Taking Mariano Rivera for Granted

There's no all-time record for Rivera's consistency

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    Rivera has no peers among relief pitchers.

    There will be rivers of praise sent in Mariano Rivera's direction in the wake of his 602nd career save on Monday afternoon.

    His greatness will be proclaimed far and wide with particular attention paid to the imposing standard he's set in the postseason over his career. The acclaim will go beyond the mound and Rivera will be hailed for being a great citizen and terrific teammate throughout the years.

    There are plenty of statistical ways to sum it up as well, starting with those 602 saves.The more sabermetrically minded will point out that Rivera has the most Wins Above Replacement of any closer and the most of any pitcher who spent the majority of his career with the Yankees.

    Yet all of those words and all of that deserved acclaim will still somehow fall short of expressing just how remarkable Rivera's career has been. The full realization of his greatness won't even come on that strange day in the future when someone else is pitching the ninth inning for the Yankees.

    It is going to come two or three years after that when the Yankees are breaking in another new closer. And it is going to be even more apparent a few years after that when the Yankees find themselves looking for yet another guy to handle the job that Rivera has been doing for the last 15 years.

    There have been 132 40-save seasons in the history of baseball with Heath Bell standing a good chance of making it 133 before the year is out. There are hundreds more 30-save seasons, some of which were turned in by pitchers who really didn't pitch all that well on their way to racking up big numbers in the ninth inning. 

    That tells you there have been plenty of successful closers over the years and that the act of getting the final out in a game isn't the most difficult thing to do in baseball.

    What is difficult is doing it over and over again, year after year while all of the other guys have succumbed to age, injury, bad luck or some combination of the three. What's even more difficult is showing up over and over again and never once coming close to doing a league average job while doing it.

    That's what Rivera's done over his career. His worst season was 2002 when he posted a 3.15 ERA while recording 30 saves, and even that year was good enough for an ERA+ (adjusted for ballpark and compared to the league average) of 144 or 44 percent better than the league.

    It is an imperfect stat for relievers, but it gives you some kind of an idea about what kind of pitcher Rivera has been relative to the rest of the league during his career. When your worst year is considerably better than what everyone else in the league did and you've had 14 better seasons (and counting) it means something pretty special.

    Trevor Hoffman, the man whose record Rivera broke on Monday, is the only other guy who has had anything close to the same kind of staying power as Rivera, but even he had seven years with an ERA+ lower than 144. And none of this even takes into account how unflappable Rivera has been in October.

    Rivera has been so good for so long that you can't help but take it for granted. That's the last thing anyone should do, though, because it is totally unprecedented for a pitcher to perform like this for so long.

    We've been spoiled rotten and the only way to appreciate just how rotten is when the next guy makes it clear that there's only one Rivera.

    Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City. You can follow him on Twitter and he is also a contributor to Pro Football Talk.