On-Base Perception

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Even the stats agree: Mariano Rivera is the best closer of all time

Mariano Rivera of the Yankees laughs in the

Mariano Rivera of the Yankees laughs in the dugout during batting practice. (May 7, 2013) (Credit: Getty Images)

Mariano Rivera blew a save on Tuesday, but his loss against the Mets was just a blip on one of baseball’s best set of career numbers.

The Yankees' strength at the end of games has been their most consistent weapon since Rivera replaced John Wetteland as the closer in 1997.Even at 43, he is 19-for-20 in save opportunities in this, his final season.

Since 1901, among the 96 pitchers who have appeared in at least 500 games as a reliever and compiled at least 100 saves, Rivera not only has the most saves (627 entering Saturday) but the lowest ERA (2.21) and best strikeout-to-walk ratio (4.07). He is tied with Billy Wagner for the lowest WHIP (0.998).

Compare Rivera to his closest peers and the numbers are even more striking.

Among the top 10 pitchers in career saves, Rivera leads the pack with 9.45 opportunities per blown save. Trevor Hoffman is next at 8.90. Despite having more opportunities -- 701 -- than anyone else on the list, Rivera is tied for first with Hoffman with an 89 percent success rate. And Rivera is doing it later in his career than the others.

Dennis Eckersley pitched until he was 43, too, and John Franco suited up until he was 44. But Franco compiled only eight saves after the age of 38 and Eckersley added a single save to his ledger during his final season.

Rivera ranks second among this group with 54.8 Wins Above Replacement, an advanced stat that measures a player's contribution to his team compared to a typical minor-league replacement player. But the man Rivera trails, Eckersley (62.5 WAR), spent 13 seasons as a starter and pitched 2,046 2/3 more lifetime innings than Rivera. And all those innings resulted in only an additional eight wins. No other closer in the top 10 cracks 30 WAR.

There is one relief record list, however, that Rivera has avoided. Since 1913, there have been 110 times when a pitcher has blown at least three consecutive saves. Many of the greats certainly have done it. Rivera has not.

Rivera has blown two saves in a row just eight times in his 19-year career, and not since 2011. He’s blown back-to-back saves only twice during a season: 1997, his first year as Yankees closer.

Hall of Famer Goose Gossage blew four saves in a row in 1982 for the Yankees. Lee Smith, third on the all-time saves list, blew three in a row for the Cubs in May 1984. Franco, fourth on the all-time list, did it in 1984 with the Reds and in 1993 as a Met.

Other big names who blew three in a row include Hall of Famers Rollie Fingers and Bruce Sutter, along with Wagner, Dave Righetti, Armando Benitez, Joe Nathan and Wetteland.

When he's blown two in a row, Rivera’s ERA is 14.02, with an uncharacteristic number of walks that are equal to his strikeouts: 15. In his eight appearances after double blown saves, his ERA dropped to 1.12.

The season isn't done, and there’s still time for Rivera to slip out of his catbird seat in any of these statistical categories. But don’t count on it. Rivera isn't known to blow a lead.

Tags: Yankees , Mariano Rivera

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