESPN Stats & Information pointed out that he'll break a tie with Trevor Hoffman for the most 30-save seasons if he saves 30 games this year.
If so, Rivera would also distance himself from Hoffman in the all-time saves chart, perhaps to a point where Rivera's lead over Hoffman is equal to his lead over him in the games-finished department. That's where the 892 comes into play, as that's an all-time record for games finished over Hoffman's 856.
Think about that for a second. Rivera hasn't just recorded more saves than any other pitcher in history. He's also recorded more final outs than any pitcher in history by a fairly comfortable margin, one that can only get more comfortable.
I would say that about sums up Rivera's legacy, but we're only talking regular-season stats here and Rivera's legacy is obviously about so much more than the regular season. He's one of the great postseason performers to ever come along, a reality driven home by the number 42.
That's how many career postseason saves Rivera has to his name. ESPN Stats & Information pointed out that the next guy on the list is (surprisingly) Brad Lidge, and he has a mere 18 postseason saves to his name. Rivera has more than double that amount.
These three numbers alone do a pretty good job of proving that Rivera is the single greatest relief pitcher in baseball history, but it gets better.
Oh me, oh my does it get better.
2.21 and 0.998
Saves and games-finished totals are all well and good, but they don't really tell us all that much about a pitcher's dominance, do they?
No, not really. Things like ERA and WHIP do that a lot better. Naturally, Rivera impresses in these two categories as well.
Rivera owns a career ERA of 2.21. Among relievers, you won't be surprised to hear that Rivera has no equal in the ERA department. Among relievers who have made at least 500 career appearances, his 2.21 ERA tops the charts ahead of Billy Wagner.
Wagner deserves a tip of the cap for being right there with Rivera in the WHIP department, as the two of them share the all-time lead for WHIP among relievers at 0.998.
The two aren't completely on the same level, though. Wagner made 853 appearances and pitched 903 innings in his career. To date, Rivera has made 1,051 appearances and logged 1,219.2 innings, meaning he's been exposed to far more threats to his career WHIP than Wagner was. Unless Wagner decides to unretire, which is not likely, he's not going to be able to catch up.
Even if he does, there's no way Wagner is catching Rivera in the other categories we have yet to discuss.
The best closers invite certain clichés. You know, stuff like "he's automatic" or "he's lights-out" or the "game over" guy.
Rivera is one of these guys. That much is obvious. What isn't so obvious is the sheer degree of how much of a "game over" guy Rivera has been in his career.
That's where the number 54.02 comes in handy. That's Rivera's career win probability added, and it's a doozy.
If you're not familiar with WPA, Baseball-Reference.com defines it like so:
Sum of the differences in win expectancies for each play the player is credited with. Can be for a play, game, season, or career. This is denoted in wins and is of a similar scale to other wins-based statistics. It is highly dependent on the context in which a player played. Elite relievers (due to their high stress innings) may have as many WPA as starters which does not occur for stats like pitching linear weights. Note that it is relative to average, so a 0 WPA player is an average player.
In plain English: WPA is a stat that quantifies a player's ability to put his team in the win column. It makes sense that it's a stat that would favor closers, as they're the ones held responsible for making wins official.
At any rate, you won't be surprised to hear that Rivera's career 54.02 WPA is the highest all-time among relievers. You also won't be surprised to hear that the next guy on the list after him is Mr. Hoffman, he of the 601 career saves.
You might be surprised to hear, however, that Hoffman isn't even within shouting distance of Rivera on that leaderboard. His career WPA stands at a mere 34.122.
That's a huge disparity, and it's all the more impressive that Rivera owns such a huge lead when you consider the fact that Hoffman's 76 career blown saves are just three more than Rivera's 73 career blown saves.
Hoffman was automatic in his day, but not nearly as automatic as Rivera has been in his career. He really is far and away to most automatic closer who has ever walked the Earth.
A great closer, yes, but where does he rank among the game's great pitchers, period?
Wouldn't you like to know...
Rivera's 2.21 career ERA is impressive, but it's nothing compared to his career ERA+ of 206.
You've probably heard of ERA+ by now. If you haven't, it's a stat that adjusts a pitcher's ERA to account for his ballpark and his league, making it possible to judge pitchers from different eras through an equal lens.
An ERA+ of 100 is average, meaning a pitcher with a career ERA+ of 101 was technically an above-average pitcher in the grand scheme of things.
So if a 101 career ERA+ is above average, then a career ERA+ of 206 is...what exactly? Mind-boggling?
Yeah, let's go with mind-boggling.
But that adjective doesn't quite cut it as one to describe Rivera's place on the all-time ERA+ charts. He ranks No. 1 on the list, ahead of the great Pedro Martinez. He retired with an ERA+ of 154, a mark that's a staggering 52 points below Rivera's career ERA+.
Other pitchers Rivera has beat include Lefty Grove at 148, Walter Johnson at 147 and Roger Clemens at 143. Their greatness is not to be disputed in most other conversations, but they look like noodle-armed choir boys next to Rivera in the ERA+ conversation.
Apples to oranges? Absolutely, but that doesn't make Rivera's ERA+ brilliance any less...
Hmmm...What's a good word here? I've already used mind-boggling, so how about mind-holy-moly-Toledo-cow-mackerel-boggling?
Yeah, that works.
The number that's the best testament to Rivera's career, however, happens to be the smallest.
This number doesn't need any introduction. You know what it is.
Rivera owns five World Series rings, four from the Yankee dynasty of the late 1990s and early 2000s and another from the club's most recent championship in 2009. That puts him in very exclusive company, as only a handful of the 17,000-plus players who have come and gone in major league history have won as many as five rings.
Granted, championships are team accomplishments, and baseball isn't basketball. One player (see Jordan, Michael) can be the difference between a championship and no championship in basketball. It's not that simple in baseball, as the contributions must come from all over.
The Yankees have certainly gotten contributions from all over in their five most recent championship runs. Rivera wouldn't have five rings without help from Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Tino Martinez, Paul O'Neill, Andy Pettitte and Jorge Posada in the dynasty days and help from Alex Rodriguez, CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira, Robinson Cano and others in 2009.
This, however, is a door that swings both ways. Rivera wouldn't have five rings without them, and they wouldn't have their rings without him. He's only a closer, but he's as responsible for the last five Yankees championships as anyone else.
If not more responsible. Buster Olney wrote this in The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty:
More than any other player, some opponents believed, [Rivera] had been distinctly responsible for the Yankees’ championships. Derek Jeter was a terrific player, yes, and Bernie Williams was an elite center fielder, and the Yankees had more than their share of All-Stars. But other contending teams had deep lineups, too, and some had good starting pitching, like the Yankees. Only the Yankees had Rivera, the dignified closer with the savage cut fastball that turned bats into scrap wood. 'It’s obvious they’ve won the world championships they have because of him,' Jim Thome, the Cleveland first baseman, once said.
Maybe it should be easy to argue this sentiment, but it's not. The Yankees have had some great teams in the last two decades, but it's hard to imagine any other closer applying the finishing touches to their championships better than Rivera.
So don't ever stop cherishing this guy, Yankees fans. After all he's done to spoil you, it's the least you can do in return.
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