A little while ago, I commented here about Mariano Rivera’s Hall of Fame worthiness. Looking at Win Shares, Rivera doesn’t seem to make the cut. Then I got an email from a reader named Chris, who said (among other things):
I think, when looking at closers as Hall Of Fame prospects, one must go beyond career Win Shares or saves. Many of the closers considered to be among the best right now… get the job done, but allow way too many baserunners to inspire too much confidence in their managers or fans. With a select few, however… the game is effectively over as soon as they take the ball.
Rivera is the poster boy of the “It’s Over” relief ace; “Sandman” has been virtually automatic since he took the closer’s role in 1997.
Another thing I forgot to take into account was playoff performance — in Rivera’s case, he’s got more than a full season’s worth of innings in the postseason. In 96 postseason innings, Rivera is 7-1 with a 0.75 ERA and 30 saves. He’s got a 77-12 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and has allowed just 60 hits (that’s less than 6 per game). Throw in the fact that his innings are often higher-leverage than most, and Rivera’s got an argument for being the greatest postseason pitcher of all time.
On second thought, then, I think Chris might be right. Rivera has been the best reliever of his generation; the only other real contender is Trevor Hoffman, and I’d take Rivera over Hoffman. Also, while ERA+ isn’t a great measure for relievers, Rivera is on another planet than guys like Hoffman. Check this out:
ERA+ Rivera 186 Percival 156 Wetteland 148 Hoffman 146 Nen 138
So, considering a) Rivera’s 8-year run of greatness, b) his excellence even compared to the best relievers, and c) his incredible postseason performance, I’m starting to lean towards Sandman as a Hall of Famer. And he’s not done yet.