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"Welcome to the Hall's of
2003-02-10 00:36
by Mike Carminati

"Welcome to the Hall's of Relief", VII

Previous entries:
The 1870s, '80s, and '90s
The 1900s and '10s
The 1920s, '30s, and '40s
The 1950s
The 1960s
The 1970s

The 1980s

These growing feathers plucked from Caesar's wing
Will make him fly an ordinary pitch,
Who else would soar above the view of men,
And keep us all in servile fearfulness.

- Flavius in Julius Caesar, act 1, sc. 1, l. 72-5 by William "Moose" Shakespeare

Since the turn of the century relief pitching had been a tool in the manager's bag of tricks, but rarely was a valuable member of the staff used exclusively for relief. An odd Firpo Marberry might appear here and there, but mainly a swingman, someone used as a starter and a reliever, either the star or the 10th man on the staff, would act as the reliever. Sometimes whole staffs were used as the support structure for a failing starter. And that's a key point: only when the starter began to fail did the manager turn to a reliever.

These trends changed extremely slowly. More pitchers were used per game and fewer pitchers completed games as time wore on, but the process took literally decades and it was far from a linear progression with retreats and lurches along the way. In the Fifties things began to accelerate as star relievers like Joe Page and Jim Konstanty took center stage. The better starters rarely if ever relieved and swingmen started to be eclipsed by the pure reliever.

In the 1960s the baseball cognoscenti started to experiment more with relief pitching. After the 1950s finally established the bullpen as a key element on the pitching staff, they started to push the envelope. Barriers like 30 saves and 90 relief appearances in a year were crossed. Career relievers like Hoyt Wilhelm, Roy Face, and Lindy McDaniel relieved in more games than anyone who came before them.

The role of the reliever was still being defined, especially that of the closer. The Seventies proved a mercurial time for relievers. Five-man rotations, the designated hitter rule, and expansion caused staff leaders to be worked harder than in the previous few decades. They started more games and completed more games as well. The reliever's role was also becoming one of endurance: 80 appearances and 130 innings pitched were common. Finally, in 1979, Bruce Sutter, who had broken down in the second half because of overuse in the three previous seasons, was used in limited situations. No longer was he asked to pitch almost daily. No longer was he asked to pitch 3 or more innings. He came in in save situations and pitched fewer innings. This came in a year in which two men were used as closers and still appeared in 90 games (Kent Tekulve and Mike Marshall).

Managers, who were looking for the correct way to use their closers and were afraid that the envelop-pushing approach was abusing them, were given a guide. Though it seemed they had been railing for a decade against using a closer in save situations exclusively, the results with Sutter was the tipping point. And the modern reliever that we boo the manager for not bringing in in the seventh inning with the game on the line was born.

Now that this rather lengthy preamble is complete, what exactly did happen in the Eighties, that era when Michael Jackson was still cool and not a pedophile (allegedly, of course, if any of Mr. Jackson's lawyers are reading-he was allegedly cool as well)? The view from 50,000 feet tells us that:

a) the first 40-save season was recorded (45 in 1983 by Dan Quisenberry)

b) Rollie Fingers became the first pitcher to surpass 300 saves in his career, the number that has since become the standard much like 300 wins for a starter, and c)

c) For the first time since the advent of unlimited substitution, relievers outnumbered swingmen by the end of the decade. That trend has continued and now there are almost twice as many pure relievers as swingmen.

d) Higher save totals: Since the beginning of the Eighties there has never been a full season in which someone has not save at least 30 games. Since 1983, when Quisenberry was the first to eclipse 40 saves, there has not been a full season in which someone has not saved 40 games.

e) The number of men who amassed 300 or more relief appearances increased from 31 in the Seventies to 54 in the Eighties. However, the number of men who made 500 or more relief appearances (7) stayed the same: the abuse was subsiding.

f) The number of men with 100 saves for the decade went from 12 in the Seventies to 23 in the Eighties.

g) The top relievers were now saving a larger percentage of their relief appearances. Compare the 100-save relievers of the Seventies and Eighties:
The Seventies:

First	Last	RA	Sv	%Sv
Rollie	Fingers	611	209	34.21%
Sparky	Lyle	600	190	31.67%
Mike	Marshall	618	177	28.64%
Dave	Giusti	467	140	29.98%
Tug	McGraw	533	132	24.77%
Dave	LaRoche	538	122	22.68%
John	Hiller	409	115	28.12%
Gene	Garber	436	110	25.23%
Clay	Carroll	436	106	24.31%
Bruce	Sutter	240	105	43.75%
Rich	Gossage	322	101	31.37%
Terry	Forster	321	100	31.15%
Total	 	5531	1607	29.05%


The Eighties:

First	Last	RA	Sv	%Sv
Jeff	Reardon	629	264	41.97%
Dan	Quisenberry	637	239	37.52%
Lee	Smith	580	234	40.34%
Rich	Gossage	494	206	41.70%
Bruce	Sutter	421	195	46.32%
Dave	Righetti	393	188	47.84%
Dave	Smith	518	176	33.98%
Steve	Bedrosian	438	161	36.76%
John	Franco	393	148	37.66%
Greg	Minton	625	146	23.36%
Willie	Hernandez	564	140	24.82%
Todd	Worrell	281	126	44.84%
Tom	Henke	320	122	38.13%
Ron	Davis	433	121	27.94%
Rollie	Fingers	243	120	49.38%
Jesse	Orosco	476	119	25.00%
Bob	Stanley	465	118	25.38%
Jay	Howell	323	117	36.22%
Gene	Garber	485	108	22.27%
Bill	Caudill	404	106	26.24%
Roger	McDowell	322	103	31.99%
Kent	Tekulve	687	101	14.70%
Dan	Plesac	210	100	47.62%
Total	 	10341	3458	33.44%


Note that only Sutter records a save in more than 40% of his appearances in the Seventies while nine relievers do so in the Eighties.

h) Further note the appearance among the relief appearance leaders more men who were setup men as opposed to closers. Kent Tekulve shows up in the list above even though he was a true closer for only a short period (around 1978-'80). So even though save totals are skyrocketing, men like Craig Lefferts, Larry Andersen, Frank DiPino, and Ed Vande Berg are among the leaders in relief appearances (all 396 or above). And as you go below 400 relief appearances, more and more setup men appear. Frank Williams and Dan Schatzeder both have over 300 relief appearances but have single-digit save totals. No one in the Seventies could claim to have done that. The closers are more dispersed in the relief appearance list as they are used in fewer games but save a higher percentage.

i) Of the ten men who made 80 or more relief appearances in a year in the Seventies, only one was not the team closer (it is somewhat problematic to designate some pitchers as closers in the Seventies since teams used their pens in a diverse way and save totals for the main reliever varied greatly). Of the 14 men who appeared in 80 games or more in a season in the Eighties only two were closers (Quisenberry in '85 and Guillermo Hernandez in '84).

j) Check out the all-time career saves leaders (with 100 or more) after the 1969, 1979, and 1989 seasons:

