Archive for May 31st, 2011

After suffering a third consecutive blown save, Joakim Soria has been at least temporarily relieved of his duties as Kansas City Royals’ closer.

Over the past four seasons, Soria not only established himself as one of the best closers in the game, but also began to draw comparisons to the great Mariano Rivera. That’s what makes his sudden demotion so shocking. Then again, maybe we shouldn’t be that surprised? Since Rivera ascended to the throne of the game’s greatest closer, there have been many would-be challengers to his crown, but none have been able to stand the test of time. Meanwhile, the 41-year old Rivera keeps rolling along.

In addition to Soria, other closers who have either drawn comparison to or been billed as “the next Mariano Rivera” include Billy Wagner, Francisco Rodriguez, Jonathan Papelbon and Brad Lidge. In addition, at one time, it was suggested by some that closers like Joe Nathan and Eric Gagne had actually surpassed the great Rivera. Although many of these pitchers have had one or two seasons as good as or better than Rivera, none have maintained his longevity or consistency. And, while the youngest of the bunch, Soria, Papelbon and Krod, are still capable of striving for the throne, each has had at least one hiccup, something Rivera has avoided to this day.

WAR of Top Relievers, by Age and Season, 1996 to 2011

Note: “Top” closers, such as Troy Percival and Trevor Hoffman, who pre-dated Mariano Rivera not considered.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

What has made Mariano Rivera the undisputed king of closers is how long he has been able to sustain his dominance. While the career trajectories of his contemporaries have tended to flatten out over time, Rivera has maintained an almost steady climb well past the age when most closers begin to falter. It remains to be seen for how much longer Rivera’s career path with continue its inexorable climb of greatness, but as younger challengers to throne continue to fall by the wayside, it’s still “long live the King”.

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