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500 saves: Mariano Rivera versus Trevor Hoffman

Sunday night Mariano Rivera joined Trevor Hoffman as the only members of the 500-save club, so I thought it would be interesting to compare their Hall of Fame careers:

Hoffman 953 1011 2.76 57 572 9.6 2.5 0.8 .210
Rivera 881 1054 2.30 69 500 8.3 2.1 0.5 .213

Hoffman’s strikeout rate is 15 percent higher than Rivera’s and ranks as the fourth-best of all time among pitchers with at least 1,000 innings, which is amazing for a guy whose average fastball has clocked in at 85.5 miles per hour since that data started being recorded in 2002. His otherworldly changeup is the reason and likely ranks as one of the most effective pitches in the history of baseball.

Of course, Rivera’s cutter should also be on that list of most-effective pitches and probably tops Hoffman’s changeup given that it’s basically all he’s thrown for 15 years. Rivera hasn’t missed as many bats as Hoffman, but then again he hasn’t needed to. He’s handed out 15 percent fewer walks and, most importantly, served up 40 percent fewer homers.

To me the most interesting aspect of the 500-save club is how incredibly different the two members are from each other. Hoffman is a fastball-changeup artist who induces a ton of fly balls while serving up quite a few homers despite playing in pitcher-friendly ballparks. Rivera is a cutter machine who induces a ton of ground balls and has the 10th-lowest homer rate of any pitcher from the last 50 years.

Two completely different approaches, yet similarly extraordinary results. Since the mound was lowered in 1969, the two lowest ERAs in all of baseball belong to Rivera at 2.30 and Hoffman at 2.76. And they’re still thriving at the ages of 39 and 41, as both pitchers have converted 18-of-19 save opportunities this season while posting sub-3.00 ERAs.

Hoffman is on track for his 14th 30-save season, while Rivera is looking for his 12th 30-save campaign. Rivera has two 50-save seasons compared to just one from Hoffman, but Hoffman’s nine 40-save campaigns beat Rivera’s six. And of course Rivera has 34 career postseason saves (and a 0.77 ERA in 117 playoff innings) compared to just four from Hoffman.

They each look capable of piling up saves well beyond this season, but once they do decide to retire it’d be interesting if they both call it quits at the same time. That way the Hall of Fame induction could feature both “Enter Sandman” and “Hells Bells” as debates raged on about who should get the call to close out the ceremony.