After 1969         | After 1979         | After 1989 
Name            Sv | Name            Sv | Name              Sv
Hoyt Wilhelm   210 | Hoyt Wilhelm   227 | Rollie Fingers   341
Roy Face       193 | Sparky Lyle    223 | Rich Gossage     307
Stu Miller     154 | Rollie Fingers 221 | Bruce Sutter     300
Ron Perranoski 138 | Roy Face       193 | Jeff Reardon     266
Lindy McDaniel 127 | Mike Marshall  187 | Dan Quisenberry  244
Dick Radatz    122 | Ron Perranoski 179 | Sparky Lyle      238
Don McMahon    119 | Lindy McDaniel 172 | Lee Smith        234
Al Worthington 110 | Stu Miller     154 | Hoyt Wilhelm     227
Ron Kline      107 | Don McMahon    153 | Gene Garber      218
Johnny Murphy  107 | Ted Abernathy  148 | Roy Face         193
Ted Abernathy  106 | Dave Giusti    145 | Dave Righetti    188
John Wyatt     103 | Tug McGraw     145 | Mike Marshall    188
Ellis Kinder   102 | Clay Carroll   143 | Kent Tekulve     184
Firpo Marberry 101 | Darold Knowles 143 | Tug McGraw       180
                   | Jim Brewer     132 | Ron Perranoski   179
                   | John Hiller    125 | Dave Smith       176
                   | Jack Aker      123 | Lindy McDaniel   172
                   | Dick Radatz    122 | Steve Bedrosian  161
                   | Dave LaRoche   122 | Stu Miller       154
                   | Frank Linzy    111 | Don McMahon      153
                   | Al Worthington 110 | Greg Minton      150
                   | Gene Garber    110 | John Franco      148
                   | Fred Gladding  109 | Ted Abernathy    148
                   | Ron Kline      108 | Willie Hernandez 147
                   | Wayne Granger  108 | Dave Giusti      145
                   | Johnny Murphy  107 | Darold Knowles   143
                   | Bruce Sutter   105 | Clay Carroll     143
                   | John Wyatt     103 | Gary Lavelle     136
                   | Ellis Kinder   102 | Bob Stanley      132
                   | Firpo Marberry 101 | Jim Brewer       132
                   | Rich Gossage   101 | Ron Davis        130
                   | Terry Forster  100 | Terry Forster    127
                                        | Bill Campbell    126
                                        | Todd Worrell     126
                                        | Dave LaRoche     126
                                        | John Hiller      125
                                        | Jack Aker        123
                                        | Tom Henke        122
                                        | Dick Radatz      122
                                        | Jesse Orosco     119
                                        | Jay Howell       117
                                        | Tippy Martinez   115
                                        | Frank Linzy      111
                                        | Al Worthington   110
                                        | Fred Gladding    109
                                        | Wayne Granger    108
                                        | Ron Kline        108
                                        | Johnny Murphy    107
                                        | Bill Caudill     106
                                        | John Wyatt       103
                                        | Ron Reed         103
                                        | Roger McDowell   103
                                        | Tom Burgmeier    102
                                        | Ellis Kinder     102
                                        | Firpo Marberry   101
                                        | Dan Plesac       100

Or to break it down by plateaus reached (with percent increase):

Saves	1969	1979	% Inc.	1989	% Inc.
300	0	0	0%	3	Inf
250	0	0	0%	4	Inf
200	1	3	300%	9	900%
150	3	8	800%	21	2100%
100	14	32	3200%	56	5600%

These numbers accelerated into the Eighties.

k) Closers were being used in fewer situations in which their teams trailed or were tied with these opponents. They also pitched fewer innings per appearance. How do I know this?

Below is a table of cumulative stats for all closers in the Eighties and Seventies (min. 20 saves per season in the Eighties and 15 in the Seventies-I tried to compensate for the job's changing). The total games, relief appearances, wins, losses, saves, and innings pitched are listed along with the percentage of games in which the pitcher was used in relief and the percentage of games won, lost, and saved and innings-per-game.

Decade     G   RA    W   L   SV    IP     %RA       %W     %L    %Sv    IP/G
1980s   8892 8890  869 854 3980 12753.2  99.98%   9.77%  9.60% 44.76%   1.43
1970s   8422 8364 1025 885 2873 14101    99.31%  12.17% 10.51% 34.11%   1.67
%change                                   0.67% -19.70% -8.60% 31.21% -14.34% 


So what changed? Closers wee used in relief slightly more often-no biggy. They had a drop of nearly twenty percent in wins-per-game, nine percent in losses-per-game, and fourteen percent in innings-per-game and an increase of about thirty-one percent in saves-per-game. The saves come as no surprise. But why the decrease in wins, losses, and innings-per-appearance?

The innings-per-game dropoff represents managers attempting not to overwork their closers to save them for key situations.

The decrease in wins represents the resistance on the manager to use the closer when the game is tied or the team is losing. These situations produce a win, but as the role changed the closer usually came in after the lead was established in his team's favor. Also, fewer innings pitched meant that the pitcher had less time in which his team could recapture a lead once he had given it up.

The decrease in losses represents managers not using the closer in tie ballgames. Also, fewer innings had an effect. The loss decrease is less because wins also were affected by the team-trailing scenario being removed from the closer's possible situations.

The closer was being used more often in save situations for shorter periods.

l) The number of pure starters reached 20% of all pitchers by the end of the decade. This was the first time since 1902 that they comprised such a large segment of the pitching corps.

m) Pure reliever relievers now averaged an ERA that was .15 points better than a pure starter. In the Seventies the relievers' average ERA was .11 point worse than starters. And swingmen lagged far behind.

Well, that's the view from on high. I also have three little studies that I think might shed some light on this seemingly homogeneous decade:

Rollie Fingers in 1981

Brewers Rolled Behind Rollie

[From The Sporting News 1982 Baseball Guide]

It was fitting that Rollie Fingers was the winning pitcher when the Brewers clinched the East Division's second-half title on the next-to-last day of the season.

Without Fingers, the fourth relief pitcher ever to win the Cy Young Award, where would the Brewers have been? "Probably three games behind Toronto," said Manager Buck Rodgers.

The Brewer manager may have been stretching it a bit, but there isn't much doubt that they wouldn't have won their first title ever without the THE SPORTING NEWS' American League Fireman of the Year.

The Brewers had been a relief pitcher short of being a legitimate pennant contender for three seasons, and the addition of the tall man with the famous mustache proved to be even better than anybody had expected. Fingers led the major leagues with 28 saves and had a 6-3 record. He had an earned-run average of 1.04 in 78 innings.

He was phenomenal in the second half with a 5-1 record, 16 saves and a 0.72 ERA. The Brewers won 31 games to clinch the second-half title, and Fingers figured in 21 of the victories. In 1981 Rollie Fingers won the AL Most Valuable Player award.

