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Mariano Rivera could pass Trevor Hoffman for all-time saves lead this season

Jan 12, 2011, 12:47 PM EDT

Mariano Rivera AP

Trevor Hoffman announced his retirement yesterday, calling it quits after an amazing 18-year career that saw the future Hall of Famer rack up an MLB record 601 saves.

To put that staggering total in some context, consider that only one other pitcher in baseball history has even 500 career saves and with Billy Wagner joining Hoffman in retirement only one active pitcher has even 300 career saves.

Unfortunately for Hoffman’s chances of hanging on to the all-time record, the “only one other pitcher” in both scenarios is Mariano Rivera and he’s just 42 saves away from 601.

Rivera is 41 years old, but showed little sign of slowing down last season with a 1.80 ERA and .183 opponents’ batting average, and signed a two-year, $30 million contract with the Yankees last month. In other words, barring an unexpected collapse Rivera is very likely to end up as the all-time saves leader. The bigger question is whether it will happen this season.

Rivera saved “only” 35 games last season, which would leave him just short of Hoffman’s all-time mark, but he had 44 saves in 2009 and has saved 42 or more games in a season six times in 14 years as a full-time closer. Expect him to be closing in on Hoffman down the stretch, which should be a nice bit of added drama for the Yankees in September.

  1. brianabbe - Jan 12, 2011 at 12:55 PM

    Considering this lineup won’t score as many runs due to age and a pitching staff that also should regress, Rivera will have more save opportunities. That’s not to say the Yankees will be a poor club, but at this point, it would be a stretch to see them score as many runs and win as many games as the 2010 club did. Of course, that also depends on any regression Rivera might have as well, some of which some did show with a declining strikeout rate.

    • Glenn - Jan 12, 2011 at 1:29 PM

      Aren’t the amount of save opportunities independent of team record? I understand that a low offense era like the 60′s would cause more save situations, but each team within each era has the same number of save opportunities regardless of the conditions that you mention.

      • fribnit - Jan 12, 2011 at 3:07 PM

        well, no. If the team is winning games by an average of over three runs, or the team has a losing record or……

        To get a save in the era of the “closer” the team must be leading by three runs or less in the ninth inning or the tying run must be on base or in the on deck circle when the closer is called in.

        So team record and average winning margin will have a great deal of effect on the opportunity for saves.

  2. Chris Fiorentino - Jan 12, 2011 at 1:25 PM

    Is Trevor Hoffman really a “future hall of famer”? I’m not saying he isn’t, but I remember alot of talk about Lee Smith being a “future hall of famer” when he was the leader in all-time saves, and he didn’t even get a sniff. Just saying…

    • Panda Claus - Jan 12, 2011 at 1:51 PM

      Good call on bringing up the question. I wonder the same thing.

      Yet few people doubt Mariano’s next stop will be the Hall and he’s trailing in saves. Not that the stat is the end-all deciding factor, those rings Rivera has earned mean a lot more in my eyes.

      Perhaps I don’t necessarily feel Hoffman has the same “lock” to him, primarily because so many other deserving relievers ahead of this era had to wait their due a lot longer than I thought they should. Gossage is one example.

      • BC - Jan 12, 2011 at 1:57 PM

        Rivera is more remembered for his something-like 0.02 ERA with 10 billion saves in the playoffs than he is for the regular season. That’s where he has it on Lee Smith and Hoffman.
        I still maintain the only closer in the last 25 years that I’ve seen that was as dominant for a stretch was Eckersley. And his stretch of time was half of Mariano’s, with half the playoff work if that.
        BC <—- Not a Yankees fan or apologist

      • Chris Fiorentino - Jan 12, 2011 at 2:16 PM

        Mariano is a no-brainer because 1) Post-season greatest pitcher ever, 2) Best ERA and ERA + career of all time in the live ball era, 3) Pinstripes.

      • Panda Claus - Jan 12, 2011 at 3:10 PM

        CF, I didn’t mean to imply Rivera wasn’t a no-brainer–I’d have to agree with you that he is. I wonder if the priority of your #1 and #3 will actually be reversed when it comes time for voters to have their HOF say. Probably won’t matter really.

        Crud, that’s what Palmiero should’ve done, worn pinstripes.

    • fribnit - Jan 12, 2011 at 3:09 PM

      I think you can take it to the bank that Hoffman will go in the hall on his first year on the ballot.

      He was so clearly at a level that only Mariano shares that it will be nearly impossible to not vote for him.

      • fribnit - Jan 12, 2011 at 3:49 PM

        BC: you obviously allow an anti-Yankee bias cloud what I am sure is otherwise good judgment.

        Mariano has the lowest Era, Highest ERA+, second highest save percentage, second highest number of career saves, has dominated his position for longer than any other closer in the relatively short history of the position.

        Rivera’s Career ERA is 13th all time.
        Hoffman’s is 127th

        Rivera has the best ERA of any pitcher born after 1900.

        He is the very definition of “dominant closer”.

        Tony LaRussa, the man that turned Eck in to a closer calls Mariano the best there has ever been
        Trevor Hoffman calls Mariano the best there has ever been.
        Eckersley calls Mariano the best there has ever been.

        There is no meaningful number or stat where Lee Smith is in the company of Rivera.
        Wins Above Replacement (WAR):
        Career:
        Rivera, 16 season, 52.9
        Hoffman, 18 Season: 30.7
        Smith:18 season: 30.3

        Peak WAR
        Rivera: 5.4
        Hoffman: 4.0
        Smith 4.5

        Career ERA:
        Rivera: 2.23
        Hoffman: 2.97
        Smith: 3.03

        Career ERA+
        Rivera: 205 (MLB record, next is Pedro Martinez at 154)
        Hoffman: 141
        Smith: 132

        SO I can’t see any viable comparison between Rivera and Smith.

        One more stat: Win Probability Added:
        Rivera is 6th all time.
        He is one of only two relief pitchers in the top 20. Hoffman is 19th

        Rivera is clearly the best closer of all time.

        I haven’t listed Eckersley here because his numbers are skewed by his time as a starter. He has a higher WAR than Rivera but his best years were all while as a starter. His ERA of 3.50 and ERA+ 116 are both worse than any of the three pure closers I listed above. Eck’s peak WAR as a closer was 3.2.

      • Eric Solomon - Jan 12, 2011 at 6:50 PM

        Hoffman is like Raines to Rivera’s Henderson. One is the greatest ever at what he did, and overshadowed his still-worthy rival. Both deserve entry into the Hall.

  3. BC - Jan 12, 2011 at 1:31 PM

    Without that one two-week hiccup he had, Rivera would have had a sub-1.00 ERA and some ungodly WHIP and batting-average-against numbers. As it was, he was just godly.
    He pitches the next two years and stays healthy, and he’ll stroll by Hoffman.

    • fribnit - Jan 12, 2011 at 3:57 PM

      I Think I may have misunderstood you previous post. many apologies. still I think the numbers on Rivera, all regular season, clearly show his dominance.

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