Commentary

Mariano Rivera: A 21-stat salute

Updated: September 25, 2013, 3:23 PM ET
By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com

How can we even comprehend Life After Mariano Rivera? For nearly two decades, Life With Mariano has been one of the great constants in sports.

There was no such thing as a 600-save man the day Rivera saved his first game, back on May 17, 1996. There was no such thing as a 500-save man, for that matter.

Maybe "Enter Sandman" had been played in a major league ballpark somewhere, for some reason or another. But it didn't mean this:

It didn't mean the greatest closer who ever lived was about to burst through the bullpen gates and work his magic.

You didn't have to be a fan of the Yankees to appreciate Rivera these past 19 seasons. You merely had to be a fan of greatness. Of a man who pursued perfection and nearly found it.

And of a man who didn't simply define his position. He elevated it to a level of brilliance and dignity that we rarely witness in modern-day sporting life.

So how can we comprehend Life After Mariano? By taking the time to truly measure, and appreciate, what we've been watching all these years.

And on that note, while I couldn't come up with my 42 favorite Mariano Rivera stats of all time, I got halfway there. So here they come -- my 21 favorite Mariano stats ever:

1 MR. OCTOBER: We start with October because October was Rivera's time. He pitched a mind-warping 141 postseason innings in his career -- more than Curt Schilling (133.1), more than Chris Carpenter (108), more than Pedro Martinez (96.1)! And he gave up a total of 11 earned runs. We remind you that Jay Witasick once ambled out of the Yankees' bullpen during the 2001 World Series and allowed eight earned runs in a span of 14 hitters. And Rivera allowed 11 in his whole career.

2 THAT'LL TEACH SANDY ALOMAR JR.: While finding his way into 32 postseason series over 16 different Octobers, the Great Mariano had the opportunity to pitch to 527 hitters. And how many of those 527 got to make a home run trot? That would be two: Sandy Alomar Jr. in the 1997 ALDS and Jay Payton in the 2000 World Series. After that home run by Payton, 309 more hitters came to the plate against Rivera in a postseason game. They combined for zero homers.

3 JUST SO JAY PAYTON KNOWS WHAT HE DID: Since that Jay Payton homer, there have been 763 postseason home runs launched off pitchers not named Mariano Rivera. Francisco Rodriguez allowed five of them. Jose Valverde served up four. Byung-Hyun Kim gave up three in about 24 hours. And Rivera? He gave up none. Of course.

[+] EnlargeMariano Rivera
Hannah Foslien/Getty ImagesThe Twins gave Mariano Rivera a rocking chair … made of broken bats.

4 DOUBLE JEOPARDY: But to talk merely about home runs doesn't begin to describe this fellow's level of October domination. In Game 2 of the 2004 ALCS, he allowed a double to Manny Ramirez. Since that game, Rivera has made 29 more postseason appearances, pitched 36 2/3 innings and thrown 562 pitches to 140 hitters -- and only given up two other postseason extra-base hits of any size or shape. They were both to Raul Ibanez, doubles in Games 2 and 6 of the 2009 World Series. Neither resulted in a run. Hideki Irabu once came out of that Yankees bullpen (in Game 3 of the 1999 NLCS) and allowed six extra-base hits in one postseason outing. And Rivera has allowed six in his last 44 postseason outings -- dating back 11 years.

5 MORE THAN ONE: Let the record show that this man racked up 31 postseason saves in which he got more than three outs. Only 32 other closers in the wild-card era even saved one postseason game like that. The closers for all the other AL teams in that time have saved 21 games like that combined.

6 WHATEVER YOU NEED: But Rivera's managers also knew better than to save him just for save situations when it came time to take the October stage. So in total, he made 58 postseason appearances of more than one inning -- and allowed an earned run in exactly six of them. His ERA in those games: 0.53.

7 ALLERGIC TO THREES: All told, Rivera took the mound in 98 postseason games. Never once, in any of them, did he allow as many as three runs. In the same span, starting with his postseason debut in 1995, all the other relievers on the planet made 427 postseason outings in which they gave up at least three runs. Heck, Billy Wagner -- one of the greatest left-handed closers of his time -- did that five times. And the Great Mariano did that zero times.

8 HOUSTON, HELLO: OK, one more postseason nugget before we move on. This man faced the best hitters on the best teams in baseball in 98 postseason games -- and held them to this microscopic slash line: .174/.212/.227. Now here's what that means, essentially: In the most important games of his life, he turned the best hitters on earth into Houston Jimenez -- only not that good. (Jimenez's career slash line: .185/.221/.234.) Not even David Copperfield could pull off that magic trick. Could he?

9 CRACK THE WHIP: For those of us who care about numbers, this is a big, big week -- because Rivera still has a shot to become the only pitcher in the live-ball era with a WHIP below 1.00 -- even if it's only microscopically below 1.00. He heads into the final days of his career with 998 hits allowed and 286 walks. Which totals up to 1,284 baserunners (via hits and walks) in 1,282 1/3 innings. So, if he just has two or three more perfect innings in him, he can still wind up with fewer baserunners (via hits and walks) than innings. Just so it's clear what this means, the only pitchers in history who have ever done that, while working 1,000 innings or more, are Addie Joss (0.97), who last pitched in 1910, and Big Ed Walsh (0.9996), who last threw a pitch in 1917. The closest anyone else has come in the past 95 years: Pedro Martinez (at 1.05).

10 IT TAKES 2.00: ERAs can be misleading when we apply them to relief pitchers -- but not with this guy. He has spun a ridiculous 11 seasons off his domination assembly line with an ERA under 2.00 and at least 20 saves. No other closer in history has more than four seasons like that. Fun nugget alert: Rivera has more seasons like that than Billy Wagner, Trevor Hoffman, Lee Smith, Dan Quisenberry, K-Rod and John Smoltz combined (11-10).