Now compare that to what Bill James said of Fingers in his New Historical Baseball Abstract:

One player that I will be criticized for omitting [from his 100 best pitchers] is the Hall of Fame's second reliever, Rollie Fingers. But again, meaning no disrespect to Fingers, or anyone else who has a moustache you could weave into a carpet, I don't really see what is uniquely wonderful about Rollie Fingers' career. Yes, Fingers won an MVP Award in 1981, but...why? He faced 297 batters that year. Yes, he posted a 1.04 ERA, but Goose Gossage posted an ERA of 0.77 that same season, Rob Murphy posted an ERA of 0.77 in 1986, Dale Murray had a 1.03 ERA in 1974, Tim Burke had a 1.19 ERA in 1987, Frank Williams a 1.20 ERA in 1986. Jim Brewer and Ted Abernathy had ERAs of 1.27. Bob Veale in 1963 pitched the same number of innings (78) and allowed the same number of earned runs (9) as Fingers in 1981. It's just not a remarkable accomplishment.

Veale, for pitching 78 innings and allowing 9 earned runs, was credited with 10 Win Shares. Fingers, for doing the same, was credited with 17 Win Shares. That is a reasonable recognition of the importance of Fingers' role on the team. The BBWAA, however, gave Fingers an MVP Award. This is excessive. In my opinion, the BBWAA did something dumb when they gave Fingers an MVP award, and compounded the dumbitude by using that as a reason to put him in the Hall of Fame.

Rollie Fingers' proponents used the argument that Fingers was remarkably consistent for a relief ace. But for a relief ace, an ERA a full run better than the league is a basic standard of competence. Fingers met that standard only six times in his career, and pitched all of his career in pitcher's parks. Gossage met that standard 11 seasons, seven straight seasons, and pitched as many innings per year in tougher parks while doing it. Quisenberry met that standard his first nine seasons in the league, ten overall, also pitching more innings in tougher parks.

Fingers' ERA, adjusted for the parks he played in, was 16% better than league (2.90 vs. 3.45) [Baseball-Reeference.com says 19%]. Quisenberry's ERA was 31% [46%] better than league, Gossage's was 20% [26%] better than league, Sutter's 26% [36%] better, Wilhelm's 31% [46%] better. Kent Tekulve and Lee Smith were 24% [both 32%]better than league, Sparky Lyle 21% [27%] better than league. Fingers is more in a class with Jeff Reardon (17% [21%] better than league), Ron Perranoski (18% [21%] better), Gene Garber 11% [17%] better), and Don McMahon (16% [19%] better).

What lifted Fingers out of that class, I believe, was simply that he had exceptionally good taste in teammates-and the same is true of Jesse Haines and Rube Marquard. Haines in his career was ten games better than his teams; Marquard was two better than his.

Those are two quite different takes on Fingers' 1981 season. I believe that there's a little truth in both excerpts and that this season is illustrative of relievers of this era as a whole.

First, neither makes direct mention of the fact that Fingers lost a large segment of the season (53 games) to the strike and yet appeared in 47 games, pitched 78 innings, and tallied more saves (28) than he had in three years. That said what would Fingers' prorated season totals look like?

Year Ag Tm  Lg W L  G GS CG SHO SV  IP  H ER HR BB SO  ERA ERA+ WS
1981 34 MIL AL 6 3 47  0  0  0  28  78 55  9  3 13 61 1.04 331  17
1981 34 MIL AL 9 4 70  0  0  0  42 116 82 13  4 19 91 1.04 331  25

Well, that's a bit more impressive. 42 saves would have been the first time that a reliever reached 40 in a season, and therefore, a record. His 25 Win Shares are a little more respectable than the 17 James sites (and besides I am not completely sold that Win Shares measures relievers worth accurately, especially as the role has changed over time, but that's an argument for another day).

How many closer's have saved 42 games, won 9 others, and had an ERA in the 1.07 range? Just one comes close, John Wetteland in 1993. Wetteland had 9 wins, 43 saves, and a 1.37 ERA in 85.1 innings. So maybe Fingers deserved that MVP award after all?

Maybe. But I'm not willing to give it to him based on that argument. I cannot accept a player's projected totals as fact, especially a pitcher's. Why? Because a veteran pitcher like Fingers in 1981 (34 years old) benefits greatly from a 50-odd game break in the middle of the season. The most grueling part of the season is removed to provide a breather. Note that, as James points out, Gossage produced an even lower ERA in that season.

Second, pitcher's ERAs tend not to represent the pitcher's actual value-they appear more impressive or much less impressive-over short spans. This is especially true of relief pitchers, whose effectiveness may not show up as readily in ERA. This is due to ERA being zero-bound at the lower end (i.e., a pitcher cannot give up negative runs) and unbounded at the upper end (i.e., a pitcher in theory could give up infinite runs and infinite ERAs are possible if a pitcher allows a run without recording an out). Therefore, one bad outing does more damage to a pitcher's ERA than a few good outings do to help his ERA, especially if the pitcher throws very few innings at a time like a reliever. Look at John Smoltz last year for example. He gave up 8 earned runs in two-thirds an inning in his second outing in 2002, raising his ERA to 43.20. He gave up one run in his next 11 games (13 innings) and had a 5.52 ERA to show for it. At that point he had thrown 13 scoreless innings in 11 outings and had given up 9 runs in 1.2 innings in two outings. The two subpar outings had much more affect on his ERA than the many good ones. However, as the season wore on the good outings were able to overpower that one atrocious outing on April 6. It still had some effect though since his 3.25 ERA on the season would have only been 2.37 without that outing. Therefore, had Fingers pitched an entire season, they likelihood of a damaging outing would go up. One outing like Smoltz' would have almost double Fingers' ERA (to 1.94).

Third, Fingers' MVP candidacy benefited from the Brewers' pennant race in the second half of the split season. The Brewers may not have been in a pennant race had it not been for the strike. They "finished" the first half three games behind the Yankees, won the second half by 1.5 games over Detroit, and had the best record in the division. However, the Yankees were one game under .500 in their meaningless second half and finished two games back. A little incentive could have helped them bury the Brewers by the All-Star break.

Finally, I cannot reward Fingers for games he never pitched because he never pitched them. Lyman Bostock and Mark Fidrych may have been Hall-of-Famers had they been able to lead normal, uninterrupted careers. So might have Stan Bahnsen for that matter and probably a hundred-odd other players, but they didn't. So we'll never know. We cannot reward players for time not served. It's just too dangerous. Fingers was limited to 109 games in 1981 and that's perhaps too bad, but it's all we've got.

However, I think his prorated value had something to do with his winning the award, but I'll return to that later.

