Reporting the Sandman

I've mentioned The Post's Tom Boswell a few times, generally not very nicely, and his effort today does nothing to convince me that I was misguided.

His in-print title on that is "The greatest Yankee since Babe Ruth" (on a side note, why do these columns frequently seem to have different titles on-line versus in-print?). To look at that in some detail, why don't start with an obscure award called the MVP (for which Boswell has a vote, I'd imagine).

Awards won by Yankees players since Ruth (working backwards):
Alex Rodriguez: 2005, 2007
Don Mattingly: 1985
Thurman Munson: 1976
Elston Howard: 1963
Mickey Mantle: 1956, 1957, 1962
Roger Maris: 1960, 1961
Yogi Berra: 1951, 1954, 1955
Phil Rizzuto: 1950
Joe DiMaggio: 1939, 1941, 1947
Spud Chandler: 1943
Joe Gordon: 1942
Lou Gehrig: 1936

Notice a name missing? Yeah, that would be Rivera. In fact, if you search more closely, you'll find that he's never even gotten a single first-place vote for MVP.

I'm not trying to detract from what Rivera's done; he's probably the best relief pitcher of all time (and certainly the greatest closer).

But I find it a difficult proposition that he's a greater Yankee that someone who was never considered the best player in their league (or even best pitcher, as he's never won a Cy Young award either; though he has been close, there) is a greater Yankee than any of that dozen MVP winners. Even if you throw out the one-time winners, that's still five amazing ball-players. So, obviously, his peak was not as high as any of those guys.

How about we compare them on WAR (as tabulated at baseball-reference) as Yankees:
Rivera: 56.1
A-Rod: 44.0 (in eight seasons)
Donnie Baseball: 39.8
Thurman Munson: 43.4
Elston Howard: 28.7
Mickey Mantle: 120.2
Roger Maris: 27.9
Yogi Berra: 62.1
Phil Rizzuto: 41.8
Joe DiMaggio: 83.6
Spud Chandler: 26
Joe Gordon: 36.3
Lou Gehrig: 118.4 (though only 23.6 after the Babe left)

And a couple of others, just for comparison
Babe Ruth: 149.6
Derek Jeter: 70.5

Rivera actually compares better, there, than I expected, to many of those players. You could easily rate him ahead of most of those guys. But it still seems awfully difficult to rate him ahead of ALL of those guys. DiMaggio, Gehrig, and Mantle seem especially difficult, and Berra also a stretch.

Also, the article had a comparison of top ERAs with 1000IP. Unsurprisingly, Rivera is at the top of the list. But let me add another column to his chart, innings pitched.

Rivera: 2.22, 1209
Wilhelm: 2.52, 2254
Ford: 2.75, 3170
Quisenberry: 2.76, 1043
Sandy Koufax: 2.76, 2324

So three of the other four pitched FAR more innings than Rivera. Though they did pitch in more favorable eras for pitchers, so there's that. But the point is that the chart was, at best, unconvincing. Another part it misses is that being used in a relief role (especially one almost entirely of the one-inning variety) significantly (and consistently) reduces your ERA. A 2.22 ERA as a reliever is not as good as a 3.0 ERA as a starter (I forget the exact amount, and can't find it now, but that much is true). But it certainly begs the question of why the Yankees never moved him back to starting. Plus, it significantly reduces the persuasiveness of the second chart, on postseason ERA. His postseason record is still damned impressive, but not quite as much as that chart appears. it is demonstrably easier to do that when you never face a batter more than once in a game.

Again, I'm not trying to say he's not a great pitcher. He is. He's almost certainly the greatest reliever ever (I haven't done any specific research to be completely confident in that analysis but I wouldn't be surprised if it isn't even close). And he probably would have been much greater as a starter. His rate stats wouldn't be as impressive, but his overall value would be much higher.

But the main point is that it is absurd to call him the greatest Yankee since Ruth. Absolutely absurd. Being a reliever just didn't give him the opportunities to even get into that conversation. Did he do everything possible to get into that conversation, given his role? Absolutely. But it's still ridiculous.

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