Relievers have always been the red-headed stepchildren of Major League Baseball.  They never get the credit they deserve and for the most part are left out of the Hall of Fame.  It’s argued that their impact on a game is much like a 9th inning pinch hitter.  The problem with that analogy is that the greatest pinch hitters fail 70% of the time.  If a closer fails 70% they would be in the minors quick as a wink.

Starters get all the fame and fortune while closers, who can actually dictate the outcome of a game more than a starter, are the guys that get left out in the cold.  A save is about as rare as a home run, except a save will 100% of the time win a game for you, while a homer more than likely will not.  So since there is a 500 club for home run hitters, why can’t there be a 500 club for closers?  A number that practically guarantees enshrinement in the Hall of Fame.

The short list of names in this club are Trevor Hoffman (601 saves) and Mariano Rivera (600 saves as of last night).  These two deserve to be in the Hall of Fame, and while it might be a lock for Rivera, the same cannot be said for Trevor Hoffman, whose career has been every bit as dominant as Rivera’s has.

For years the argument was to let in Lee Smith (478 saves), but the bang against Smith was that he wasn’t considered a dominant closer like Hoffman or Rivera. Next would be John Franco (424 saves), again a very good closer but not Hall of Fame material.  Finally Billy Wagner (422 saves) rounds out the top 5 and he is in the same class as the other two, very good but not great.

The truth is if you look down the list of career save leaders, you will notice that even most active players have no shot at closing 500+ games.  Jason Isringhausen (300 saves), Francisco Cordero (322 saves) and Joe Nathan (260 saves) are all over 36 years old and their best days are behind them.  Even young guns like K-Rod (291 saves, 30 years old) and Jonathan Papelbon (217 saves, 29 years old) have little shot to enter the 500 save club.  In fact the youngest guy in the top 100 is Joakim Soria (160 saves, 27 years old) will have a difficult time closing 500+ games.

I know my idea of a 500 save club gaining automatic entry into the Hall of Fame is a difficult pill to swallow, but with two players finishing out their career and getting ready to be added to the Hall of Fame ballot, both should be first ballot Hall of Famers.  The question becomes will they?  As unfathomable as it sounds I think Jeff Bagwell has a better chance of first ballot entry, not to take anything away from Bags, but he never affected a game like Hoffman or Rivera did.

As for a hobby take on this, Hoffman’s autograph can be had for between $15 – $30 while Mariano’s autograph is going to set you back between $100 – $150 (although there is a 1997 Leaf autograph that sells consistently around $50).  I would consider both of them to be must owned autographs and wait until Hoffman is enshrined, his autograph should double in value.

What do you think about the 500 save club gaining automatic entry into the Hall of Fame?  Are these guys first ballot Hall of Famers?


7 responses »

  1. Mike D says:

    I think your intentions are good with the saves mark and the HOF. I just don’t think you can automatically designate someone just because of a number. I would have a hard time arguing anything for John Franco, and he is among the “elite” closers in terms of sheer save numbers. I’m convinced Rivera is a lock, not just for being the (before the year is over) all-time saves leader, but because he has been so good for so long, regular season and postseason. Hoffman should also get in, as Lee Smith should, for being forces at their position. I will say the same thing about Edgar Martinez and David Ortiz, steroid chatter aside for Big Papi. Eventually MLB will have to address the numbers crunches versus drug allegations…

    • chemgod says:

      My point is that you don’t luck into 500 saves. Rivera took 18 years of great closing to get where he is and Hoffman took 18 as well. To be in the league closing for 15+ years isn’t enough, you have to be dominant in those years or you won’t ever get to 500. Which is why I think 500 should be the modern requirement. As for the DH, it’s really tough. Martinez and Ortiz deserve in but also Baines. Not sure what the qualifier would be for a DH.

  2. Ryan G says:

    500 (600, really) saves is a big deal, figuring only two players have reached that goal so far. However, a quality reliever playing for a less-successful team will have less saves, or especially opportunities, since the team will be winning less often. Plus, saves earned for teams like the Giants (as far as my paying attention this year) seem to be tougher saves, since the Giants aren’t really good at scoring runs, meaning save opportunities usual involve smaller leaders. Rivera has played for the past couple decades for a team that has dominated the win column and I’d be willing to bet that many of his saves weren’t really fireman-type opportunities. This is not to knock his accomplishments and I think 600 will develop into the real standard now that there are a couple players over that mark (think of how 600 HRs is now a real, attainable feat and 500 HRs doesn’t mean as much). I’d rather see some other statistic come out that really explains a relief pitcher’s performance – one that puts more emphasis on high-pressure situations, like pitching out of inherited jams and preserving one-run leads or tie-game situations.

  3. Mike D says:

    Great points, Ryan. I was trying to think if there was a WAR or some metric statistic to show the true value of a specific reliever, but I’m not rehearsed in Bill James materials. I agree with Rivera, if he pitches for the Royals, he doesn’t have 400 saves, much less the reputation he currently holds. In that regard, Hoffmann’s numbers should be just as celebrated considering he pitched for a few pretty lousy Padres teams over the years.

    • chemgod says:

      Good point about the team the player is on, that makes guys like Hoffman seem like wunderkinds. Also don’t forget he missed a season due to arm and shoulder issues, came back and was even better than before.

  4. sfs2003 says:

    Here is a collection to start: game used bat cards from closers. Bonus points for AL closers. Check out this card:

  5. Brian B says:

    Being a very biased Yankee fan, as far as Mariano Rivera there never has been, and never will be a closer close to him, lets not forget the 42 post season saves, not included in his 600. Lets see who is #2 in post season saves, and those were preasure saves…BIG PAPI HOF???? Did the steroid wing open I was unaware of

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