Is this the greatest relief pitcher in Yankees history?
Rivera has entered a game in a save situation 702 times. He has earned the save 600 times, blown the save 72 times and received a “hold”—which is not an accepted statistic—28 times. 26 of the holds were in 1996, when Rivera was John Wettland’s setup man.
Rivera has had 672 save opportunities and has blown 72 of them, which is an 89.3 percent success rate.
But there is more.
In only 196 of his 957 appearances from 1997-2011, Rivera entered the game with at least one runner on base. He came in with the bases empty 761 times or 79.5 percent of the time.
Since 1997, Rivera has inherited 323 runners, which is an average of 23 over a 162-game season. Ninety-four of the 323 inherited runners scored.
When Rivera came into a game with runners on base, 29 percent of the runners scored.
Trevor Hoffman entered in a save situation 677 times. He has 601 saves and has blown 76 saves for an 88.7 success rate.
In 188 of his 1,035 appearances, Hoffman entered the game with at least one runner on base. He came in with the bases empty 847 times or 81.8 percent of the time.
Hoffman inherited 346 runners. Seventy of them scored.
When Trevor Hoffman came into a game with runners on base, 20 percent of them—nine percent less than Rivera’s inherited runners—scored.
Only one conclusion is possible. Hoffman was a better “fireman” than Rivera, but neither was really a “fireman.”
How great would either Hoffman or Rivera have been if they entered their games in true pressure situations, where a fly ball would score a runner from third to tie the game?
How about having runners on second and third with one out and a one-run lead?
Hoffman and Rivera had the luxury of coming into the game in the ninth inning with the bases empty, allowing two singles and a walk and still leaving as a hero with a save.
How did Hoffman fare against the Yankees in the eighth inning of the third game of the 1998 World Series with two runners on base and Scott Brosius at the plate?
How did Mariano Rivera fare in the fourth game of the 2004 ALCS against the Boston Red Sox in the ninth inning after having worked the eighth inning?
Rich Gossage appeared in relief 965 times. In 509 of those games, or more than 50 percent of the time, there was at least one runner on base. He came into the game with the bases empty 456 times or 47.3 percent of the time.
Gossage inherited 832 runners with only 277, or 33 percent, of them scoring; but many times, he entered with runners in scoring position and less than two outs.
Why? Because that was his job.
Mariano Rivera averaged 3.2 outs a game.
Trevor Hoffman averaged 3.2 outs a game.
Rich Gossage averaged 4.8 outs a game.
Rivera and Hoffman fit into the closer category. Gossage was a relief pitcher. There is a tremendous difference between the two roles.
Many modern statisticians espouse the concept that teams must not waste outs. The goal of the defense is to get outs.
In pressure situations, Gossage’s pitching produced more outs than the pitching of either Hoffman or Rivera.
You draw your own conclusions.