Saturday, May 5, 2012

Mariano Rivera-Pretty Good!

The written word does a poor job of relaying sarcasm, so I hope the title of this post effectively conveys that I use that title facetiously, since Mariano Rivera isn't just pretty good--he's the best closer of all time, and my point with this post is to show just how totally dominating he was, and how it will be nearly impossible to duplicate, or in my opinion, even come close.

I won't speak for others, but I audibly gasped when I heard the news about Rivera, because at his age, one doesn't just rehab and come back from a torn ACL. It would be difficult enough for someone significantly younger than he is, but he'll be the ultimate determinant of whether he can come back. I'll demonstrate using three tables, with the first the top 25 in saves all-time. Of these top 25, I'll rank them by career Wins Above Replacement Player (be sure to click the link above for a fuller description)--all numbers are through the 2011 season and only include the regular season:

It would appear that my thesis is blown right at the start, since Dennis Eckersley is shown as having the highest career WAR for a reliever. Of course, this is deceptive, and by my count, Eckersley's WAR as a reliever is 16.6 (I start at 1987). As such, 42.1 points of Eckersley's career WAR was accumulated as a starting pitcher. We can show that with the next table, which shows the WAR by game pitched (the exact equation is WAR/G*1000, since I don't like numbers with small decimals--the best way to describe this would be WAR/1,000 games pitched):

I've added the column WAR/G to the far right, but it doesn't shake things up much--Eckersley is still in the lead, but again, only about 28% of his career WAR can be attributed to his skills as a closer. We can correct for this by viewing a third chart, my favorite way to look at any player, which is WAR/Inning Pitched or, for hitters, WAR/Plate Appearance. This allows us to see how well they performed as opposed to career stats that typically only tell us how LONG they performed. In addition, it becomes a useful tool to see how current players stack up with the all-time greats, as will be apparent:

The greatness of Mariano Rivera becomes obvious when we look at it this way. This is calculated as WAR/IP*1000 and shows how dominant he was. It also gives us an idea of how outstanding F-Rod has been as well in his career and moves Eckersley down the list. I'm not stating this is the best or only way to effectively measure Rivera, but when the gap between #1 and #2 on any list is around 30%, a solid argument can be made that the person at the top was not only good, but good by a comfortable stretch, and unlikely to be equaled in the foreseeable future. It should also be noted that numbers 1 and 2 in saves (Rivera and Hoffman) are also numbers 1 and 2 in save percentage, which I think is remarkable. Like every other baseball fan, I hope he can return, but if he doesn't, he has nothing to worry about regarding his status as the best closer in baseball history. I don't think this was in doubt--what I'm not sure is how many people realized the magnitude of his dominance.

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