Ten Best Seasons by Relief Pitchers
The discussion of Dennis Eckersley in another thread got me thinking about relief pitchers and my oft-stated opinion that "closer" is a BS position. So who have been the most valuable relief pi6.tchers and in which seasons? I ranked them by RAA (runs allowed less than average), but the order wouldn't change much if I did something more complicated.
- John HIller, 1973, Tigers, 65 games, 125 innings, 38 saves, 38 RAA
- Mariano Rivera, 1996, Yankees, 61 games, 108 innings, 5 saves, 37 RAA
- Goose Gossage, 1975, White Sox, 62 games, 142 innings, 26 saves, 37 RAA
- Bruce Sutter, 1977, Cubs, 62 games, 107 innings, 31 saves, 35 RAA
- Dick Radatz, 1964, Red Sox, 67 games, 157 innings, 29 saves, 33 RAA
- Dan Quisenberry, 1983, Royals, 69 games, 139 innings, 45 saves, 31 RAA
- Goose Gossage, 1977, Pirates, 72 games, 133 innings, 26 saves, 30 RAA
- Ted Abernathy, 1967, Reds, 70 games, 106 innings, 28 saves, 30 RAA
- Willie Hernandez, 1984, Tigers, 80 games, 140 innings, 32 saves, 29 RAA
- Lindy McDaniel, 1960, Cardinals, 65 games, 116 innings, 27 saves, 29 RAA
- Ellis Kinder, 1951, Red Sox, 63 games, 127 innings, 16 saves, 29 RAA
- The only season when Rivera made the list, and he was almost at the top, was his first year in the bullpen and he wasn't the closer. He pitched great in a lot of other seasons, but he pitched so few innings that he never came close to matching the impact he had in 1996.
- One thing all of these seasons have in common is that the pitcher threw more than 100 innings.
- The percentage of saves to games is 41%, and peaks (with Quis) at 65%. The modern closer is used almost exclusively in save situations and gets a save in 60%-70% of their games. Quisenberry is the only pitcher used in that way who made the list (but see below).
- The average innings per appearance in these seasons is about 1.9, and the lowest ratio here is 1.5 for Abernathy in 1967. Quisenberry in 1983 was brought in to close games, but he was called in the 8th inning, not the ninth inning - he averaged just over 2 innings per appearance.
- Francisco Rodriguez set the record for saves with 62 in 2008, but in 76 games he only pitched 68 innings(!) and saved a grand total of 12 runs compared to an average pitcher, less than half the impact of anyone on the list above.
Study these seasons, and study the seasons modern closers have. It doesn't take much looking to see that modern closers aren't used correctly (assuming the goal is to win games), and studying the list above will show you how great relief pitchers should be used.
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