A couple months ago, ESPN New York put together a list of the "50 Greatest Yankees". What caught my eye was the rankings of Jeter and Rivera. Jeter was ranked 7th and Rivera was ranked 5th. Rivera over Jeter? That struck me as odd. How can a guy who plays a fraction of games be greater than a guy who plays full games on a regular basis? Jeter has played 2,358 games in pinstripes. Rivera has played in 1,183 innings. Jeter's played twice as many games as Rivera's played innings. Not only does Jeter play more, but he also contributes on both sides of the ball. He's won five gold gloves and his career BA is .312. Jeter's four hits away from being the first Yankee to have 3,000 hits and he's fifteen away from being in the top 25 of all-time.
The case for Rivera is that he's the greatest closer of all-time. While that's certainly true, closers aren't as valuable as they're perceived to be. According to Joe Posnanski, teams haven't been more successful with the modern idea of a closer than they were before. He writes, "Teams held 95.5% of their ninth-inning leads in 2010. Teams held 95.5% of their ninth-inning leads in 1952." That's not to say Rivera doesn't make a difference. Since he joined the Yankees, they have held a lead "97.3% of the time when they lead going into the ninth inning." So he does make a difference, but how much of a difference? If 97.3 is probably the best (or close to it), and 95.5 is the average, that would mean the worst team holds the lead about 93.7 percent of the time. It's definitely a difference, but is it really enough of a difference to say he's greater than Jeter?
I would say no. One guy brings value to the offense and defense for the entire game. The other guy brings value to the defense for one, maybe two, innings. The difference in value is evident in their Wins Above Replacement, with Jeter having 70 and Rivera having 54.4. This isn't to say that Rivera isn't one of the best Yankees of all-time. I just don't see how he can be greater than an all-time great that plays day in and day out. Would you rather have a HOF shortstop and an All-Star closer or a All-Star shortshop and a HOF closer? I'd choose the former.
I'd rather have greatness everyday than greatness occasionally.