The 10 Best MLB Closers of All Time

The closers do what their name suggests; they close a game. They are in control of the ninth innings of a baseball match. Between the two teams, who will have the last laugh depends on the performance of the closing pitchers.

They play one of the most crucial roles in Baseball. They pitch the innings to the batters in the last innings when the game is decided. Their role is very difficult, as the pressure is too much, especially when playing in the MLB.

However, some of them were so good in their role that they would create psychic pressure on the batters before pitching the ball. Their vicious pitches were nightmares for the batters.

A closer needs to have certain qualities that help him to save his team. Physical prowess, mental aptitude, ability to take the pressure, vision, ability to pitch against both left and right-handers, and ability to maintain their composure are the major ones.

In this article, we will see the ten best MLB closers of all time who had all the qualities and won many matches for their teams.

Best MLB Closers of All Time

Judging by Several Criteria Across Different Generations of Major League Baseball, Our Ten Best MLB Closers of all Time Are:

Player NameCareerSaves
Mariano Rivera1995-2013608
Trevor Hoffman1993-2010601
Billy Wagner1995-2010422
Lee Smith1980-1997478
Dennis Eckersley1975-1998390
Rollie Fingers1968-1985341
Rich “Goose” Gossage1972-1994310
Bruce Sutter1976-1988300
Hoyt Wilhelm1952-1972227
Robb Nen1993-2002314

1. Mariano Rivera

Full NameMariano Rivera
Date of BirthNovember 29, 1969
Place of BirthPanama City, Panama
DebutMay 23, 1995 (New York Yankees)
TeamsNew York Yankees
PositionsRelief Pitcher
Last MLB GameSeptember 26, 2013 (New York Yankees)
Hall of Fame2019 (100% Votes)

Career Highlights:

World Series Championship: 5 Times  (1996, 1998–2000, 2009)

World Series MVP: 1 Time (1999)

All-Star: 13 Times (1997, 1999–2002, 2004–2006, 2008–2011, 2013)

Saves Leader: 3 Times (1999, 2001, 2004)

AL Rolaids Relief Man Award: 5 Times (1999, 2001, 2004–2005, 2009)

Delivery Man of the Year: 3 Times (2005–2006, 2009)

Among all the other positions on the list, it was the easiest pick, as no one comes too close to Rivera when it comes to “saving” the team. With his velocity and cutter, he dominated the game like no one closer in the MLB.

Rivera debuted in 1993 with the New York and stayed with the team till the end of his career. During this time, he helped the Yankees win five World Series championships, and he was also the MVP of the World Series once in 1999.

The thirteen-time all-star Mariano Rivera was a threat to the opposing batters. His presence would create pressure on the hitters. Between 2005 and 2009, he was at the peak of his game and bagged three delivery man of the year and two of his five Relief Man Awards.

Rivera had a win-loss record of 82-60, and with 652, he leads the list of most saves leaders. His greatness can be seen during the voting of his Hall of Fame induction when he received a record 100% votes, a feat that even some of the best pitchers or hitters of all time did not achieve. The Yankees retired his number 42 to honor his legacy.

Career Stats of Mariano Rivera:


2. Trevor Hoffman

Full NameTrevor William Hoffman
Date of BirthOctober 13, 1967
Place of BirthBellflower, California, U.S
DebutApril 6, 1993 (Florida Marlins)
TeamsFlorida Marlins, San Diego Padres, and Milwaukee Brewers
PositionsRelief Pitcher
Last MLB GameSeptember 29, 2010 (Milwaukee Brewers)
Hall of Fame2018 (79.9%)

Career Highlights:

All-Star: 7 Times  (1998–2000, 2002, 2006, 2007, 2009)

Saves Leader: 2 Times (1998, 2006)

Rolaids Relief Man Award: 2 Times (1998, 2006)

Sometimes you cannot judge a player only by the number of awards he has won, especially in the MLB, as it is a team game. One player cannot win the game for you. One such player is Trevor Hoofman, who never lifted the World Series championship.

