March 20, 2023

Mariano Rivera – the Best “Pure” Reliever

September 21, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

At the present moment (2011), there are only five pitchers in the Hall of Fame who most fans would look upon as “relievers”: Hoyt Wilhelm, Dennis Eckersley, Rollie Fingers, Goose Gossage and Bruce Sutter.  And only one of these, Bruce Sutter, can be considered a “pure” reliever according to the definition established by the CAWS Career Gauge.

Bill James’ Win Shares system is the most comprehensive tool available to understand how good a season a player had.  It includes offensive and defensive contributions and adjusts for all relevant factors.  The CAWS Career Gauge (Career Assessment/Win Shares) uses win shares to measure how good a career a player has had.

In attempting to better distinguish the career accomplishments of pitchers in the 20th century, it becomes obvious rather quickly that it is necessary to create “categories” according to total innings pitched and “benchmarks” for HOF numbers for each category. And so the CAWS Gauge has done this in an attempt to determine which pitchers during their careers posted obvious Hall of Fame numbers.  (For this purpose, you can forget about the term “closer” and the dubious statistic called “saves.”)

As it turns out, of the five Hall of Fame relief pitchers mentioned above, all but Rollie Fingers do have obvious HOF numbers according to the Gauge – but not all of these pitchers fit into the same category.

In studying the careers of the great pitchers, it became obvious that those pitchers who were essentially relief pitchers for virtually their whole careers never exceeded 1500 innings pitched.  And so the CAWS Gauge defined such pitchers to be “pure relievers” and created a category (and a benchmark) to determine whether these pure relievers posted obvious HOF numbers during their careers.

That is, any pure reliever who posted a CAWS score of 155 for his career in fewer than 1500 innings has obvious Hall of Fame numbers.  And only five pure relievers have done this.

For information purposes, here are the number of innings pitched by each of the Hall of Fame relievers mentioned above: Eckersley (3285), Wilhelm (2254), Gossage (1809), Fingers (1701) and Sutter (1042).

Mariano – By Far the Best Pure Reliever

Too often fans and commentators like to argue that a pitcher is the best because he has the “most saves” or the “lowest era” or the “most strikeouts” or “the least walks” (or some combination of these).  And this is a very questionable way to argue.  A string of isolated statistics does not define the “best player.”

A player can only be labeled “the best” if the sum of ALL of his career accomplishments defines him as the best in his “category.”  That is why it is so important to be able to determine the totality of a player’s career accomplishments if we are to judge just how good a player is compared to other comparable players.  And this is what the CAWS Career Gauge has done.

For example, at the moment, Mike Schmidt is the best third baseman of the 20th century and Yogi Berra is the best catcher.  And Mariano Rivera is the best pure reliever.  Each of these three players has a career score better than anyone else in his category.

In the case of Mariano, not only is his career score the best but it is so much better than anyone else as to be simply mind-boggling.  For example, Schmidt’s score is only 2% better than the next best third baseman, Eddie Mathews.  And Berra’s score is only 1% better than Johnny Bench’s.  But Mariano’s score is a staggering 17% better than the next best pure reliever, Bruce Sutter and Lee Smith (who are tied).

Obviously, the best way to see just how good Mariano is would be to compare his career numbers with the other relief pitchers in the same category.  Here are the top ten pure relief pitchers of the 20th century – that is, those with fewer than 1500 innings pitched.  All numbers are through the 2010 season.

The first number is innings pitched, the second is career win shares, the third is core value (the win shares for the ten best seasons) and the fourth is the CAWS score (the career score) [CAWS = CV + .25(CWS – CV)].  Hall of Famers are in bold type.

Mariano Rivera 1150 241 175 192
Lee Smith 1289 198 152 164
Bruce Sutter 1042 168 163 164
Billy Wagner
903 182 151 159
Dan Quisenberry 1043 157 155 156
Trevor Hoffman 1042 187 135 148
John Franco
1246 183 128 142
Mike Marshall
1387 146 139 141
Kent Tekulve
1436 159 135 141
John Hiller
1242 146 136 139
Sparky Lyle
1390 161 132 139

As mentioned above, the CAWS Career Gauge has established a score of 155 as the benchmark for obvious Hall of Fame numbers for this category (pure relievers).  And, as you can see, only the top five pitchers satisfy this criterion.  So far, only Bruce Sutter is in Cooperstown (although Lee Smith is still currently on the ballot).

Mariano Rivera’s career score of 192 is significantly better than anyone else in this group.  That means that his career accomplishments are that much better than any other comparable pitcher.

Is he the best?  Absolutely!  In fact, he pretty much blows anyone else out of the water!

Thanks for your time.

Mike Hoban
Professor Emeritus – City U of NY
Author of A GOOD CAWS: A Hall of Fame Handbook (2011)

Speak Your Mind

Tell us what you're thinking...
and oh, if you want a pic to show with your comment, go get a gravatar!