Ever since Rivera was able to surpass Trevor Hoffman’s saves record, there was little debate over who was the best to ever close games.
But, with the steady increase of save opportunities and the reliver’s role as the years go on, should there be more of a conversation around who would be best the best in the same style of play?
And it is understandable why, as the peak of single-season saves was seen in 1990 when Bobby Thigpen surpassed 50 saves for the first time in either league’s history. These league-leading trends correlate with the league average trend, as over the fifth-era, saves never fell below .24 per game.
Even though the importance of bullpen arms continued to grow season by season, the most recent era of baseball has seen a decrease in saves since analytics emphasizes the higher leverage innings for the team’s best reliever as opposed to always the ninth inning.
So, the ’90s to 2000’s truly represented the golden age of closers, as of the all-time saves list, each of the top eight closers played some point of their career in the era. Would anyone from outside this era compete with the greats of the Steroid era for the best closer of the all-time title?
Without much doubt, the only unanimous Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera still holds a comfortable lead in the all-time saves category. And even though saves league-wide were their most favorable during Rivera and Hoffman’s careers, Mo’s .891 save percentage in just shy of 700 opportunities will stand for quite a while.
But, as we looked at in the starting pitcher argument, there is plenty of significance when it comes to the length of these relievers’ appearances. Dennis Eckersley had the shortest length of appearance despite spending the first 11 years as a starter. Rivera however, despite being thrown to the back end of the bullpen much earlier in his career, he leads all pitchers in multi-inning saves at 119. The next closest to him is Keith Foulke with 55.
Yet, he trailed only Wilhelm in the average length of appearance by about an out, which makes sense considering the role of most relief arms in that era.
Who else do you think should be considered in this debate? Leave a comment to see how that player would compare!