The two-time saves leader had a total of seven all-star appearances in an eighteen-year-long career. He spent the majority of his career with the San Diego Padres from 1993 to 2008. He was so dominant in the 90s that during his peak time, even the great Lee Smith seemed to be a formidable closer.

Hoffman recorded a total of 1133 strikeouts from his 1035 game appearances and made 601 saves, the second most in the history of the MLB for a closer. After playing over a thousand games, Hoffman decided to retire in 2010. He was soon inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame with a 79% vote.

Career Stats of Trevor Hoffman:


3. Billy Wagner

Full NameWilliam Edward Wagner
Date of BirthJuly 25, 1971
Place of BirthMarion, Virginia, U.S.
DebutSeptember 13, 1995 (Houston Astros)
TeamsHouston Astros, Philadelphia Phillies, Boston Red Sox, New York Mets, and Atlanta Braves 
Last MLB GameOctober 3, 2010 (Atlanta Brave)

Career Highlights:

World Series Championship:

All-Star: 7 Times (1999, 2001, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2008, 2010)

Rolaids Relief Man Award: 1 Time (1999)

The electrifying Billy “The Kid” Wagner was a strikeout machine. The left-hander recorded a total of 1197 strikeouts in his career, along with 422 saves.

His pitching was bad for the batter; he would strike out nearly 12 batters per nine innings. His fastball was in the high 90s, and he eventually switched to a slider for his second pitch. Most of the harm was caused by the fastball.

During his time, his fastball was one of the most challenging pitches a batter could face. Wagner played in five teams in the MLB, never signing a much longer contract with any team. Perhaps, the legend was looking for a team that would keep pace with him to win the World Series, but that did not happen in reality.

Wagner played at the same time as Rivera and Hoffman, so despite being such a great closer, he was often overlooked and overshadowed by the other two. It is surprising how the three best MLB closers of all time have dominated the game at the same time and also had their debut nearly at the same time.

Wagner recorded a win-loss record of 47-40. He made 422 saves in his career from 853 games and never started a game. Wagner retired in 2010 and was inducted into the Astron’s Hall of Fame class.

Career Stats of Billy Wagner:


4. Lee Smith

Full NameLee Arthur Smith
Date of BirthDecember 4, 1957
Place of BirthJamestown, Louisiana, U.S.
DebutSeptember 1, 1980 (Chicago Cubs)
TeamsChicago Cubs, Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, St. Louis Cardinals, California Angels, Baltimore Orioles, Cincinnati Reds, and Montreal Expos 
Last MLB GameJuly 2, 1997 (Montreal Expos)
Hall of Fame2019 (100% Votes)

Career Highlights:

All-Star: 7 Times (1983, 1987, 1991–1995)

Rolaids Relief Man Award: 3 Times (1991, 1992, 1994)

Saves Leader: 4 Times (1983, 1991, 1992, 1994)

One of the most dominant closers from the 90s is Lee Smith. His career lasted for 18 years. During this time, he played for eight different teams. The seven-time all-star had some great seasons in his career, but his peak was from 1991 to 1995. He never missed an all-star appearance during this time.

Smith became Saves leader four times and recorded a career total of 478 saves from 1022 games. He set a record of 47 saves in one season with the Cardinals.

Sadly, Smith never won the World Series title despite playing for eight teams. But that does not take away his glory. In 2019, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame with 100% votes, which shows how good he was at playing his role.

Career Stats of Lee Smith:


5. Dennis Eckersley

Full NameDennis Lee Eckersley 
Date of BirthOctober 3, 1954
Place of BirthOakland, California, U.S.
DebutApril 12, 1975 (Cleveland Indians)
TeamsCleveland Indians, Boston Red Sox, Oakland Athletics, Chicago Cubs, St. Louis Cardinals, and Boston Red Sox 
Last MLB GameSeptember 26, 1998 (Boston Red Sox)
Hall of Fame2004 (83.2% Votes)

Career Highlights:

World Series Championship: 1 Time (1989)

All-Star: 6 Times (1977, 1982, 1988, 1990–1992)

Saves Leader: 2 Times  (1988, 1992)

AL Rolaids Relief Man Award: 2 Times (1988, 1992)

Dennis Eckersley was a master of the ninth innings pitching. He debuted in 1975 with the Cleveland Indians and immediately found success in the league. In 1997, he had his first all-star appearance. However, his peak time was 1988-1992 when he was in the Oakland Athletes.

