Posted on: September 13, 2011 7:14 pm
Edited on: September 14, 2011 1:05 am
We celebrate big round numbers, and we celebrate records.
We followed every step Derek Jeter took as he closed in on 3,000 hits. We weren't thrilled with the idea that Barry Bonds was passing Hank Aaron, but we watched.
Now Mariano Rivera has 600 saves. He's one save away from Trevor Hoffman's career record.
And we're not really sure what to make of it.
We don't know what to make of 600 saves. We don't know what to make of the saves record.
What to make of a record obscure enough that Jeff Reardon once held it? What to make of a record that Lee Smith held while he was on the Hall of Fame ballot, but wasn't enough to get him even 50 percent of the votes?
It's not like with two more saves, Rivera is going to replace Hoffman as the greatest closer ever. With all respect to Hoffman, who had an outstanding career, Rivera has long been seen as the greatest closer ever.
We don't need a number to tell us that, any more than we've needed numbers to acknowledge Rivera's greatness through his career. He's led the league in saves just three times in 15 years as a closer (and not once since 2004), even though almost every one of those years he was the best closer in the game.
And if 600 gives us a chance to recognize that, so much the better. If the record helps us demonstrate that, well, fine.
We know that saves don't measure a closer's worth. We know that the save stat is flawed.
Rivera can go weeks without a save (as he did earlier this year) without doing anything wrong, simply because the Yankees scored too many runs in the games they won, never creating a save opportunity.
A day after Rivera reached 599 on Sunday in Anaheim, he sat unused Monday in Seattle, where the Yankees won, 9-1. Until the Yankees took the lead in the sixth inning Tuesday, there was no certainty he would get 600 that night, either.
But they did score. And when they took a 3-2 lead to the ninth, he held it, as he had done 599 times before.
He depends on his teammates more than anyone, because he can't get a save unless they lead -- and not by too much.
The biggest reason Rivera has never had a 60-save season: The Yankees have never created 60 save opportunities for him.
A hitter goes to the park every day with a chance to a hit or a home run. A starting pitcher goes to the park every five days with a chance to get a win (assuming, of course, that his team doesn't get shut out).
A closer has no idea whether there will be a save opportunity today, tomorrow or this week.
Thus, we have no idea when Rivera will get a chance at his 601st save. It's a hard chase to follow, much harder than Jeter's run at 3,000 hits or Jim Thome's chase of 600 home runs.
It's nothing like a starter going for 300 wins.
What to make of 600 saves? I'm still not sure.
But I know what to make of Mariano Rivera, and this is as good a time to recognize it as any.
Posted on: June 16, 2011 11:36 am
Edited on: June 16, 2011 6:03 pm
For years, the Tigers wouldn't retire Sparky Anderson's number.
For months, the Yankees wouldn't speak Joe Torre's name.
On June 26, the Tigers will retire Sparky's No. 11. That same day, Torre will put on No. 6 for Old-Timers' Day in the Bronx.
The honors are deserved. The feuds were petty. They usually are.
And at least Torre has made up with the Yankees while he's still alive. The Tigers waited for Sparky's death last November to finally do the right thing and honor him.
Sparky left the Tigers on not-so-good terms at the end of the 1995 season. He came back for one Sparky Anderson Day, convinced that the Tigers were going to retire his number -- and they didn't. He came back two years ago, for the 25th reunion of his 1984 champions, but the honor was for the team, and not really for him.
Torre left the Yankees on not-so-good terms at the end of the 2007 season. When they closed old Yankee Stadium a year later, the Yankees pointedly left Torre's name completely off a video tribute. He came back last year for the unveiling of a monument to George Steinbrenner, but the Old-Timers' return feels more significant.
Old-Timers' Day means more for the Yankees than it does anywhere else -- do they even hold Old-Timers' Day anywhere else anymore? -- and thus Thursday's announcement of the 2011 participants held some significance.
Torre is on the list for the first time. So is Bernie Williams, who had his own not-so-good departure, but has since returned with some regularity -- and always to huge cheers. So is Lou Piniella.
They should be there. Torre should feel welcome at Yankee Stadium, just as Sparky Anderson should have always felt welcome at Comerica Park.
At some point, everyone remembers that. You just hope it's not too late.
Speaking of not too late, good for the Padres for announcing Thursday that they'll retire Trevor Hoffman's No. 51 on Aug. 21. Not that it's a big surprise. Hoffman left the Padres on not-so-good terms in 2008, but he returned in a front-office role after retiring last year.