Now back to his effectiveness in the season: Apart from the impressive ERA, the most compelling argument promulgated by TSN was, "The Brewers won 31 games to clinch the second-half title, and Fingers figured in 21 of the victories." I wondered if the percentage of total wins and saves compared to team wins was that impressive. I found that Fingers' 54.84% was very good but was only 67th on the all-time list for relievers (with 30 relief appearances). There are 25 over 60% and here they are:

Name              Year  W SV GP Tm  W+Sv   W+Sv
                                 W  /GP   /Tm W
Bryan Harvey      1993  1 45 59 64 77.97% 71.88%
Ugueth Urbina     1999  6 41 71 68 66.20% 69.12%
Mike Williams     2002  2 46 59 72 81.36% 66.67%
Randy Myers       1993  2 53 73 84 75.34% 65.48%
Roberto Hernandez 1999  2 43 72 69 62.50% 65.22%
Bobby Thigpen     1990  4 57 77 94 79.22% 64.89%
Antonio Alfonseca 2000  5 45 68 79 73.53% 63.29%
Dan Quisenberry   1983  5 45 69 79 72.46% 63.29%
Lee Smith         1991  6 47 67 84 79.10% 63.10%
Dick Radatz       1964 16 29 79 72 56.96% 62.50%
Doug Jones        1990  5 43 66 77 72.73% 62.34%
Rollie Fingers    1977  8 35 78 69 55.13% 62.32%
Jeff Montgomery   1993  7 45 69 84 75.36% 61.90%
Trevor Hoffman    2000  4 43 70 76 67.14% 61.84%
Ugueth Urbina     1998  6 34 64 65 62.50% 61.54%
Jose Mesa         2002  4 45 74 80 66.22% 61.25%
Neil Allen        1981  7 18 43 41 58.14% 60.98%
Eric Gagne        2002  4 52 77 92 72.73% 60.87%
Trevor Hoffman    2002  2 38 61 66 65.57% 60.61%
Jeff Shaw         1997  4 42 78 76 58.97% 60.53%
Dennis Eckersley  1992  7 51 69 96 84.06% 60.42%
Dave Righetti     1986  8 46 74 90 72.97% 60.00%
Rick Aguilera     1998  4 38 68 70 61.76% 60.00%
Rod Beck          1998  3 51 81 90 66.67% 60.00%
...
Rollie Fingers    1981  6 28 47 62 72.34% 54.84%

Note that, even though the list is predominately season from the last 20 years, Fingers' 1977 season shows up in the list along with Radatz in 1964 and Neil Allen in 1981. Also, of the 142 season at or above 50%, 22 were from 1981 or before, and of the 66 seasons that rank higher than Fingers in 1981, seven were from 1981 or before (the three above and Ken Sanders in 1971 (55.07%), Sparky Lyle in 1972 (55.70%), Mike Marshall in 1973 (56.96%), and John Hiller 1973 (56.47%)). So it's not as if his performance were unprecedented at the time.

We'll maybe it's just easier to do on bad teams, given the fewer games that they win, and we all know how MVP voters dislike players on losing teams. What if we limit it to teams with winning records?

Name              Year  W SV GP  Tm  W+Sv   W+Sv
                                  W  /GP   /Tm W
Randy Myers       1993  2 53 73  84 75.34% 65.48%
Bobby Thigpen     1990  4 57 77  94 79.22% 64.89%
Lee Smith         1991  6 47 67  84 79.10% 63.10%
Jeff Montgomery   1993  7 45 69  84 75.36% 61.90%
Eric Gagne        2002  4 52 77  92 72.73% 60.87%
Dennis Eckersley  1992  7 51 69  96 84.06% 60.42%
Dave Righetti     1986  8 46 74  90 72.97% 60.00%
Rod Beck          1998  3 51 81  90 66.67% 60.00%
Armando Benitez   2001  6 43 73  82 67.12% 59.76%
Bruce Sutter      1984  5 45 71  84 70.42% 59.52%
Dan Quisenberry   1984  6 44 72  84 69.44% 59.52%
Bryan Harvey      1991  2 46 67  81 71.64% 59.26%
Trevor Hoffman    1998  4 53 66  98 86.36% 58.16%
Doug Jones        1992 11 36 80  81 58.75% 58.02%
Tom Gordon        1998  7 46 73  92 72.60% 57.61%
John Smoltz       2002  3 55 75 101 77.33% 57.43%
Dennis Eckersley  1991  5 43 67  84 71.64% 57.14%
Mariano Rivera    2001  4 50 71  95 76.06% 56.84%
Lee Smith         1992  4 43 70  83 67.14% 56.63%
John Hiller       1973 10 38 65  85 73.85% 56.47%
Trevor Hoffman    1996  9 42 70  91 72.86% 56.04%
Sparky Lyle       1972  9 35 59  79 74.58% 55.70%
Jeff Brantley     1996  1 44 66  81 68.18% 55.56%
Keith Foulke      2001  4 42 72  83 63.89% 55.42%
John Wetteland    1993  9 43 70  94 74.29% 55.32%
Rollie Fingers    1981  6 28 47  62 72.34% 54.84%

Fingers rises to number 27 but is still behind Hiller and Lyle, who preceded him.

Let's give this argument one last try. Let's look exclusively at playoff teams:

Name              Year  W SV GP  Tm  W+Sv   W+Sv
                                  W  /GP   /Tm W
Dennis Eckersley  1992  7 51 69  96 84.06% 60.42%
Rod Beck          1998  3 51 81  90 66.67% 60.00%
Dan Quisenberry   1984  6 44 72  84 69.44% 59.52%
Trevor Hoffman    1998  4 53 66  98 86.36% 58.16%
Tom Gordon        1998  7 46 73  92 72.60% 57.61%
John Smoltz       2002  3 55 75 101 77.33% 57.43%
Mariano Rivera    2001  4 50 71  95 76.06% 56.84%
Trevor Hoffman    1996  9 42 70  91 72.86% 56.04%
Rollie Fingers    1981  6 28 47  62 72.34% 54.84%
Billy Koch        2002 11 44 84 103 65.48% 53.40%
Todd Worrell      1996  4 44 72  90 66.67% 53.33%
Robb Nen          2002  6 43 68  95 72.06% 51.58%
John Wetteland    1998  3 42 63  88 71.43% 51.14%
Mariano Rivera    1997  6 43 66  96 74.24% 51.04%
Dennis Eckersley  1990  4 48 63 103 82.54% 50.49%
Mariano Rivera    1999  4 45 66  98 74.24% 50.00%

Fingers rises to ninth and he was the first to exceed 50% for a playoff team. But I'm still not sure that constitutes much of an argument for his MVP award.

Now for James' argument against Fingers winning the award: "Yes, he posted a 1.04 ERA... It's just not a remarkable accomplishment." Is that true given Fingers' save total? For example, of the comparable pitchers James cites, Murphy was rookie pitcher who threw 50.1 innings and saved one game. Gossage saved 20 but pitched only 46.2 innings. Murray had 10 saves and 69.2 innings in his rookie season. Burke had 18 saves and 91 innings pitched. Williams had one save in 52.1 innings. Brewer, 17 saves and 78.1 innings, and Veale had 3 saves in 77.2 innings. Abernathy did save 28 games and pitch 106.1 innings in 1967, but that does make Fingers' accomplishment a bit more remarkable.

