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Mariano Rivera is NOT the Greatest Closer of All-Time

It is widely believed that Mariano Rivera is the greatest closer in the history of baseball. It is also believed that there is not a single person who would deny it, let alone even try. Well now there is, and the controversy being stirred up is only just beginning.


There’s a controversy brewing, and of course you wouldn’t believe me if I told you it involved the New York Yankees *wink wink*. The all-time saves leader, Mariano Rivera, announced his intention to retire upon the completion of the 2013 season and practically all who follow baseball are calling him the greatest closer in the history of the game. I did say practically, however, as Goose Gossage doesn’t want to take anything away from Mo and thinks he’s a great player and a great guy … but he doesn’t necessarily believe he’s the greatest closer of all-time either.

In an article written by Erik Boland of Newsday, Gossage made it a point to not try to take anything away from what Rivera has accomplished -- but also tried to articulate a point that could be construed as such.

Gossage pointed out that the one-inning specialist is a relatively recent development, starting primarily with Dennis Eckersley in the late 1980s with the A's. He added that it is a development that has overshadowed what relief pitchers such as Gossage himself, Rollie Fingers and Bruce Sutter did, which is pitch multiple innings at the end of games.

The Goose is absolutely right in stating that the one-inning specialist is a relatively recent development, one that I myself am not very fond of either. The reason I don’t particularly care for the one-inning/ninth-inning only guy to "close" games out is because the save statistic is a cheap one and I believe that managers shouldn’t be held hostage by it because there’s money on the line for guys who acquire a lot of them. You use your best reliever for your stickiest situations in the game and you do it whenever they occur.

Here’s a quote from Gossage:

"I think that these guys are so dominant in that one-inning role that they've forgotten what we used to do," the former Yankees closer said. "It takes three guys to do what we used to do."

There was one person who didn’t necessarily enjoy the comments that Gossage had made and that person is Tom Tango -- yeah, that Tom Tango.

Here is what Tango had to say:

Mariano is a one-inning reliever? Really? You want to go there. Let’s go there.

Mariano Rivera has perhaps the greatest accomplishments of all-time in the post-season. He’s pitched 141 innings in 96 games. That’s obviously more than one inning per game. That’s 1.47 innings per game. Goose Gossage has thrown 31.1 in 19 games, or 1.65 innings per game. Nothing to really differentiate.

Gossage has allowed 10 runs during those 31 innings. Mariano Rivera has allowed 13 runs in 141 innings.

If Gossage got to pitch 77 more games in the post-season (to bring him up to Mo’s 96) and throw 109.2 innings (to bring him up to Mo’s 141 innings), I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t allow only 3 runs (to bring him up to Mo’s 13).

The argument regarding Rivera’s proficiency in the postseason is certainly one worth mentioning, but that’s not all there is to any ball players career, especially when it could also be argued that Rivera benefitted greatly from the play of others who had more to do with getting those teams to the postseason than Rivera himself did.

But let’s look at this from a place that doesn’t scream emotional or knee-jerk reaction. Ignoring the number of saves the players in question earned, let’s focus on three key metrics that I feel could properly sum up how a "closer" did over their career.


Career gmLI

Career Clutch

Career +WPA

Rich "Goose" Gossage




Bruce Sutter




Rollie Fingers




Mariano Rivera




From this table you can see three things, the average leverage index, the clutch rating, and +WPA.

Sutter and Fingers both entered into game situations where the stakes were a bit higher than what Gossage and Rivera entered into but neither performed spectacularly well in those situations overall. Gossage comes in third among the group with a 1.85 gmLI but is the only one to have posted a positive clutch rating in his career and he also has the highest career +WPA. Even if you take away Gossage’s stats as a starting pitcher, he still comes out ahead in all three of these categories over the other three men we’re comparing, as well as the highest of any reliever all-time.

So, while I understand some of the outrage or negative words being said in response to the comments that Gossage made, it’s hard to say that he’s full of it and doesn’t know what he’s talking about. The numbers, when you overlook saves, back up the fact that an argument could be made that he is actually the greatest closer in the history of the game.