In a sport full of statistics, determining the best closers in baseball history is interesting because relief pitching and the save statistic are relatively new. The closer has become an essential piece to any baseball team today, and these players all helped to set new standards for how the game is played.
- Eric Gagne. Eric Gagne was the most dominant closer in the major leagues in the early 2000s. He set a major league record by recording 84 consecutive saves from August 26, 2002 until July 5, 2004. Unfortunately, he was named as a player who used steroids. Still, his record is impressive and earns him a spot on the list of the best closers in baseball history.
- John Smoltz. Like Dennis Eckersley, John Smoltz was able to make the switch from starter to closer. Because of arm injuries he moved to closer for three years, and was dominant, recording 55, 45, and 44 saves. The way Smoltz excelled earns him a spot on this list of the best closers in baseball history. He is probably a Hall of Famer even without the closer credentials.
- Francisco Rodriguez. Francisco Rodriguez, also known as K-Rod because he strikes out so many batters, holds the single-season record for saves at 62 in 2008. He is the only player in major league history to reach 60 saves in a season, and it is just the eleventh time anyone ever reached the 50 save plateau. He currently has 243 career saves putting him at 31st all time, and he is just 28 years old.
- Trevor Hoffman. The all-time saves leader. This should be enough said. Trevor Hoffman has 591 career saves. He has a devastating change-up and has managed to reinvent himself after an injury in 2003. Hoffman could become the first player to ever record 600 saves in his career.
- Lee Smith. Lee Smith held the career saves record for a long time, and was one of the first closers in baseball history used consistently. He had already gotten his start by the time Dennis Eckersley started closing. Smith had 478 career saves, and many feel he is deserving of the Hall of Fame.
- Rich Gossage. The most recent addition to the Hall of Fame, Rich “Goose” Gossage is eighteenth all time on the career saves list. He was early one of the best closers in baseball history, and the fact that he is one of the few relief pitchers in the Hall of Fame shows how valuable of a closer he was.
- Bruce Sutter. Bruce Sutter is another player who paved the way for relief pitchers in baseball today. He is one of the few relief pitchers in the Hall of Fame. He won the NL Cy Young award in 1979 when he recorded 37 saves and had a 2.22 ERA. He retired with 300 career saves. He is was the first pitcher in the Hall of Fame never to start a game in his career.
- Dennis Eckersley. Dennis Eckersley or “Eck”, a Hall of Famer, may be the most responsible for popularizing the closer position. There were other successful closers in baseball history before him, but his dominance made garnered more respect for the relief role itself. He is one of only two players to record 50 saves in a season and 20 wins in a season, John Smoltz is the other. He is fifth on the all time saves list at 390 saves.
- Mariano Rivera. Mariano Rivera and closer just go together. He has played his entire career with the Yankees and is currently second all time in saves at 526. He has reached 50 saves twice, the only other player to do that is Eric Gagne. Rivera has pitched in about as many pressure situations as anyone, especially early in his career when the Yankees seemed to be in contention for the World Series on a yearly basis
- Rollie Fingers. Perhaps the original dominant relief pitcher in baseball history, Rollie Fingers and his signature mustache, finished his career with 341 saves, which was a major league record until 1992. He won the American League MVP and Cy Young in 1981. He is generally regarded as the pioneer of relief pitching.