Here's the complete list of relief pitchers with ERAs of 1.50 or less in chronological order (note that a pitcher must have 30 relief appearances or 20 saves to qualify):

Name             Year SV  G RA    IP  SO BB  W L  ERA
Junior Thompson  1946  4 39 38  62.7  31 40  4 6 1.29
Terry Fox        1961 12 39 39  57.3  32 16  5 2 1.41
Bill Henry       1964  6 37 37  52.0  28 12  2 2 0.87
Frank Linzy      1965 21 57 57  81.7  35 23  9 3 1.43
Steve Hamilton   1965  5 46 45  58.3  51 16  3 1 1.39
Frank Linzy      1967 17 57 57  95.7  38 34  7 7 1.51
Hoyt Wilhelm     1967 12 49 49  89.0  76 34  8 3 1.31
Ted Abernathy    1967 28 70 70 106.3  88 41  6 3 1.27
Joe Hoerner      1968 17 47 47  48.7  42 12  8 2 1.48
Ken Tatum        1969 22 45 45  86.3  65 39  7 2 1.36
Steve Mingori    1971  4 54 54  56.7  45 24  1 2 1.43
Darold Knowles   1972 11 54 54  65.7  36 37  5 1 1.37
Jim Brewer       1972 17 51 51  78.3  69 25  8 7 1.26
John Hiller      1973 38 65 65 125.3 124 39 10 5 1.44
Dale Murray      1974 10 32 32  69.7  31 23  1 1 1.03
Bob Apodaca      1975 13 46 46  84.7  45 28  3 4 1.49
Bruce Sutter     1977 31 62 62 107.3 129 23  7 3 1.34
Tug McGraw       1980 20 57 57  92.3  75 23  5 4 1.46
Rich Gossage     1981 20 32 32  46.7  48 14  3 2 0.77
Rollie Fingers   1981 28 47 47  78.0  61 13  6 3 1.04
Jesse Orosco     1983 17 62 62 110.0  84 38 13 7 1.47
Steve Howe       1983 18 46 46  68.7  52 12  4 7 1.44
Frank Williams   1986  1 36 36  52.3  33 21  3 1 1.20
Rob Murphy       1986  1 34 34  50.3  36 21  6 0 0.72
Jeff Calhoun     1987  1 42 42  42.7  31 26  3 1 1.48
Tim Burke        1987 18 55 55  91.0  58 17  7 0 1.19
Jeff Montgomery  1989 18 63 63  92.0  94 25  7 3 1.37
Les Lancaster    1989  8 42 42  72.7  56 15  4 2 1.36
Dennis Eckersley 1990 48 63 63  73.3  73  4  4 2 0.61
Doug Henry       1991 15 32 32  36.0  28 14  2 1 1.00
Jim Corsi        1992  0 32 32  44.0  19 18  4 2 1.43
Mel Rojas        1992 10 68 68 100.7  70 34  7 1 1.43
John Wetteland   1993 43 70 70  85.3 113 28  9 3 1.37
Mike Jackson     1994  4 36 36  42.3  51 11  3 2 1.49
Jose Mesa        1995 46 62 62  64.0  58 17  3 0 1.13
Tony Fossas      1995  0 58 58  36.7  40 10  3 0 1.47
Randy Myers      1997 45 61 61  59.7  56 22  2 3 1.51
Trevor Hoffman   1998 53 66 66  73.0  86 21  4 2 1.48
Ugueth Urbina    1998 34 64 64  69.3  94 33  6 3 1.30
Ray King         2000  0 36 36  28.7  19 10  3 2 1.26
Robb Nen         2000 41 68 68  66.0  92 19  4 3 1.50
B. Villafuerte   2002  1 31 31  32.0  25 12  1 2 1.41
Chris Hammond    2002  0 63 63  76.0  63 31  7 2 0.95
Joey Eischen     2002  2 59 59  53.7  51 18  6 1 1.34

There are a good number of middle relievers and setup men in the mix but there are also closers, especially ones that predate Fingers and Goose Gossage, who did it the same year.

Well, maybe Fingers did something extraordinary that didn't show up in the numbers to enable the Brewers to get to the playoffs. Here are Fingers' game logs for the season.

Keep in mind that the Brewers were in third place at the time of the strike (31-25), three games behind division-leading New York (34-22). In the second half, they won the division with a 31-22 record, 1.5 games ahead of Detroit and Boston (29-23) and 2 games ahead of Baltimore (28-23). Fifth-place Cleveland (26-27) was just 5 games back and sixth-place New York, for whom the second half was meaningless since they had "won" the first, was also five back (25-26). Even last-place Toronto was just 7.5 games back (21-27). In the West the only team in striking distance of the second-half champs, the A's, was Texas, in second by five games. Therefore, any games with Detroit, Boston, Baltimore, Cleveland, Oakland, and Texas could be said to have playoff implications. I, frankly, don't know how to classify the Yankee games-obviously, their spirit was not in the second half and their record reflects this. However, they did have a playoff-caliber team, one that eventually represented the AL in the World Series that year.

Therefore, the question remains as to Fingers' contribution in the second half especially in those pennant race games and whether his MVP and Cy Young candidacy should be thereby enhanced. Fingers had 12 saves, one win, and 2 losses at the time of the strike with a 1.34 ERA in 23 relief appearances constituting 40.1 innings pitched in the first half. His second half numbers are even more impressive: 23 games, 37.2 innings, 5-1 record, 16 saves, and 0.72 ERA.

Here is a log of his second-half appearances ("*" indicates that he faced the tying or go-ahead run when he entered the game and a "-" indicates a blown save. Thanks to Retrosheet.com for the data.):

- Aug. 10 vs Clev: 1 IP, Blew save. Entered game with Brewers leading 2-1 n ninth and allowed a run to tie it. Milwaukee eventually won in 13, 5-2.
Aug. 13 vs. Clev: 1 IP, save in 8-5 win, pitched one inning and entered with game already 8-5.
Aug. 16 vs. Tor: 1.2 IP and save in 6-2 win-came in with one out men at first and second in the eighth (already 6-2).
*Aug. 16 (game 2) vs. Tor: 1.2 IP and save in 2-0 win-came in with one out and man on first in eighth (2-0).
*Aug. 18 vs. Tex: 1.2 IP and save in 3-1 win-came in with bases loaded, one out, and one run already across in the inning in the eighth inning (3-1).
*Aug 22 vs. Minn: 2 IP and win in 4-3, 10-inning victory-came in with score tied to start ninth (3-3).
Aug. 23 vs. Minn: 1.1 IP and save in 8-5 win-came in with man on third, two out, and two runs already across in the inning in the 8th (7-5).
Aug. 28 vs. Tex: 1.2 IP and save in 6-3 win-in 8th, came in with man on first, one out, 1 run already across in the inning (6-3).
Aug. 30 vs. Tex: 0.2 IP and save in 6-2 win-came in with men at first and second and one out in ninth (6-2).
*Aug. 31 vs. KC: 2.1 IP and save in 5-1 win-came in with men at second and third, 2 out, and score 3-1 in the 7th.
- Sept 2 vs. KC: 0.2 IP and loss in 5-4 defeat-came in to start the ninth of a 4-4 tie.
*Sept. 3 vs. Minn: 1.1 IP and save in 4-3 win-came in with man on first and two out in 8th (4-3).
Sept 5 vs. Minn: 1 IP and save in 5-3 win-came in with none out and none on in the ninth after Jim Slaton had lost his no-hitter by giving up three runs in ninth.
*Sept. 6 vs. Minn: 2 IP and win in 8-7 victory-came in to start ninth with score tied 7-7.
*Sept. 9 vs. NYY: 2.2 IP and save in 5-3 win-came in in 7th with one out, men on first and second, and score 5-2 (one inherited run scored).
Sept. 12 vs. Balt: 1 IP and save in 6-3 win-came in with man on first and none out in ninth (6-3).
*Sept 15 vs. NYY: 2 IP and save in 2-1 win-came in to start 8th (2-1).
*Sept. 16 vs. NYY: 2 IP and save in 3-2 win-came in to start 8th (3-2).
Sept. 19 vs. Balt: 2.2 IP and save in 11-8 win-came in with men on first and second, one out, and 7-5 Milwaukee lead in 7th (two inherited runs scored plus one uninherited).
- Sept. 22 vs. Bos: 2.2 IP and win in 10-8 victory-came in with one out, man on second, and score 8-7 Brewers in the 7th. Gave up inherited run to tie score and later win it.
Sept. 25 vs. Det: 1 IP and save in 8-6 win-came in to start ninth (8-6).
*Sept. 26 vs. Det: 1 IP and save in 4-3 win-came in with none on, none out, and 2 runs across in the inning in the 9th (4-3).
Sept. 30 vs. Bos: 1.1 IP in 10-5 win-came in with men at first and second and one out in the 8th (10-5).
*Oct. 3 vs. Det: 1.1 IP and win in 2-1 victory-came in with two out, man on first, and the Brewers trailing 1-0 in the 8th. This victory clinches the division for the Brewers.

