This week, TOC will be looking at five players who recently announced their retirements from the game and their potential Hall of Fame cases. Today, we'll start with an easy one: Mariano Rivera.
Mariano Rivera is a slam dunk Hall of Famer, right? Well, maybe not. It seems ridiculous to say that Rivera isn't a Hall of Famer, but maybe there's more to it on the surface. To break down his candidacy, I'm going to answer the questions on Bill James' Keltner List, and then go from there with various other Hall of Fame predictors and metrics.
Was he ever regarded as the best player in baseball? Did anybody, while he was active, ever suggest that he was the best player in baseball?
No. He's a relief pitcher, and there's no way a relief pitcher was the best player in baseball.
Was he the best player on his team?
Not really. During his early years with the club, he wasn't an elite player quite yet, and towards his peak, he was overshadowed by guys like Jeter, Rodriguez, and later, Cano.
Was he the best player in baseball at his position? Was he the best player in the league at his position?
Yes. Rivera is one of the few relievers in the game that has been considered a legitimate Cy Young candidate.
Did he have an impact on a number of pennant races?
Five rings. Most postseason saves of all-time (by FAR), and the lowest career postseason ERA of any pitcher in MLB history. That works.
Was he a good enough player that he could continue to play regularly after passing his prime?
Rivera blew his knee out last year, and has 44 saves this year at the age of 43 to go along with a 2.15 ERA. So in a word, yes.
Is he the very best player in baseball history who is not in the Hall of Fame?
Nope, and that's a loaded question that's probably irrelevant thanks to the Pete Rose, Barry Bonds, and Roger Clemens all out of the Hall of Fame.
Are most players who have comparable career statistics in the Hall of Fame?
There's only five relievers *in* the Hall of Fame right now, and only one was a pure closer: Bruce Sutter. Most of the top closers of all-time haven't come up for voting yet.
Do the player's numbers meet Hall of Fame standards?
652 saves, a 2.21 career ERA, a strikeout to walk ratio of better than 4:1…if Rivera isn't a Hall of Famer, no reliever should be.
Is there any evidence to suggest that the player was significantly better or worse than is suggested by his statistics?
Random Rivera stat that I feel is overlooked: he threw at least 70 innings in eight of nine seasons in his prime. I mean, that's pretty awesome considering how specialized bullpens have become.
Is he the best player at his position who is eligible for the Hall of Fame but not in?
How many MVP-type seasons did he have? Did he ever win an MVP award? If not, how many times was he close?
Relievers shouldn't win MVP awards, but he did have four three-win seasons, which is pretty great for a reliever. Rivera also earned five top five Cy Young finishes and four top 15 MVP finishes, which is cool.
How many All-Star-type seasons did he have? How many All-Star games did he play in? Did most of the other players who played in this many go to the Hall of Fame?
He was a 13-time All-Star. That's absurd.
If this man were the best player on his team, would it be likely that the team could win the pennant?
I'd say no, just because of how limited his role on a team is.
What impact did the player have on baseball history? Was he responsible for any rule changes? Did he introduce any new equipment? Did he change the game in any way?
You could conceivably call Rivera the last of a dying breed of closer. He's one of the few guys left in the game that can get more than three outs with ease. While that's not really much of an impact on baseball history, it's a pretty significant bridge from one era to another. Also, Rivera's use of the cutter really pushed the pitch into the mainstream and made it a popular pitch for struggling pitchers to learn in order to revitalize their careers.
Did the player uphold the standards of sportsmanship and character that the Hall of Fame, in its written guidelines, instructs us to consider?
Rivera is one of those guys who would be in the Hall of Fame as a person if not as a ballplayer. He's one of the classiest players in baseball, and even his fiercest rivals respect him. My favorite Rivera story is him wanting to meet with stadium personnel during his final stop in each ballpark to thank them. Now *that's* class.
Obviously, we started off with an easy test case with Rivera. He's going to coast into the Hall of Fame, more than likely on the first ballot, and if he's not a Hall of Famer, no reliever should be. As I mentioned earlier, Rivera was the bridge from the old school to the new school in terms of closers, and there has been no one better. Rivera isn't just a Hall of Famer player, he's a slam dunk Hall of Fame player, and there's really no argument that anyone can make to the contrary.