WASHINGTON -- They stood shoulder to shoulder, more than 1,500 saves, six World Series rings and some of the most decorated late-inning resumes in baseball history between them. It was the type of scene that only unfolds at this stage in October, when baseball’s top late-inning arms earn an audience with, and recognition from, the best to ever do it.
That became reality Saturday night for Josh Hader and Aroldis Chapman, who were selected as MLB’s top relievers in their respective league. Standing on the Nationals Park field prior to World Series Game 4, Yankees closer Chapman was presented the Mariano Rivera American League Reliever of the Year Award by Rivera, and Brewers lefty Josh Hader was presented the Trevor Hoffman National League Reliever of the Year Award by Hoffman. Both are presented by the Hartford, whose president, Doug Elliot, joined MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred for the ceremony.
Last year’s NL winner, Hader joined the Dodgers' Kenley Jansen as the only two players to earn his league’s Reliever of the Year Award in back-to-back-years. It was the first career win for Chapman, who became the second Yankee (Andrew Miller in 2015) to claim the award named after Rivera. Balloting for the awards was conducted among a panel of seven all-time great relievers, including Hall of Famers Rivera and Hoffman, Dennis Eckersley, Rollie Fingers and Lee Smith.
“I tried for many years before to get it but I wasn’t able,” Chapman said through translator Marlon Abreu. “It means a lot, and receiving it from Mariano, someone who also wore the pinstripes, that combination makes it so much more special.”
A six-time All-Star, Chapman claimed it with a routinely dominant age-31 season. He was the anchor of the Yankees’ electric bullpen, converting 37 of 42 save chances and pitching to a 2.21 ERA over 60 appearances. By striking out 36.2 percent of his opponents, holding them to a .182 average, posting a 2.28 FIP and surrendering just three homers, Chapman ranked among the top 10 qualified relievers in all those categories. Chapman’s 273 career saves rank fourth among active pitchers.
“The reason why I say that is because throughout the years, I’ve tried to be the best reliever I can be,” Chapman said. “Every single year I’ve tried being the best I can, do as much as I can on the field.”
Hader racked up a career-high 37 saves in his first year as Milwaukee’s closer after spending his first two MLB seasons in more of an anytime, anywhere high-leverage fireman role. Fifteen of those saves were of four outs or more, by far the most in baseball. Hader also led all qualified relievers with his 47.8 percent strikeout rate, the fourth-highest mark ever posted in a single season. He led NL relievers in WHIP (0.81) and batting average against (.155), while ranking second in saves and Fangraphs’ Wins Above Replacement (2.3) and seventh in ERA (2.62). Hader called it “a great honor to be even in consideration with all the great names that are part of this.”
Sitting next to one another at a table in a Nationals Park holding room on Saturday afternoon, Hader recalled watching as a child as Rivera shone on so many October stages. Chapman said he never knew of Rivera’s accomplishments growing up in Cuba, but learned quickly after defecting to the United States in 2010. Chapman and Rivera met '13, and they’ve grown close since Chapman joined the Yankees in '16.
Asked his impression of when Hader takes the mound, Rivera said “I see myself there, in a lefty version.” Asked his impression of Chapman, Rivera said: “Another one!”
“With both of these gentlemen who win this award, they are always attacking. That’s what I always like to see when relievers come into the game. You have to attack,” Rivera said. “That’s what closers do. No time to play around or waste time. Just go out and get it done.”