Actually, it looks more impressive on paper than I anticipated, especially the September numbers. He has 11 of my qualified saves (i.e., facing winning or go-ahead run when he entered) and 3 blown saves. His numbers versus the pennant race teams that we mentioned earlier is 3 "saves" and 2 blown saves (plus 3 "saves" vs. the Yankees). They look more impressive because they helped clinch the pennant and were against the Yankees, but his stats are less impressive against the teams in the race.

Also, consider that Gossage finished 5th in Cy Young voting and 9th in MVP voting probably because his Yankees were never in a real playoff race, but as we documented above, Fingers was not as impressive as one would believe in the pennant race against the tougher teams. Further John Wetteland, whose 1993 season was similar to Fingers' 1981 as I indicated earlier, finished 24th in the MVP vote that year and got no mention in the Cy Young vote even though fellow closers Bryan Harvey and Randy Myers did.

It should also be pointed out that there were a number of players have very good season in 1981 (three of them on the Brewers):

Player	Win Share	Adj OPS
Rickey Henderson	27	150
Dwight Evans	26	163
Cecil Cooper	22	151
Bobby Grich	 21	164
Eddie Murray	21	156
Gorman Thomas	20	146
Robin Yount	20	114
Dwayne Murphy	20	129

One could argue that not only was Fingers not the AL MVP, not only was he not the Brewer MVP, he was the fourth most valuable on his own team.

How valuable was his season after all if his injury-plagued 1982 matches it in most stats but ERA but failed to garner a single Cy Young vote and finished 16th in MVP that year:

Year Ag Tm  Lg  W   L   G   GS  CG SHO SV   IP     H   ER   HR  BB   SO   ERA *lgERA *ERA+
1981 34 MIL AL   6   3  47   0   0   0 28   78.0   55    9   3   13   61  1.04  3.44  331
1982 35 MIL AL   5   6  50   0   0   0 29   79.7   63   23   5   20   71  2.60  3.80  146

I have to side with James in this argument. Fingers had a very fine season but was far from being MVP-worthy. So why did Fingers win? I think it was a combination of things. I think the shortened season threw off everyone's season numbers making it more difficult for voters. I also think Fingers to a certain degree gets the benefit for the time he lost. Why else would a closer with only 28 saves get the MVP when the record had been 38 for nine seasons and Bruce Sutter had had 37 just two years before? Why else would his 1981 season overwhelm voters while his 1982 season did anything but.

Besides Ted Abernathy had had similar statistics in 1967 (adjusting the saves per era): he lead the majors in saves with 28, won six games, and had an ERA a little over 1.00. And Abernathy did it 106.1 innings, a more impressive accomplishment. So why was Abernathy twentieth in the 1967 MVP vote? Well, the Reds did finish in fourth 14.5 games back, but third-place Roberto Clemente was not held back by his .500 team.

Obviously, the way that a closer was viewed in 1981 was fundamentally different from the way it was viewed in 1967. I submit that analysts of the day had an inflated view of the closer's worth. Sutter had just made the reliever's role a glamorous one (again) two years earlier. Writers were just waiting for the next big thing when Fingers and a strike-shortened season gave it to them.

I also submit that this view carried through until when Fingers was eligible for the Hall. Fingers had been the first man to break 300 saves, had the MVP season, and a very good career. He also retired one year removed from his peak at the age of 38. Compare him to near contemporary Goose Gossage: Gossage was, for many arguments that have been listed since he became Hall-eligible, as viable a candidate as Fingers-they are listed as the player most comparable to each other by Bill James Similar Pitcher system. Gossage was still a valuable pitcher when he retired at age 42 but was at least 5 good years removed from closing. However, he started his career four years after Fingers and ended it nine years after Fingers.

Fingers was voted into the Hall on his second ballot (1992). Gossage has yet to get in in three tries. He hasn't even been close. So what's the difference? Well, in 1992 Dennis Eckersley, Gossage's teammate at the time, was re-writing the record books or at least the margins thereof with only the second 50+ save season. It was the culmination of five dominant years by Eck. Fingers' excellent career was still fresh in the writers' minds. It proved to be Eckersley's last dominant season. By 2000, when Gossage first became available, the save was already becoming devalued as a means to measure closers. Saves were a dime-a-dozen, even Gossage's 310 of them. I would say that was the difference in Fingers' rather easy entrance into the Hall and Gossage's yet unsuccessful one.

Eckersley plays a big part in the momentary resurgence of closers in the late Eighties, the subject of our next study.

1987: The Year That the Modern Closer Almost Died (Bye Bye, Miss American Pie)

In 1987 everyone in baseball was talking about the number of balls flying out of the park. The talk didn't slow even though the home runs did after the All-Star break. The ball was juiced, that's what everyone said. They called it the "lively-ball" or "livelier-ball theory". Street and Smith's 1988 Baseball Annual quoted Bobby Bonds, then a 41-year-old coach for the Indians and a proponent of the livelier-ball theory, as saying that when he took an occasional turn in the batting cage:

"I hit the ball as far as I did when I was 25-years-old. I'm not that strong. I hit balls really terrible and they went over the fence. When I was playing, I'd hit balls and say, oh my Gos, and they didn't go out. During my batting practice now, I hit balls and said, oh my God, and they cleared the fence by 30 feet."

Bonds' "Oh my God!"'s may be more easily explained by his son's ability to hit the ball farther as he approaches forty than when he was twenty-five: Maybe it runs in the family. Or maybe Bonds was upset that so many players joined him in the exclusive 30-30 club in 1987, increasing the membership to 10 men, 4 from 1987 (i.e., Eric Davis, Joe Carter, Darryl Strawberry, and Howard Johnson).

However, no one could argue with the record number of home runs being hit. On May 9th alone, Eddie Murray homered from both sides of the plate for the second consecutive game, and weak-hitting Chris Speier hit his second grand-slam home run in a week, after going his first 15 seasons without one. May 27 Greg Gross hits his first home run since 1978. On May 28 Joe Carter hits three home runs and Mike Young becomes only the fifth player ever to hit two home runs in extra innings.