Posted on: April 19, 2011 12:55 pm
The Twins have changed closers. The White Sox have changed closers. The Cardinals have a closer problem.
And last night, when John Axford was wild (again) and blew a save (for the first time since his opening day disaster), Brewers manager Ron Roenicke was asked if his team has a closer problem. He said no.
But here's the bigger question: Is there a closer problem in baseball overall?
Or is this just a normal April?
Well, through the first 19 days of this season, there have been 24 blown saves in the ninth inning or later (including four each by Matt Thornton of the White Sox and Ryan Franklin of the Cardinals).
That sounds like a lot.
Well, through the first 19 days of the 2010 season, there had already been 26 blown saves in the ninth inning or later. The Rangers had already changed closers. The Orioles had put their unsuccessful closer on the disabled list. Trevor Hoffman was on his way out of the job in Milwaukee, and the Diamondbacks were already on the to having one of the worst bullpens in history.
So is 2011 unusual? Or is this just a typical April?
Posted on: January 12, 2011 3:01 pm
The day Trevor Hoffman retired, another team spent money on a reliever.
A middle reliever.
The Rays guaranteed Kyle Farnsworth $3.25 million, a lot of money for an up-and-down 34-year-old who has pretty much proven he can't close (no saves since 2008), but not out of line with where the relief market has been all winter.
It's been funny. Teams are spending big -- by my count, 13 relievers have already received multiyear contracts -- but most all of the money has gone to guys who either haven't been closers, weren't signed as closers or were signed as possible closers.
Meanwhile, Rafael Soriano, who led the American League with 43 saves, has yet to find a contract to his liking. By some accounts, he could end up signing with the Yankees -- as a big-money setup man.
And the Rangers are planning to take their 40-save closer, Neftali Feliz, and audition him as a starter in spring training.
What in the name of 601 saves is going on here?
Obviously, a lot of teams don't agree with the all-time saves leader, who (not surprisingly) strongly believes in the value of a top closer.
"It's a tremendous compliment to be called a closer," Hoffman said on a conference call.
Hoffman also said that Lee Smith once told him, "There's never been an easy save."
I'm not sure I agree with that, but I do agree that a top closer has big value. As Hoffman said, "The value is there. Ask any manager. . . . You don't realize the impact of a closer until games don't get closed down."
The Padres understood that for a lot of years with Hoffman. The Yankees understand, which is why they were eventually willing to go to two years and $30 million to keep 41-year-old Mariano Rivera happy and employed.
Other teams seem more willing to spend money on the middle guys.
We'll see how that works.
Posted on: January 11, 2011 5:40 pm
As Hall of Fame voters, we're still not sure how to handle closers. We're still not sure what saves mean.
We voted in Dennis Eckersley (390 saves, and 197 wins, most of them as a starter) on the first ballot. It took two ballots with Rollie Fingers (341 saves) and nine ballots for Goose Gossage (310 saves).
Meanwhile, Lee Smith retired as the career saves leader with 478, and he can't even break 50 percent. John Franco is fourth on the list with 424 saves, and he didn't even get the 5 percent needed to stay on the ballot for a second year.
What does that mean for Trevor Hoffman and his 601 saves?
I'm guessing he gets in, perhaps even on the first ballot. I'm guessing that I'll vote for him, although I always hate to commit to a vote five years out.
But Hoffman does meet the first test, the "Did you watch him and think he's a Hall of Famer?" test.
We know he'll be on the ballot in five years, now that the 43-year-old Hoffman has told mlb.com that he's definitely decided to retire. We know that Hoffman will still be high on the list by the time his name comes up, because the only active closer with a chance to pass him by then is 41-year-old Mariano Rivera, who will begin 2011 with 559 saves (and with a new two-year contract).
We don't know what people will think of saves by then. We don't know what they'll think of closers by then.
We do know that Hoffman has outstanding credentials. His career ERA is 2.87 (even with the 5.89 in his final year with the Brewers). He's a seven-time All-Star. He even had one year (1998) where he finished second in Cy Young voting, which isn't easy for a reliever.
He was consistent. Year after year, he was considered one of the best closers in the National League, one of the best in baseball.
He's not Rivera, who is a no-doubt first-ballot pick.
But he is worthy of consideration, and on first glance, I'm thinking he gets in -- with my vote.
Posted on: September 7, 2010 11:56 pm
BOSTON -- Trevor Hoffman has no connection to the Rays.
He never played for them. He pitched against them once in an 18-year major-league career.
And yet, when Trevor Hoffman showed up on a television screen in the Rays clubhouse Tuesday night, a whole bunch of Rays players stuck around to watch.
