Up next in our Pinch Hitter series is Gil Teitelbaum, who’s originally from New York but now lives in Beit Shemesh, Israel with his wife and four kids. Gil wrote that he’s, “grateful for the internet and the ability to still follow and watch the Yankees from halfway around the world.”
For his post, Gil decided to not blindly accept the common narrative. He legitimately asks, is Mariano Rivera really the greatest reliever of all time?
Before Rivera came along, Goose Gossage was considered by many to be the greatest reliever ever — although fans of Sutter, Fingers or Eckersley might have disagreed. Around the time Gossage was elected to the hall, he talked about the greatness of Rivera, but also pointed out how relievers in Gossage’s day had to do much more than relievers today.
Back then, when the starter tired, the fireman was expected to come in with men on base, extinguish the rally and finishing the game. It was actually a more exciting experience to watch — seeing a star closer come in with men on base in a close game. The way relievers were used made more sense. In a close game, with men on base, wouldn’t it make sense to have your best pitcher come in and try to limit the damage? By the ninth inning, the game could already be lost.
It’s interesting to look at how the role of relievers changed over the course of Gossage’s career. In 1975, his best season, Gossage pitched three or more innings 21 times and topped an astonishing seven innings in relief three times that year. By 1982 he pitched three or more innings three times, and by 1985 he didn’t pitch any three-inning outings.
When Rivera became a reliever, closers were mostly limited to pitching the ninth inning only. While Rivera also pitched mostly one-inning outings during the regular season, his postseason usage is very similar to relievers from Gossage’s era since Rivera has been called to do a large number of multi-inning outings.
Gossage’s ERA (2.09) as a reliever during his prime (1975 to 1985) was better than Rivera’s career ERA (2.21), while pitching in longer outings and coming in with men on base. Looking at numbers this way, it really looks like Gossage was Rivera’s equal.
While Rivera has not had to pitch nearly as many multi-inning appearances as Gossage, he has shown that he excels at it. Pitching in the postseason might be a more stressful situation than coming into a regular season game with men on base.
It’s not hard to find relievers who have had seasons that match up well with the best seasons Rivera has had. What separates Mariano is how he has consistently produced only excellent seasons over so many years. His prolonged regular season excellence alone puts him ahead of Gossage. His postseason dominance make this comparison not even close.
Associated Press photos