And that's just the anecdotal evidence. Here is a table of the number of home runs per game with the percent increase from the previous year and from five years previous to mitigate one-year spikes. I included every year because, heck, I do like numbers and I thought some of you might too:

Year	HR/G	% Change	5-year % Change
1871	0.185	-	-
1872	0.096	-48.32%	-
1873	0.128	34.00%	-
1874	0.091	-29.36%	-
1875	0.061	-32.75%	-67.10%
1876	0.077	26.37%	-19.56%
1877	0.067	-13.33%	-47.97%
1878	0.063	-6.25%	-30.95%
1879	0.090	44.55%	48.42%
1880	0.091	0.92%	18.53%
1881	0.113	24.04%	69.64%
1882	0.156	37.58%	148.95%
1883	0.152	-2.57%	67.80%
1884	0.223	47.40%	145.07%
1885	0.181	-18.79%	60.45%
1886	0.196	8.17%	26.16%
1887	0.286	45.90%	88.92%
1888	0.239	-16.70%	6.76%
1889	0.306	28.26%	68.61%
1890	0.236	-22.76%	20.39%
1891	0.264	11.79%	-7.76%
1892	0.226	-14.31%	-5.10%
1893	0.293	29.42%	-4.24%
1894	0.395	34.93%	67.29%
1895	0.304	-23.10%	15.08%
1896	0.255	-16.11%	12.66%
1897	0.227	-11.07%	-22.58%
1898	0.162	-28.44%	-58.94%
1899	0.190	17.06%	-37.50%
1900	0.223	17.47%	-12.49%
1901	0.205	-8.17%	-9.64%
1902	0.160	-22.11%	-1.65%
1903	0.150	-5.81%	-20.87%
1904	0.133	-11.87%	-40.63%
1905	0.137	3.11%	-33.34%
1906	0.107	-21.62%	-32.92%
1907	0.099	-7.22%	-33.92%
1908	0.107	8.02%	-19.01%
1909	0.105	-2.39%	-23.32%
1910	0.145	37.96%	34.95%
1911	0.208	43.76%	109.12%
1912	0.180	-13.46%	67.53%
1913	0.190	5.70%	81.41%
1914	0.189	-0.49%	30.85%
1915	0.170	-9.92%	-18.02%
1916	0.154	-9.84%	-14.58%
1917	0.134	-12.53%	-29.32%
1918	0.116	-13.90%	-38.84%
1919	0.200	72.86%	17.36%
1920	0.255	27.69%	66.22%
1921	0.381	49.34%	183.80%
1922	0.426	11.77%	268.43%
1923	0.397	-6.73%	98.79%
1924	0.364	-8.42%	42.57%
1925	0.476	30.79%	24.86%
1926	0.350	-26.54%	-17.93%
1927	0.373	6.66%	-6.15%
1928	0.444	19.03%	21.99%
1929	0.549	23.62%	15.30%
1930	0.634	15.54%	81.34%
1931	0.432	-31.80%	15.94%
1932	0.551	27.34%	24.04%
1933	0.435	-20.98%	-20.71%
1934	0.549	26.27%	-13.35%
1935	0.539	-1.82%	24.76%
1936	0.551	2.11%	0.04%
1937	0.577	4.75%	32.61%
1938	0.603	4.50%	9.75%
1939	0.587	-2.67%	8.79%
1940	0.636	8.28%	15.36%
1941	0.535	-15.82%	-7.30%
1942	0.438	-18.22%	-27.45%
1943	0.366	-16.46%	-37.72%
1944	0.416	13.89%	-34.50%
1945	0.409	-1.66%	-23.48%
1946	0.489	19.49%	11.80%
1947	0.630	28.70%	72.23%
1948	0.629	-0.16%	50.99%
1949	0.687	9.32%	67.85%
1950	0.837	21.85%	71.17%
1951	0.752	-10.20%	19.43%
1952	0.686	-8.70%	9.21%
1953	0.837	21.95%	21.83%
1954	0.783	-6.47%	-6.49%
1955	0.901	15.10%	19.86%
1956	0.926	2.73%	34.86%
1957	0.891	-3.70%	6.50%
1958	0.907	1.73%	15.83%
1959	0.909	0.20%	0.84%
1960	0.861	-5.27%	-7.01%
1961	0.955	10.89%	7.07%
1962	0.926	-3.03%	2.07%
1963	0.835	-9.79%	-8.10%
1964	0.849	1.71%	-1.34%
1965	0.828	-2.50%	-13.25%
1966	0.849	2.55%	-8.26%
1967	0.710	-16.45%	-15.03%
1968	0.614	-13.49%	-27.73%
1969	0.801	30.55%	-3.23%
1970	0.882	10.05%	3.85%
1971	0.739	-16.25%	4.10%
1972	0.682	-7.73%	11.03%
1973	0.798	17.12%	-0.39%
1974	0.681	-14.69%	-22.79%
1975	0.698	2.43%	-5.57%
1976	0.576	-17.37%	-15.44%
1977	0.866	50.33%	8.54%
1978	0.703	-18.84%	3.25%
1979	0.818	16.30%	17.24%
1980	0.733	-10.33%	27.23%
1981	0.637	-13.12%	-26.47%
1982	0.802	25.88%	14.04%
1983	0.783	-2.40%	-4.30%
1984	0.774	-1.12%	5.54%
1985	0.856	10.66%	34.44%
1986	0.907	5.86%	13.06%
1987	1.059	16.80%	35.31%
1988	0.757	-28.50%	-2.16%
1989	0.732	-3.33%	-14.53%
1990	0.788	7.64%	-13.09%
1991	0.804	2.04%	-24.08%
1992	0.721	-10.28%	-4.74%
1993	0.888	23.12%	21.33%
1994	1.033	16.34%	31.13%
1995	1.012	-2.08%	25.84%
1996	1.094	8.18%	51.73%
1997	1.024	-6.45%	15.29%
1998	1.041	1.69%	0.77%
1999	1.138	9.34%	12.53%
2000	1.172	2.94%	7.08%
2001	1.124	-4.13%	9.74%
2002	1.043	-7.20%	0.15%

Note how this trend was a long time coming with increases in 1977, 1979, and 1982. The largest increases were in the 1985-'87 period though, with 1987 reaching the then-historic (and now de rigueur) sum of one home run per game.

From The Sporting News 1988 Baseball Guide regarding the home run increase in the 1987 season:

Subpar pitching and the umpire's shrinking strike zone were theories advanced as explanations for the record home run output. Over the first half of the 1987 campaign, the homer total was well ahead of the previous year's record clip, though the pace slowed slightly after the All-Star break.

Both leagues attained new home run highs. With American League hitters unloading 2,634 and the National League accounting for 1,824, the total of 4,458 amounted to nearly a 17 percent increase over the record of 3,813 set a year earlier. Six A.L. teams-Detroit, Toronto, Oakland, Texas, Kansas City and Cleveland- established new marks, as did three N.L. clubs-Chicago, San Francisco and New York. One of the more unusual homers was hit September 5 by California third baseman Jack Howell at Yankee Stadium. Facing reliever Tim Stoddard, Howell drove a pitch into the left-field stands, even though his bat broke in half about 12 inches from the knob.

