A lot of fanfare has been paid to Mariano Rivera, now that he is within striking distance of the All-Time saves record. In general members of the media love Mo because in addition to being the best person ever at his job, he’s also a model citizen. People like that tend to be celebrated, but recent analysis has actually over rated Rivera.
The best example is ESPN’s list of the greatest Yankees ever. ESPN rated Mo fifth on the list, one spot ahead of the legendary Yogi Berra, and two spots ahead of his lifetime teammate Derek Jeter. Mariano most certainly earned a spot on the list, but he’s a closer, a relief pitcher, and for the past several seasons a one-inning reliever at that. As a result, Mariano has a limited impact on any game. While he is the greatest relief pitcher ever, without question, no relief pitcher has enough opportunities to impact a game to be greater than a Hall of Fame catcher and a soon to be Hall of Fame shortstop.
The numbers bear this out. Baseball Reference says that Jeter has accumulated 70.5 WAR in his career, Berra accumulated 61.9 WAR, while Rivera has accumulated 55.9 WAR. Baseball Reference is generous with Mo. Fangraphs thinks far less of his accomplishments. According to that site Jeter has been worth 74.3 WAR, Berra was worth 71.4 WAR, but Mo has been worth only 38.7 WAR in his career. According to either site, Rivera is the least valuable of the three, and by a considerable margin.
None of this is meant to diminish Rivera’s dominance. That speaks for itself. It is instead meant to show how much the media over values relievers relative to other players. At the end of the day, the Yankees don’t (or can’t) use Rivera enough for him to be able to contribute as much as Derek has, or Yogi did. It is not a question of dominance, just innings.
Mariano Rivera has earned his title as the greatest reliever ever. He is baseball’s all time leader in ERA+. He is going to be its all time saves leader very soon. He is, without question, the greatest post season relief pitcher of all time. He is a first ballot Hall of Famer, and should be elected with a unanimous vote, but all of that is praise enough. His accolades must be put into the context of relief pitching. Any analyst who puts him in front of Jeter or Berra (guys who did some damage in the post season as well, I might add) on the list of the greatest Yankees is flat out wrong.
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