11 LIFE DOESN'T BEGIN AT 40: As loyal tweeter Larry Kunz observed, Rivera's 44 saves at age 43 means that this is now two times since he turned 40 that he has "saved his age." (He also saved 44 games two years ago, when he was just a kid of 41.) And how many other relievers in their 40s have "saved their age?" None. Naturally.

12 LIFE DOESN'T BEGIN AT 43, EITHER: But here's an even more fun stat on Mariano the Old Guy.


Saves by Mariano at age 43: 44
Saves by all other pitchers since the creation of the modern save rule at age 43 or older: 46.

So if he can nail down just two more saves this week, he'll have as many saves, at this age or older, as all other relievers in the same age bracket have accumulated put together. Hey, of course he will!

13 OR MAYBE LIFE DOES BEGIN AT 40 (FOR HIM): Remember a time when pitchers like Duane Ward, B.J. Ryan, Mark Wohlers, Tippy Martinez, Al Hrabosky and Mark Davis were considered big-time closers? You know what all those men have in common? Rivera has saved more games since turning 40 (126) than any of them saved in their entire big league careers.

14 WALK THE WALK-OFF: Think about this. Rivera has gotten the final out in 463 road games -- while serving up a grand total of five walk-off home runs. Aroldis Chapman, a guy we often speak of as "dominating," has given up three walk-offs just this year. And there's quite a group of closers who once allowed four walk-offs in one season, headlined by Randy Myers (1989), Willie Hernandez (1986) and Calvin Schiraldi (1987). And the great Mariano Rivera has given up five. In his whole career.

15 BEAT THE STREAK: No pitcher this man's age had ever saved more than 13 games in any season. So naturally, Rivera kicked off his age-43 season by converting his first 18 save opportunities in a row. That's the ninth time he's had a save streak of at least 18 in a row. Meanwhile, no other active closer has even had nine seasons with at least 18 saves, period.

[+] EnlargeMariano Rivera
Elsa/Getty ImagesRivera already has a place in Yankee Stadium's Monument Park.

16 WELL ADJUSTED: If you're not familiar with one of best new-age pitching stats in existence -- Adjusted ERA-Plus -- it essentially takes a pitcher's ERA, adjusts it for ballpark factors and the era in which he pitches, and then compares him to the "average" pitcher of his time. And the verdict is in. Rivera hasn't been merely the greatest relief pitcher ever. If we go by Adjusted ERA, he's been the single most dominant pitcher ever, starter or reliever. On a scale in which the average pitcher rates 100, Rivera's Adjusted ERA, over a 19-season career, is an unreal 205. Not only is that the very best Adjusted ERA in history among pitchers with at least 1,000 career innings, but nobody else is within 50 points of him. Right, 50! Your runner-up: Pedro Martinez -- at 154. Holy schmoly.

17 BROKEN-HEARTED: How many times have we joked that this man has broken more bats with that wood-devouring cutter of his than any pitcher who ever lived? Well, we can't prove that. But we can estimate how many bats he's broken through the years, with the help of our friend, Buster Olney. Back in 2001, when he covered the Yankees, Buster set out to keep track of all the bats Rivera broke that season -- and wound up with a figure of 44 busted bats in 71 regular-season appearances, during which he faced 310 hitters. Armed with that data, we took a wild guess that Rivera has disintegrated bats at approximately the same rate throughout his career. Which means -- he's broken approximately 724 bats during the regular season and another 75 in the postseason. In other words, his next shattered bat will be his 800th. I hope they stop the game when he breaks it -- and build a bonfire.

18 A CY OF RELIEF: Has there been anything better these past 19 years than being a Cy Young Award winner who wound up with the Yankees? Rivera has saved games for six different Cy Young winners: Dwight Gooden, David Cone, Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, CC Sabathia and Bartolo Colon. That's tied for the most ever (with Goose Gossage and John Franco, also at six).

19 ONE AND DONE: Think how incredible it is to save 652 games, all of them for one team. It's safe to say nobody else has done this, approached this or probably even fathomed this. The next-closest pitcher who has racked up all his saves for one team? That's Jeff Montgomery -- who is 348 behind (with 304 for the Royals). The next closest active closer? That's Joakim Soria, who is 491 back, with 160, also all for the Royals. But of course, Soria no longer works for the Royals. So he won't be narrowing that gap any time soon.

20 THE NEXT BIG THING: Perhaps you're asking yourself: Who's the next Mariano Rivera? Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha. You're kidding, right? No current closer, who is still in his 20s, is even within 500 saves of him. Yep, 500. The only two current closers in their 20s who even have 100 career saves: Craig Kimbrel (138) and Chris Perez (132). We'll rejoin their pursuit of Mariano in -- what? -- about two decades?

21 THE LEADING MAN: Finally, for all these years, Joe Torre and Joe Girardi have pretty much run every game they've managed with one thought: Hand a lead to Rivera, kick back and start loving life. It's worked out kind of well, I'd say. Over these last 19 seasons, the Yankees have handed Rivera a lead in 914 different regular-season games. Their record in those games? How about 868-46, the Elias Sports Bureau tells us. That's a .950 winning percentage. They've placed 68 more leads in his hands in the postseason -- and gone 64-4. That's a .941 winning percentage. You realize, right, that pretty much nothing in life or baseball is 95 percent certain to happen? But winning a game when you hand Mariano Rivera a lead to protect?

Now that's been about as certain as it gets.

Jayson Stark | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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