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The Save Statistic is Overrated, Rivera is Not

With his 602nd save, Mariano Rivera is now the all-time leader.

We've had plenty to say about Mariano Rivera lately, but on the occasion of him notching his record-setting 602nd save on Monday afternoon against the Twins, another round of congratulations is in order. As Steve wrote the other day, the saves are not what makes Rivera great.

Indeed, the save statistic is overrated. Rivera is not. His longevity, the degree of difficulty in his saves, and the success he has enjoyed in the postseason separate him from the pack even beyond the mere gap between 602 and Trevor Hoffman's 601, or anyone else's less impressive career total. He has accumulated his saves during a stretch of time when some teams have changed closers more than a dozen times. He has saved a game while retiring four or more hitters 116 times, 19.2 percent of his total; the totals of the next two guys on the list of pitchers who have done that since 1996 (Keith Foulke and Danny Graves) add up to 104, while Trevor Hoffman, whose record Rivera broke, is fourth at 46. And that's just the regular season. He has gotten four or more outs in 31 of his 42 postseason saves, been at the center of four World Series-ending dogpiles, and put together a postseason line that makes his most dominant regular seasons pale in comparison.

Yet you don't have to know the first thing about the flaws of the save rule, or the advantages (and yes, flaws) of advanced statistics to appreciate number 42. He is a tremendous athlete, a fiery competitor, a graceful man off the field as well as on. He has tasted failure even amid his unprecedented run of success, blowing saves that prevented the Yankees from closing out the 1997 Division Series, 2001 World Series, and 2004 Championship Series. That he's picked himself up and gotten back in the race, is as impressive as anything else he has accomplished. His resiliency is as Cooperstown caliber as his save total.

The outpourings of love, respect, and miscellaneous adulation that are pouring in for Rivera on the occasion of this milestone are about more than just a number attached to an accounting rule of questionable value. They are about the totality of what he has given not only to the Yankees, but to baseball. Congratulations, Mariano Rivera, and thank you for all of those wonderful moments.