Mariano Rivera is closing in on the all-time saves record held by Trevor Hoffman. Rivera has 600 saves and needs two more to set a new record.
Rivera has made 1,027 relief appearances. He has never blown more than nine saves in any season.
There is no question that Mariano Rivera is the greatest relief pitcher of all time, but Dave Smith of Retrosheet, one of the most respected baseball sites, has revealed a disturbing fact.
Smith researched seasons from 1930–2003 to discover the success rates of teams that led a game entering the late innings.
Teams that lead by one run going into the ninth inning win about 85 percent of the time. The result has not changed with the advent of the ninth inning closer.
Teams with a two-run lead going to the ninth win about 94 percent of the time.
Teams with a three-run lead win about 96 percent of the time.
Smith’s findings can be interpreted many ways.
A game-saving situation could occur in the sixth, seventh or eighth inning. Most of the time, the team’s closer, supposedly its best relief pitcher, doesn’t come into the game before the ninth inning.
Baseball Prospectus projects that using a closer in key situations instead of saving him for the ninth inning could produce four more wins in a season.
Tom Tango and others wrote the following:
Using a top relief pitcher (read that as Mariano Rivera) instead of the second or third best one should result in a two percent increase in a team’s wins when the team has a three-run lead.
With a two-run lead, a four percent increase in wins should occur.
With a one-run lead, there should be a six percent increase in wins.
Goose Gossage is the all-time blown saves leader with 112, but there is a good explanation.
Gossage was a fireman who often entered the game before the ninth inning, usually with runners on base, which gave him many more opportunities than a closer would have to blow a save.
It is difficult to conceive of Mariano Rivera having a more successful career, but if the premises and projections of Baseball Propectus and Tom Tango are correct, Rivera could have made an even greater contribution to the New York Yankees.