Mo doubt about it, Rivera's best ever - Newsday

Mo doubt about it, Rivera's best ever

New York Yankees relief pitcher Mariano Rivera throws New York Yankees relief pitcher Mariano Rivera throws to the plate during the ninth inning of their baseball game against the Los Angeles Angels. (Sept. 11, 2011) Photo Credit: AP

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Ken Davidoff Newsday columnist Ken Davidoff.

Davidoff joined Newsday in 2001, covering the Yankees for the better part of four seasons, and was

TORONTO - Mariano Rivera assessed the fly ball off Eric Thames' bat, realized it was in good hands and turned back toward home plate. As he walked toward the visitors' clubhouse at Rogers Centre, he relied on the sound of the crowd to confirm that Curtis Granderson made the game-ending catch.

His head was down and his gaze empty, in other words, as he climbed yet another podium in the baseball pantheon Saturday afternoon.

In this case, the picture matched the reality. Tying Trevor Hoffman for the all-time saves record with 601 is nice, for sure. Yet no one needed this accomplishment to appreciate Rivera's elite place in the game's history.

Even if Rivera had retired after last season, let's say -- 42 saves ago -- he'd have stepped down as the game's top closer of all time.

"I don't think in this room there's any question," Joe Girardi told reporters, following the Yankees' come-from-behind, 7-6 victory over the Blue Jays. "I don't want to take anything away from Trevor Hoffman. But when you've been around Mo as long as I have, you've seen a lot of special things."

Certainly, no one wants to diss Hoffman. He served as a model of class and consistency during his 18-year career, and he wakes up this morning still No. 1 on the all-time saves list. Just sharing that spot with Rivera. Yet if we're comparing him to Rivera? Sorry, but we need to diss Hoffman a little bit.

Consider the Wins Above Replacement measure, better known as WAR, which compares players to their contemporary positional peers. According to Baseball-Reference.com's tally, Rivera began play Saturday with 55.9 WAR. That's superior to such Hall of Fame starting pitchers as Catfish Hunter (32.5) and . . . wait for it . . . Sandy Koufax (54.5).

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Hoffman comes in with a 30.8 WAR, more in line with closers like John Franco (25.8), Billy Wagner (29.7) or even Cooperstown denizen Bruce Sutter (25). And with these comparisons, we're not even counting Rivera's remarkable postseason numbers.

A more interesting matchup comes when we pit Rivera against a different pair of Hall of Fame closers, former Yankee Goose Gossage (40 WAR) and Rollie Fingers (24.4). These two stood out because of their workload per game. Including the postseason, Rivera has averaged less than 1 1/3 innings per closing appearance (1.13 innings per game), while Fingers registers at just over 1 2/3 innings (1.69) and Gossage a touch under (1.63). Rivera's strikeout and walk counts are better, yet Fingers in particular comes out pretty good by facing so many more batters per season (420, to Rivera's 302).

Rivera's not done, of course. At 41, he is signed through next year, and he still ranks as one of the game's best closers, if not the absolute best, in his 15th year on the job.

Humble as always, he said, "It doesn't depend on myself. If the team didn't score that many runs, I wouldn't pitch at all. I have no say about it, until I have the opportunity to pitch."

That's why, opening the door to a different discussion, we should shoot down any suggestion that Rivera's record isn't getting enough attention. As he said, he can't get a save unless the rest of the Yankees create a save situation. Shoot, Hoffman would be further ahead had he played for a perennial contender instead of an occasional one.

Mark Teixeira, speaking of Rivera's ascension on the saves list, said, "He deserves to be on top, there's no doubt."

Agreed. Nevertheless, his quiet, last-out walk Saturday fit the occasion. He acted like he already has scaled the mountain, and he did. Quite a while ago.

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