For all the attention Derek Jeter received for his 3,000th career hit, it's odd that Mariano Rivera's own milestone chase has garnered little to no fanfare. But after saving a game on Monday against the Orioles, Rivera needs just three more saves to become only the second player in history with 600 in his career, and just two more after that to surpass Trevor Hoffman as the all-time saves record holder. Monday's save was also the 69th of his career against the Orioles, establishing a new high for a closer against any one team.
Rivera's soon-to-be record will be nearly impossible to break, considering the closer position isn't exactly built on longevity. All it takes is one bad stretch or a rash of injuries to forever supplant someone from the closer role. There are no other immediate challengers to threaten the record; No. 2 on the active saves list is Francisco Cordero, who's 36 years old and 277 saves behind Rivera.
So what would it take for a young closer like Craig Kimbrel or Neftali Feliz to actually get to 600 saves? A whole lotta luck. If we throw out Rivera's first two seasons in the league, when he began his career as a starter and tallied only five saves, he's collected 595 saves in the span of 15 seasons. That's an average of 39.5 per year, so let's round that up to 40 to account for the saves he's yet to pick up this season. There have never been more than ten closers in a single year to record 40 saves, so to break Rivera's record, one would conceivably have to be among the top ten closers every season for 15 seasons, while staying healthy enough to last into their 40's, while managing to hold off some young upstart from taking their job, while be on a team good enough to generate enough save opportunities in the first place. And to get that many saves, that closer would have to be at least as good as Hoffman and Rivera, who have the highest save percentage of any closers with at least 300 saves, with an 89% save rate.
That's a whole lot of stipulations. A closer like Kimbrel or Feliz could get derailed for any number of reasons, among them that they could very well move into the starting rotation at some point, ala Derek Lowe. Remember, the very best pitching prospects aren't being groomed to walk into the one-inning-per-outing closer role. They're almost all starters. Pitchers tend to fall into the closer position by default, because being a starter somehow didn't work for them. It's incredibly rare nowadays for a big-time stud to be destined for the bullpen; Aroldis Chapman is perhaps the only active example, although that's because is his stuff is good to such an extent that they're afraid being a starter would shorten his career.
In other words, finding someone to best Rivera's soon-to-be record means finding someone at least as great as Rivera was, but not so great that they'd be better suited in a 200-inning-per-year starting role. As Lucius Fox said to the guy threatening to expose Batman's identity in The Dark Knight, "Good luck."