Numbers tell the story
Mariano Rivera. Mariano Rivera. Mariano Rivera. There can be no possible argument against this. Rivera has saved 544 games since breaking into the majors — as a less than mediocre starter in 1995. He's pitched 1,1221/3 innings and allowed just 864 hits and 262 walks. Nine times, including last year, he's finished the season with an ERA under 2.00.
And that's just the regular season. He's better in the playoffs, in which he owns a 0.74 ERA in 88 appearances, including 39 saves. In 1331/3 postseason innings, he's allowed just two home runs, none in this millennium.
More remarkable than any of that, though, is that he's done it all with basically one pitch — a masterful cutter that has him headed straight for Cooperstown.
Answer rings true
Jewelry can speak loudly about a man, especially if that man is a professional athlete. Look no farther than the rings on Mariano Rivera's fingers to find proof that the Yankees' closer is the greatest of all time.
Rivera has been money in the biggest situations for the Yankees time and again since 1996, when he served as a setup man to John Wetteland. He's been a key part to five championship teams with the Yankees, including four as the closer, and holds the record with 39 postseason saves, 11 of which came in World Series games.
Consider this: Rivera's career ERA is 2.22 over his 16 seasons. It's a microscopic 0.74 in his 88 playoff appearances. Can you imagine anyone better? I can't.
Juan C. Rodriguez
The combination of effectiveness and longevity make Mariano Rivera a slam dunk for the Hall of Fame and the title of greatest closer in baseball history. At 40, Rivera is headed toward an eighth consecutive season of 30-plus saves.
The only other closer who's done that is all-time saves leader Trevor Hoffman (1995-02), who no longer is performing at a high level. Perhaps most impressive are Rivera's 39 career postseason saves and accompanying 0.74 ERA in 1331/3 innings. The Yankees have been to seven World Series with Rivera anchoring the bullpen.They don't win five of those without him.
Even sabermetricians who scoff at saves would have a tough time arguing Rivera's importance. No other active pitcher has a higher career WAR (wins above replacement player) than Rivera. He's worth 51.5 wins above an average player.
Gagne hit highest peak
Los Angeles Times
Eric Gagne. OK, so the Mitchell Report taught us that his performance might have been enhanced. So what? The use of performance-enhancing drugs is a natural byproduct of American culture, but that's a subject for another day. Let's take a simpler approach to this issue.
There are only two somewhat objective measures we can use to compare athletes from different eras: relative dominance and longevity. Gagne wins hands-down in the first category. No one was as dominant as he was during his streak of 84 consecutive converted saves. Mariano Rivera wins in the latter category. So who is the best? Personally, I tend to favor athletes who soared to the highest of heights over those who sustained brilliance over long periods of time.