It’s a debate that has many different sides and arguments to it. Some may say no, Aroldis Chapman is the best. Others may think that Rollie Fingers and Rich “Goose” Gossage were better.
When you look at the numbers though, Mariano Rivera soars to the top.
Rivera holds the record for the most saves in Major League Baseball history with 652 saves in his 19 seasons with the New York Yankees. He is also a 13-time American League All-Star who has 5 World Series rings to his name. Oh, and he was inducted into the baseball Hall of Fame this year.
Aroldis Chapman is undoubtedly one of the best and most well-known closers in the game today. He helped lead the Chicago Cubs to a World Series championship in 2016. When you compare Chapman to Rivera in saves, you can see just how dominant Rivera actually was.
Indeed, Rivera did have 19 seasons in the MLB compared to Chapman’s 10 years, but Chapman is showing no signs of catching up.
Rivera was a dominant force when it came to shutting down games, but it did come with a few bumps in the road. Over his long career, Rivera accumulated a total of 80 blown saves. There were 80 times when Rivera went in the game with a save on the line, and gave it up. Yes, 80 is a quite a few, but he makes up for it by piling up 652 career saves.
In 2011, Bleacher Report came out with a power ranking of the top 50 greatest MLB closers of all time. Number one on the list? None other than Mariano Rivera. It is no surprise to see him there, as he deserves this spot. Other big names on the list include Rich Gossage, Rollie Fingers, and Lee Smith who was inducted into the Hall of Fame this year.
Rivera, the red dot on the chart, is above average in both saves and blown saves (the average lines are the averages out of these 50 players, not all of the MLB). You would expect Rivera to be above average in blown saves, as he is so far above the average in the save’s category. The only closer on the list that is remotely close to Rivera is Trevor Hoffman, who played 18 years in the league.
The chart shows a clear pattern, the higher amount of saves you have, the more blown saves you will have. Once again, this makes sense. The more games you pitch in with the chance for a save, the more likely you are to have a few more blown saves.
The moral of the story? Rivera accumulated an unprecedented number of saves, while only blowing 80 saves in his career.
How was he so good?
How is Rivera so far in front of everyone on the chart? How did he achieve his record setting 652 saves?
Looking at Rivera’s best year in saves, 2004, can help answer these questions. During this year, Rivera collected 53 saves, the most of any season in his career. Also the most in the MLB in 2004. The closer with the second most was Francisco Cordero, with 49 saves. Below are the number of home runs the top ten closers gave up in 2004.
One of the circumstances for a save to take place is that the closer must enter the game with lead of no more than three runs. Often times, the lead is just one or two. In this case, a home run can blow a lead and a save in just one pitch. The long ball is one of the biggest fears among closing pitchers.
In 2004 Rivera did a good job by just giving up 3 home runs all season. This helped lead him to a standout season with 53 saves and only 4 blown saves. If he would’ve given up more home runs that season, his number of blown saves may have increased while the number of saves would have decreased.
So, is Rivera the best of all time? When looking at saves the answer is yes, by a long shot. The debate will still go on though, as the opinions of die-hard fans may never change, even when looking at the cold hard facts.