In 1992, he was named the best pitcher of the year and won the Cy Young award and the MVP of the year, a rare feat for a closer. He received the best closer award twice and also had been the Saves leader two times.

Eckersley won the World Series with the Athletics once. His career win-loss record stands as 197-171, along with 2401 strikeouts. Eckersley received the Baseball Hall of Fame recognition in 2004.

Career Stats of Dennis Eckersley:


6. Rollie Fingers

Full NameRoland Glen Fingers
Date of BirthAugust 25, 1946
Place of BirthSteubenville, Ohio, U.S.
DebutSeptember 15, 1968 (Oakland Athletics)
TeamsOakland Athletics, San Diego Padres, and Milwaukee Brewers
Last MLB GameSeptember 17, 1985 (Milwaukee Brewers)
Hall of Fame1992 (81.16% Votes)

Career Highlights:

World Series Championship: 3 Times (1972–1974)

Cy Young Award: 1 Time (1981)

All-Star: 7 Times All-Star (1973–1976, 1978, 1981, 1982)

Most Valuable Player: 1 Time (1981)
World Series MVP: 1 Time (1974)

Saves Leader: 3 Times  (1977, 1978, 1981)

Rolaids Relief Man Award 4 times(1977, 1978, 1980, 1981)

Rollie Fingers had won everything in the  MLB. He had been a World Series champion team member three times, seven times all-star, won the best pitcher award, best closer award, and even the most valuable player of the year award in 1981. He really had an enviable career as a closer.

It is hard to define his peak time in the MLB, as he was constantly winning awards till 1982. Nonetheless, you can count his peak from 1977 to 1981. During this time, he became unhittable and bagged the Rolaids Relief Man award and became the MVP in 1981. Before that, he won the World Series MVP in 1974.

Fingers continued to win honors and awards even after retirement. Both Milwaukee Brewers and Oakland Athletics retired his number 34, and Milwaukee Brewers inducted him in the Wall of Honor. In 1992, he received the Baseball Hall of Fame honor with 81.16 percent votes.

Career Stats of Rollie Fingers:


7. Rich “Goose” Gossage

Full NameRichard Michael “Goose” Gossage
Date of BirthJuly 5, 1951
Place of BirthColorado Springs, Colorado, U.S
DebutApril 16, 1972 (Chicago White Sox)
TeamsChicago White Sox, Pittsburgh Pirates, New York Yankees, Texas Rangers, Fukuoka Daiei Hawks, San Diego Padres, Chicago Cubs, San Francisco Giants, Oakland Athletics, and Seattle Mariners
Last MLB GameAugust 8, 1994 (Seattle Mariners)
Hall of Fame2008 (85.8% Votes)

Career Highlights:

World Series Championship: 1 Time (1978)

All-Star: 9 Times (1975–1978, 1980–1982, 1984, 1985)

Saves Leader: 3 Times (1975, 1978, 1980)

AL Rolaids Relief Man Award: 1 time  (1978)

Gossage was one of the fiercest closers who had played for ten clubs in the leagues. While playing for the Yankees was a career goal for many players in the last century, Gossage left the Yankees not once but twice.

After his debut in 1971 with the Chicago White Sox, Gossage never settled down in any team. He kept changing teams, and all the teams always welcomed him. In his twenty-year-long career, he became a nine times all-star and was the World Series champion in 1978.

Gossage was the Saves leader three times and the best closer in 1978. He had a total of 310 saves in his career, with 1502 strikeouts. He was also famous for his mustache.

Gossage retired in 1994 and received a Monument Park honoree. In 2008, he received the Baseball Hall of Fame award.