It says something about Hoffman, one of the most respected men in the game. It says something about 600 saves, the number Hoffman was chasing, and reached, in the Brewers' win over the Cardinals.
"It's an absolutely ridiculous number," Chad Qualls said. "I don't even have 600 career games. I'm just glad I got to see it."
Qualls has pitched in the big leagues for seven years, and he spent parts of the last three years as the Diamondbacks' closer. He has 448 career games, and 51 career saves -- or 8.5 percent of Hoffman's record-setting total.
The save doesn't always get a lot of respect as a stat. And it's true that lists of save leaders often aren't true indicators of who the best closers are. Mariano Rivera has led the American League in saves just three times in 14 seasons as the Yankees closer, even though he's been the top reliever in baseball maybe every single one of those years.
But 600 saves is still an incredible number -- yes, an absolutely ridiculous number. Rivera has 555, and no one else has even 500. Only three other pitchers -- Lee Smith (478), John Franco (424) and Billy Wagner (417) -- have even 400.
We've come to expect that many late-inning relievers can't be counted on from season to season, that consistency is too much to expect from almost all of them.
Even Hoffman had a season shortened by injury, and a career that has finally reached the point where he can't even be used as a regular closer anymore. But he was consistent for as long as anyone -- his first save came in 1993 and he was first used as a regular closer the next year.
Now it's nearly two decades later, and Hoffman has 600 saves.
And around baseball, a whole bunch of guys are celebrating. Even guys that Trevor Hoffman barely knows.
Posted on: May 17, 2010 11:50 am
Edited on: May 17, 2010 11:52 am
Yes, it was shocking to see Mariano Rivera serve up a grand slam. We all raced to the history books.
We were all amazed that he had only given up one previous grand slam in his career as a full-time relief pitcher.
And we shouldn't have been.
Outstanding closers -- even those on a level just below the Great Rivera -- don't give up grand slams. Joe Nathan has never allowed one, in 533 appearances. Jonathan Papelbon has allowed one, in 284 relief appearances.
Trevor Hoffman, who has pitched in 998 games (Rivera has 920 relief appearances), didn't allow his first slam until this year (Ryan Doumit of the Pirates, on April 27). Dennis Eckersley allowed one in 710 relief appearances. Troy Percival, Rollie Fingers and John Franco allowed two apiece, as have Billy Wagner and Francisco Cordero (all research done through baseball-reference.com ).
Rivera is great, the best ever at his job. But it's not the lack of grand slams that proves it.
Posted on: December 8, 2008 10:00 pm
Edited on: December 9, 2008 4:18 pm
LAS VEGAS -- The Mets always seemed destined to end up with Francisco Rodriguez, and now they will.
Rodriguez has agreed to a three-year, $37 million contract, uniting the record-setting closer with the team most in need of bullpen help. The Mets had initially offered Rodriguez two guaranteed years with an option, but they guaranteed the third year late on Monday and that got the deal done.
The Mets still aren't acknowledging the agreement and may not announce it for a few days, but sources told CBSSports.com that the deal is done.
The Mets, whose awful bullpen basically kept them from holding off the Phillies in the National League East (and the Brewers in the wild card), naturally prioritized adding a top closer this winter. Rodriguez, who set a major-league record with 62 saves for the Angels, was always their top choice.
The Mets always had to be Rodriguez's top option, too, at least after the Angels made it clear that they had little interest in re-signing him. The Mets were the only big-money team in need of a closer, and while they weren't willing to provide Rodriguez with the five-year, $75 million deal he originally sought, they had much more to offer than anyone else in the market for bullpen help.
With Rodriguez now off the market, and with the Mets no longer needing a closer, it will be interesting to see what happens to the pitchers and the teams that are left.
The Tigers and Indians are both looking for closers, but neither team has much money to spend. The Indians probably have a little more than the Tigers, but the Indians also have more remaining needs, and aren't anxious to spend all their available money on the bullpen.
The Indians have some interest in Trevor Hoffman, and may want to see if Brian Fuentes falls into their price range. The Tigers have shown some interest in either signing Kerry Wood or trading for Seattle's J.J. Putz, but they too may want to see what happens with Fuentes. The Tigers may try to free up a little bit of money by trading outfielder Marcus Thames.
The Brewers also need a closer, but they've been waiting to see if there's any chance they can retain CC Sabathia. The Cardinals also could be looking.
Some people have wondered whether the Dodgers would look for a closer, but sources familiar with their plans say they're more focused on acquiring a setup man.