It’s a gift(s)... and a curse.
Rivera is a closer. And like all closers in this modern “They Pitch Only The Ninth Inning” era, he is overvalued.
I have read and heard a lot of people—from bloggers to folks in major leaguer dugouts—contend that Rivera has been more important than Derek Jeter to the Yankees’ success. Really? Including the postseason, Rivera has pitched 1,423 innings in his career. Jeter has played in more than 23,400 innings. That’s about 22,000 more innings than Rivera played—15 entire seasons’ worth of games. And yet some think what Rivera did in his 1,423 innings was more important than what Jeter has done in his 23,400? Please.
...Will Rivera reach the Hall of Fame? Undoubtedly. But other than being the greatest closer ever, his numbers aren’t as overwhelming in that regard as many assume. I’m not a disciple of WAR, but even that statistic doesn’t rank Rivera high enough to warrant the gushing. FanGraphs lists his WAR at 40.2, or 12.3 points lower than that of Jack Morris, who still isn’t in the Hall after 14 years on the ballot. Evidently, pitching one inning with a lead isn’t considered as important as pitching the first eight innings to establish the lead.
While Baseball-Reference.com gives Rivera a significantly higher WAR of 56.5—don’t you just love a stat that differs according to the source?—this is still well below Mike Mussina (82.7), Curt Schilling (80.7) and even Rick Reuschel (68.2). Baseball Reference also gives Rivera a score of 29 on its “Hall of Fame standards test,” which is far lower than the average of 50 for a Hall of Famer. (He fares better when compared solely to the very few Hall of Fame relievers.)
I’m not saying Rivera does not deserve to be in Cooperstown alongside Hall of Fame relievers Goose Gossage, Hoyt Wilhelm, Bruce Sutter and Rollie Fingers. Personally, I would much rather have Rivera than Fingers, Wilhelm or Sutter. I’m simply saying that because of his limited role, his career wasn’t as extraordinary as we’re led to believe.