Career Stats of Rich Gossage:


8. Bruce Sutter

Full NameHoward Bruce Sutter
Date of BirthJanuary 8, 1953
Place of BirthLancaster, Pennsylvania, U.S.
DebutMay 9, 1976 (Chicago Cubs)
TeamsChicago Cubs, St. Louis Cardinals, and Atlanta Braves
Last MLB GameSeptember 9, 1988 (Atlanta Braves)
Hall of Fame2006 (76.9% Votes)
DeathOctober 13, 2022

Career Highlights:

World Series Championship: 1 Time (1982)

All-Star: 6 Times (1977–1981, 1984)

NL Cy Young Award: 1 Time (1979)

Saves Leader: 5 Times (1979–1982, 1984)

Bruce Sutter had a short but impactful career. He played for three different teams and won the Saves Leader award five times.

Bruce was on top throughout his career. However, his peak was 1978-1982. During this time, he was the Save’s leader for four consecutive years. He recorded a total of 300 saves in his career only from 661 games which put him in the class of the best MLB closers of all time. During a 1978 all-star game, Gossage recorded a 103 mph pitch.

After his retirement in 1988, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2006. The legendary closer died in 2022 on October 13.

Career Stats of Bruce Sutter:


9. Hoyt Wilhelm

Full NameJames Hoyt Wilhelm
Date of BirthJuly 26, 1922
Place of BirthHuntersville, North Carolina, U.S
DebutApril 18, 1952 (New York Giants)
TeamsNew York Giants, St. Louis Cardinals, Baltimore Orioles, Chicago White Sox, California Angels, Cleveland Indians, and Los Angeles Dodgers
Last MLB GameJuly 10, 1972 (Los Angeles Dodgers)
Hall of Fame1985 (83.8% Votes)
DeathAugust 23, 2002

Career Highlights:

World Series Championship: 1 Time (1954)

All-Star: 8 Times (1953, 1959, 1959², 1961–1962², 1970)

ERA leader: 2 Times (1952, 1959)

Nicknamed the “Old Sarge,” Hoyt Wilhelm had an impactful twenty years career. Unlike most players, Wilhelm began his pro career at the age of thirty and went on to play till fifty. His devastating knuckleball would give any batsman of his time a nightmare.

Wilhelm played in seven different clubs but gave his best performance in the Baltimore Orioles, which was the peak of his career. From 1952 to 1962, he had five all-star appearances. He was also the ERA leader in 1952 and 1959.

By the end of his career, Wilhelm would have a win-loss record of 142-122. He retired in 1972 and was honored with the Baseball Hall of Fame recognition in 1985. He received 83.8% votes for this.

Career Stats of Hoyt Wilheim:


10. Robb Nen 

Full NameRobb Allen Nen
Date of BirthNovember 28, 1969
Place of BirthSan Pedro, California, U.S.
DebutApril 10, 1993, (Texas Rangers)
TeamsTexas Rangers
Last MLB GameSeptember 28, 2002 (San Francisco Giants)

Career Highlights:

World Series Championship: 1 Time  (1997)

All-Star: 3 Times (1998, 1999, 2002)

Saves Leader: 1 Time (2001)

Robb Nen had all the potential to be on the top five of this list. Unfortunately, due to injury, his career tenure lasted only ten years. Nevertheless, within this short time, he accomplished more than three hundred saves and had a 45-42 win-loss record.

After debuting in 1992 with the Texas Ranger, Nen quickly moved on to join the Florida Marlins and helped the team win their first-ever World Series title. The very next season, he joined the San Francisco Giants and later received the club’s Wall of Fame honor.

Due to a torn rotator cuff injury, his career was cut short, and he retired in 2002. Nen is yet to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Career Stats of Robb Nen:



The closers have to defend the score in the ninth innings, which is the most difficult task to do and requires nerves, strength, and great throws. The players on the list were as perfect as one could be and so are honored as the best MLB closers of all time.

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Toybur Rahman is a seasoned MLB journalist with over 4 years of experience covering the league for various online media publications. He has a deep understanding of the sport, a keen eye for detail, and a great talent for breaking down compound issues into easy-to-understand language.


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