Steve Goldman: A voice in the interlocking wilderness…an oasis of Pinstriped Biblical truth.
Yes, Rivera is a Hall of Famer and one of the greatest pitchers of all time, but both of those phrases require this qualifier: “in his niche.” He is one of the greatest pitchers of all time in his niche. That niche, closing, has been given a lot of exaggerated importance because of the saves rule and the persistence of the idea that losing a game in the ninth inning is somehow worse than losing it in the first inning, or the third, or the fifth.
Rivera has, of course, been exceedingly valuable to the Yankees, not because he was saving games, but because he was pitching scoreless innings, and doing so more consistently and reliably than any other reliever in history, be it setting up or closing, regular season or postseason. We can and should give him credit for pitching in pressure-filled situations, but even then, the value is in the scoreless inning, not in the save—the difference between Rivera’s saves conversion rate and that of the typical closer is unremarkable.
Let me pause to boil that down: Rivera is a Hall of Famer because he gets outs, because most relievers, including closers, have very short career peaks and are not reliable from year to year; he has been the most reliable pitcher of all time. The saves, the ninth-inning stuff, it’s the smallest part of his value.
...No matter how beloved Mariano Rivera is (not least by me), no matter how great he has been at what he does, if a team can’t find a way to reassign 39 innings out of 1450, it wasn’t going to win anyway. This is a sad day for the Yankees and for baseball, but it’s impact on the winning effort should be minimal.