Numbers don't lie; Mo in league of his own among closers
Baseball's immortals often become synonymous with numbers that evoke their greatness as players.
For Joe DiMaggio, it would be 56 -- the number of consecutive games in which he got a hit. For Babe Ruth, it was 714 -- the number of home runs he clouted in his career.
Now that Mariano Rivera has closed his final game -- as well as his career -- his number will forever be 652. That's how many saves the future Hall of Fame closer earned during a storied 19-year run. And there's a good chance Rivera's record will stand longer than the 39 years that Ruth held the home run record.
But there are plenty of numbers that will set Rivera apart from all the other closers who've yet to toe the mound. Here's a look at some of them:
1.96: Career ERA in save situations
Rivera had an all-time high 732 chances to earn the save during his career, and he routinely delivered superior results. Among pitchers with at least 300 career save opportunities, Rivera is the only one whose ERA in those situations is under 2.00.
8: Seasons with at least 60 IP, 40 S, 50 SO and a 2.25 ERA
By most measures, those end-of-season statistics signal a great year for a closer. Fifteen of the 35 closers with at least 300 save opportunities have achieved those numbers at least once, but only Trevor Hoffman had even four such seasons. Rivera did so twice as often.
1.0002: Career WHIP
So much of Rivera's success stems from his ability to keep the bases clear by attacking the strike zone with his famous cutter. His career walks and hits per innings pitched is second only to former Mets closer Billy Wagner (0.9977), who pitched 380 2/3 fewer career innings.
89.1: Career save percentage
Because of closers like Rivera, fans of other teams expect to be able to find a reliable ninth-inning man to lock up a tight victory. But the reality is few closers approach earning a save in nine out of 10 tries. Only Rangers closer Joe Nathan has a higher save percentage (90%) with at least 300 save opportunities, but he's seen barely half of Rivera's save chances.
42: Career postseason saves
More than just Rivera's uniform number, it's a mark of his outstanding playoff performances throughout the years. His next closest peer in this category, Brad Lidge, earned 18 saves with a 2.18 career postseason ERA in 45 1/3 innings. Meanwhile, Rivera is also the career postseason ERA leader (0.70 in 141 IP).
N.Y.'s top five closers
Mariano Rivera: The all-time saves leader's place in history cannot be denied. Only Lee Smith (752) and Trevor Hoffman (727) have more career strikeouts in save situations than Mo's 709. Every one of them came with the Yankees.
Goose Gossage: The former Yankee was the sterling closer of his generation. Gossage's Hall of Fame career was built back when closers were expected to go two or three innings; he once earned a four-inning save. Of his 310 career saves, 193 were longer than one inning.
Sparky Lyle: The Yankees closer from 1972 through '78, Lyle won two World Series while pitching in pinstripes. His 2.04 ERA in save situations is second only to Rivera's among closers with a minimum of 300 save chances.
John Franco: His 276 saves in a Mets uniform far outpace any of his peers. The Brooklynite was the primary closer at Shea Stadium for nearly the entire 1990s. The team hasn't had such stability in the ninth inning since.
Dave Righetti: Second to Rivera on the Yankees' all-time saves list, Righetti put games away during one of the rougher stretches in franchise history (1984-90). That didn't stop him from earning two AL Relief Man of the Year awards in '86 and '87.
Who takes Mo's torch?
Baseball doesn't lack for talented closers, but predicting that anyone will match Mariano Rivera's longevity is an exercise in futility. Still, someone is bound to be looked at one day as the man who was the Rivera of his generation. Here are a few candidates:
Craig Kimbrel (Braves): Atlanta's closer for all three of his full major league seasons, the 25-year-old already has earned 139 saves in his young career. It's a long shot, but he's got a better chance than anyone still playing to one day match Rivera's saves record.
Jonathan Papelbon (Phillies): The former Red Sox closer had an off year (29 S, 2.92 ERA), but he will begin his 2014 campaign as a 33-year-old with 286 career saves. He could wind up among the top five in career saves when all is said and done.
Aroldis Chapman (Reds): The 25-year-old Cuban fireballer earned 38 saves in back-to-back seasons. However, he won't be throwing a more-than-100-mph fastball forever.