Blog Entry

Can Papelbon catch Rivera in career saves?

Posted on: June 8, 2011 1:45 pm
Edited on: June 8, 2011 2:21 pm
Rivera, Papelbon

By Evan Brunell

Jonathan Papelbon reached a milestone Tuesday, by notching his 200th career save and becoming the fastest closer to 200 saves. He did so in 359 games, breaking Mariano Rivera's record by 23 games.

Papelbon's had a tough go of it lately. His 3.90 ERA set last season was a career high over the 2.65 mark he tossed up in his rookie year, when he started three games and relieved in an additional 15 with no saves to his ledger. A couple of disastrous stints recently have lifted his ERA to 4.50, but all told is having one of his finer seasons in the majors as his 2.16 xFIP indicates.

Papelbon, who admitted that getting his 200th save was special for him, had effusive praise for Rivera, whom the Red Sox tried to entice this offseason with a two-year deal to replace Papelbon.

“I think I’ve said this 100 times, I’ve always called him the godfather. That’s what he is: he’s the godfather of this role,’’ Papelbon told the Boston Globe. “He’s the one that has made this role what it is today. There’s no ifs, ands, or buts about it."

All true. Rivera doesn't hold the career saves record set by Trevor Hoffman last season, but with 16 saves on the season he is just 26 away from the record of 601. (Check out an interview with Hoffman conducted by MLB, and his opinion of Rivera passing his record.) At age 41, his streak of a sub-2.00 ERA doesn't appear to be ending anytime soon, as well as his career. At the rate Rivera is going, he could be the best closer in the game at age 50.

But does Papelbon have a chance of catching and passing Rivera for all-time saves? After all, if Papelbon beat Rivera to 200 career saves, it stands to reason he could overtake Rivera by the time Papelbon is ready to hang up his cleats. Rivera was 31 when he hit 200 saves. Papelbon, at a full year younger, would seem to have a pretty good chance.

Don't bet on it.

There are two major reasons while Papelbon will not match Rivera's mark and could struggle to even reach 500. The first is the fact that Rivera is an ageless phenomenon, notching more saves from age 35 on than he had up to age 31 with 239. Only Hoffman (249) and Dennis Ecklersley (293) had more, and only four other names are within 100 of Rivera: Jose Mesa, Doug Jones, Hoyt Wilhelm and John Smoltz. Just 14 overall had 100 or more saves at age 35 or older. (See table.) That's rarefied company, and while Papelbon has the talent to last as long as Rivera has, the odds are small.

Closers like Rivera and Hoffman, who last years in the role, are the exception. All too often, it seems that closers have a good five-year run in them before they collapse. To have someone closing for almost two decades at an elite level -- that's an even tougher class to crack. That group is only inhabited by Rivera and Hoffman, and Ecklersley if you choose to include him even though he had a strong 12-year run as a starter before closing. Even if Papelbon can keep up the quality that is allowing him to succeed so far, it's a lot to ask someone to average 40 saves over the next 10 years, which Papelbon would need to do to keep pace.

But can Papelbon keep up what's gotten him so far? He lacks a signature pitch that doesn't rely on velocity, like Rivera's cut-fastball or Hoffman's "Bugs Bunny" changeup. Papelbon has a great fastball, but he can't keep up that type of heat and command consistently over the next decade throwing at maximum velocity with each pitch. That would defy the aging process. Take a look at the leaderboard for average fastball velocity for relievers from 2009 to now. How many late 30s/early 40s relievers do you see? (None; the only one older than 35 with at least a 94-mph fastball is Francisco Cordero at age 36.)

To last into his late 30s and early 40s, which Papelbon has to do to catch up with Rivera, one of his secondary pitches is going to have to improve. The splitter? Not likely, as the effectiveness of that pitch goes along with the fastball. He also has a quality slider, but it's certainly not a Daniel Bard slider; it's one that he uses to keep batters honest but is not a put-away pitch.

Papelbon may have been the fastest to reach 200 saves, but barring turning into a freak of nature (which is exactly what Rivera is), don't bet on Papelbon passing Rivera -- or even Hoffman -- on the career saves list.

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Since: Dec 2, 2011
Posted on: December 10, 2011 1:26 am

Can Papelbon catch Rivera in career saves?

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Since: Dec 2, 2011
Posted on: December 5, 2011 10:14 pm

Can Papelbon catch Rivera in career saves?

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Since: Nov 7, 2010
Posted on: June 9, 2011 7:05 am

Can Papelbon catch Rivera in career saves?

i don't like Paplebon as closer...for me he is nothing special..good but not outstanding..also this year he is really awful...
but..i see him better as a starter...
if 1-run game sure a young Hoffman or Rivera are another level compare to Paple...Boston figure out the man of the future is Bard..I wouldn't be surprised if they trade him at the deadline for a starter

Since: Nov 2, 2006
Posted on: June 9, 2011 5:42 am

What about Hoffman?

I know Rivera is going to pass Hoffman, but can't he get some love until it happens?  What if Rivera gets hurt this season and is done, then we are asking if Papelbon can catch Rivera, who isn't even the saves leader.... I am a yankee fan, but I'm just saying If you ask will Papelbon be better than Rivera, then you can comment, but out-save him is still second place so put hoffman in the picture and give him his dues.  I live in San Diego and I think NYY vs Bos trumps the rest of US... so people aren't even thinking of Hoffman when this article is written.. i know it mentions him, but he just broke the record.. give hoff some love.

Since: Dec 9, 2009
Posted on: June 8, 2011 3:17 pm

Can Papelbon catch Rivera in career saves?

He could catch Rivera, I think it is unlikely but he could. Rivera did not become a full time closer until he was around 28 years old; Papelbon  around 26. Marino was a starter then a setup man for longer so he had more games and relief appearances before he started closing. So Papelbon could catch him in career saves since he might be able to closer for a longer period.

But if anyone thinks that Papelbon is or ever will be as good as Rivera you are out of your mind. Rivera is the greatest closer of all time because he has been the most dominant ever. That’s all that needs to be said. Hell Jamie Moyer has all most 50 more wins than Pedro Martinez but I will never say he was a better pitcher because it would be just as crazy.

Since: Oct 10, 2006
Posted on: June 8, 2011 2:24 pm

Can Papelbon catch Rivera in career saves?

Comments coming from a bunch of Yankee homers is hilarious. Maybe your just mad cause he slammed the door on ya last night for another save. "Whatmatters"....nothing you have to say. Go RedSox!

Since: Jun 24, 2007
Posted on: June 8, 2011 2:12 pm

Can Papelbon catch Rivera in career saves?

Agreed that Pap will probably never catch Rivera...that cutter has made Rivera ageless, but to be fair, Rivera's never really been an intimidating presence either it was always his stuff.  Just sayin'

Since: Feb 8, 2008
Posted on: June 8, 2011 1:54 pm

Can Papelbon catch Rivera in career saves?

Paps will finish his career somewhere in the 350-400 save area. He relies too much on his power fastball to blow people by. Once that starts to fade, so will his saves.

Since: Aug 19, 2006
Posted on: June 8, 2011 1:53 pm

Can Papelbon catch Rivera in career saves?

Thanks for answering your own question. Papelbon will be lucky to get to 400. He's just not that good. Even mentioning him in the same sentence as someone on that level is an insult to the game. Besides, who looks dumber than Papelbon before he pitches? He doesn't seem to know that he isn't intimidating in the slightest.

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