Best Baseball Relief Pitchers Ever
Jeff Reardon is 54 years old and hails from Massachusetts. His baseball nickname was “The Terminator.” In 1988, Jeff Reardon became the first pitcher who had saved 40 games in a season in both leagues. He was also a four-time All Star, and earned a World Series ring in 1987 with the Minnesota Twins.
Reardon began his career in baseball with the Mets, and he pitched for seven teams during his career, which spanned 1979 to 1994. In 1985 he was the best closer in the league for the Expos. In 1992, Reardon broke the all-time Major League Baseball career saves record. His career total of 367 currently saves ranks 7th in history.
Bruce Sutter is 57 years old and grew up in Pennsylvania. Hank Greenwald once said of him “Three more saves and he ties John the Baptist.” Bruce Sutter became the first pitcher voted into the Hall of Fame who had never started a game.
He helped the 1982 St. Louis Cardinals win the World Series, and he was chosen for the All Star team six times. Sutter pitched in the major leagues from 1976 to 1988, starting with the Cubs and ultimately retiring with the Braves.
At the time of his retirement, he had the 3rd most saves (300) in history, and a career Earned Run Average of 2.83. Sutter led the league in saves for five seasons, and he won the Cy Young Award in 1979. It was he who made the split-finger fastball a household word.
Rollie Fingers is 63 years old and from California. In 1981, while pitching for the Oakland Athletics, he not only won the Cy Young Award but the Most Valuable Player Award as well. Rollie Fingers pitched on the Athletics team that won three straight World Championships from 1972-1974, and he was named relief pitcher of the year four times during his baseball career.
Fingers also established a new career saves record in 1980, and his final career total of 341 saves stood as the record for 12 seasons. He pitched from 1968 to 1985, including stints with both the Padres and Brewers, while posting a career ERA of 2.90. Fingers has been credited with being the first closer in Major League Baseball.
Dennis Eckersley is 55 years old and was raised in California. He posted 390 career saves, good for 5th all time. In 1992, Dennis Eckersley won both the Cy Young Award and the Most Valuable Player Award. He is the only pitcher on this page who was an outstanding starter early in his career.
In 1975, Eckersley won the Rookie of the Year Award while playing with the Cleveland Indians, and two years later he pitched a no-hitter. He set a new league record with 45 saves in 1988 with the Athletics, the same team with which he earned his World Series ring the following year. Three times Eckersley topped the league for saves.
His 1990 season was incredible, posting a 0.61 ERA (5 earned runs surrendered for the YEAR), and became the only pitcher in history to earn more saves than walks allowed.
Eckersley was the first pitcher, and one of only two ever, to become both a 20 game winner and a 50 save closer. He pitched 24 seasons before retiring in 1998---including tours of duty with the Red Sox, Cubs, and Cardinals---and was voted into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot.
John Franco is 49 years old and was reared in Brooklyn. He is the all-time career saves leader for Major League Baseball among left-handed pitchers, with a total of 424, which was 2nd ever for any pitcher when he retired in 2005 and stands 4th today.
John Franco was a 4 time All Star who finished with a career ERA of 2.89. Twice he was the relief pitcher of the year, and he pitched until he was 44 years old, making him the oldest player in baseball that year. Franco pitched in 1119 Major League games---the most ever.
While he started his career with the Reds and ended it with Astros, he is best known for the 14 years he spent with the New York Mets. Franco is unusual in that he threw a screwball.
Lee Smith is 52 Years old and a native of Louisiana. Sportswriter Jim Murray described him as “The best one inning pitcher the game ever saw.” Lee Smith held the major league record for career saves from 1993 to 2006 with 478---still 3rd most ever. His mentor was Fergie Jenkins.
The 6’6” 265 lb. Smith was a 7 time All Star, best known for his 95 mph fastball. He set what was the National League record for saves with 47 in 1991; he led the league in saves four times, and he holds the all time record for Games Finished with 802. Smith had an ERA of only 1.65 in 1983.
He pitched for eight teams over the course of eighteen seasons in the big leagues, starting with the eight years he played for my beloved Chicago Cubs.
Billy Wagner is 38 years old and was originally from Virginia. He is still an active player, and his 385 career saves are 6th most in the history of the game. Billy Wagner set a Major League record in 1997 by striking out 14.4 batters per nine innings for the season.
He has been the relief pitcher of the year once and he was selected six times for the All Star team. Wagner, a left-hander, is not a big man, but he throws the ball 100 mph. After breaking in with the Astros in 1995, he has since pitched for four other clubs. Wagner sports a 2.39 ERA for his CAREER.
Trevor Hoffman is 42 years old and a native Californian. He is the rare pitcher who throws a palmball. Trevor Hoffman holds numerous Major League records including: 8 straight 30 save seasons; 15 seasons with more than 20 saves; 14 years with over 30 saves; 9 with 40 saves or more.
In 2002, Sports Illustrated magazine named him the “greatest closer in baseball history.” Hoffman is a 7 time All Star who had his best year in 1998 when he saved 53 games with an ERA of 1.48. Twice he has been the relief pitcher of the year, and he sports a 2.73 lifetime ERA.
Hoffman pitched briefly with the Marlins, and he is currently rostered by the Brewers, but he is best known as a San Diego Padre, the team with which he logged 16 seasons. He is the all time career saves leader with 591.
Mariano Rivera is 40 years old, and he is a native of Panama. The only team he has played for in the 15 years of his career is the New York Yankees.
Trevor Hoffman says, “Rivera will go down in history as the best reliever in the history of the game.”
Dennis Eckersley chimed in with “The best ever, no doubt.”
In 1999 Mariano Rivera saved 45 games out of 49 opportunities, with a 1.83 ERA, and at one point was not scored upon for 43 consecutive innings; in 2004 he made good on 53 of 57 save chances while posting an ERA of 1.94; in 2005 he converted 43 out of 47 with an ERA of 1.38; in 2008 he blew only one save opportunity in 40 tries, finishing with an 1.40 ERA---and he only walked a total of six hitters in the entire SEASON.
Rivera possesses many all time postseason records including: 34 consecutive scoreless innings; 23 consecutive saves; 39 career saves; and a career ERA of 0.74. Rivera is a ten-time All Star; five-time relief pitcher of the year; and a five-time World Champion.
He has accomplished all of this with essentially one pitch: a devastating cut fastball. Rivera is currently second in career saves with 526. He has the lowest career ERA in 100 years of baseball at 2.25. Rivera is a devout Christian, and he credits God with all of his success.
UPDATE: Mariano Rivera became the first ever unanimous selection for the Hall of Fame in 2019.