Oakland first baseman Mark McGwire was the A.L.'s leading home run hitter with 49, smashing the rookie record of 38. Outfielder Andre Dawson also had 49 for the Chicago Cubs to pace the senior circuit. New York Yankee first baseman Don Mattingly accomplished two remarkable feats, equaling one record with home runs in eight consecutive games and establishing another by hitting six grand slams...

The home run barrage stirred speculation that the baseballs had been "juiced up." Denials by representatives of the manufacturer, Rawlings Sporting Goods Co., were met with skepticism, but scientific tests arranged separately by USA Today and the league offices confirmed that the 1987 baseballs were no livelier than those of recent years. The newspaper had Hailer Testing Laboratories of Plain-field, N.J., perform tests early in July on 116 baseballs collected from all 26 teams. A few weeks later, at the request of the two leagues, the Science and Aeronautics Department of the University of Missouri at Rolla compared several dozen 1985 and 1987 balls manufactured by Rawlings.

The homer outburst also spawned several brawls and charges of cheating on the part of hitters as well as pitchers. Fourteen bench-clearing brawls erupted during the first half of the campaign. The biggest took place at Wrigley Field on July 7 after the Cubs' Dawson was struck on the face by a pitch from San Diego's Eric Show, causing wounds that required 24 stitches. Two days later, N.L. President A. Bartlett Giamatti issued an edict threatening "severe penalties, possibly including suspension," for any act clearly intended to maim or injure another player. The warning had a quick, positive effect.

Because certain pitchers long had been suspected of scuffing baseballs, Giamatti and his counterpart, A.L. President Bobby Brown, ordered umpires from both leagues to keep a close watch for illegal activity. And when the long-ball exploits of Mets infielder Howard Johnson, who hit 36 homers after totaling only 40 in five previous seasons, and other slightly-built players aroused suspicions of corked bats. Commissioner Ueberroth sent out an August 6 directive that permitted umpires to impound one bat per team per game upon request of the opposing manager. The confiscated bats were shipped to league headquarters to be X-rayed.

Three players, two of them pitchers, drew suspensions. Joe Niekro, veteran knuckleballer with Minnesota, was banned 10 days for doctoring baseballs; pitcher Kevin Gross of Philadelphia received the same sentence when umpires detected an illegal substance on his glove, and Billy Hatcher of Houston was suspended for 10 days for using a corked bat. No violations were found in the bats of other players that were examined...

While hitters generally fared well, pitchers struggled through a rough season. Boston's Roger Clemens and Oakland's Dave Stewart were the only hurlers to reach the coveted 20-victory level with 20-9 and 20-13 records, respectively. Clemens recorded his 20 wins despite a spring training holdout and 4-6 start. Rick Sutcliff e of the Chicago Cubs was the National League's top winner with 18 victories. Only four pitchers working the 162 innings required to qualify for earned-run honors finished under 3.00. The lone National League hurler to do so was veteran Nolan Ryan, who had a 2.76 ERA but a disappointing 8-16 record as a consequence of weak offensive support by his Houston mates. Jimmy Key of Toronto (2.76) edged Viola (2.90) and Clemens (2.97) for the American League's ERA title.

For the record, here are the men with a double-digit increase in their home run output between 1986 and 1987 (and played at least 100 games in 1986-the largest increase was 43 by rookie Mark McGwire). Only four men (Rickey Henderson (-11 but played only 95 games), Jesse Barfield (-12), Doug Decinces (-10 in his final year), and Don Baylor (-15, played 128 games)) experienced double-digit dropoffs:

Name		1986 HR	1987 HR	Diff
Andre	Dawson	20	49	29
Will	Clark	11	35	24
George	Bell	31	47	16
John	Kruk	4	20	16
Wade	Boggs	8	24	16
Brook	Jacoby	17	32	15
Dale	Murphy	29	44	15
Keith	Moreland	12	27	15
Ruben	Sierra	16	30	14
Eddie	Murray	17	30	13
Larry	Sheets	18	31	13
Darryl	Strawberry	27	39	12
Juan	Samuel	16	28	12
Ozzie	Virgil	15	27	12
Robin	Yount	9	21	12
Wally	Joyner	22	34	12
Alvin	Davis	18	29	11
Chili	Davis	13	24	11
Gary	Ward	5	16	11
Terry	Pendleton	1	12	11
Bill	Doran	6	16	10
Eric	Davis	27	37	10
John	Shelby	11	21	10
Nick	Esasky	12	22	10

The general consensus now seems to be that the ball was juiced and that it was then-commissioner Peter Ueberroth's attempt (and if so, then a successful one) to rejuvenate interest in the game. Although I do not know if any evidence was ever found to support that conclusion.

Okay, so a lot of home runs were hit. Big deal! What does that have to do with relief pitching?

Well, as home runs flew out of parks, staffs became jittery and managers changed styles. The percentage of games completed by starting pitchers dwindled from just over 20% in 1980 to under 14% in 1986 and '87. The percentage of all pitchers who were used solely as starting pitchers, which had been climbing steadily throughout the Seventies, plateaued and then increased by six percentage points after the home run explosion stopped in '88. The same goes for the falling percentage of swingman, which dropped almost nine points in 1988. Meanwhile all pitching roles were taking their lumps: all three (starter, reliever, and swingman) had average ERAs over 4.00 in 1987; that was the first time since 1950.

The way that relief pitchers were used changed dramatically as well. From 1955 to 1979 the number of pitchers used per game increased by just one-tenth of a man. Between 1979 and 1989 that number went up by more than a third a man. 1987 witnessed the lowest save leader over a full season (Steve Bedrosian with 40) for the period 1983 to the present.

Closers got fewer saves in 1987 as managers tried different ways to hold a lead. Here are the average number of saves for team's "closer" (i.e., pitcher with most saves prorated to 162 games):

Year	Sv/162G
1970	19.63
1971	15.13
1972	16.51
1973	16.63
1974	12.70
1975	13.90
1976	14.41
1977	17.60
1978	18.23
1979	17.60
1980	19.20
1981	19.23
1982	19.57
1983	19.86
1984	22.32
1985	22.15
1986	22.53
1987	19.93
1988	25.84
1989	27.38

The number of closers in baseball who met the typical closer-type numbers dwindled. Here are the number of "high-save" closers (15 saves 1970-'79, 13 saves 1981, and 20 saves 1980, '82-'89 (total is prorates to 13 for the strike year of 1981)):

Year	High-Save Closers
1970	18
1971	13
1972	12
1973	14
1974	8
1975	10
1976	11
1977	17
1978	15
1979	15
1980	14
1981	11
1982	12
1983	14
1984	14
1985	13
1986	17
1987	10
1988	18
1989	25


Also, the percentage of games saved dropped in 1987:

Year	Pitchers/G	SV%	Sv/RA
1970	2.664	22.58%	13.57%
1971	2.493	17.78%	11.91%
1972	2.455	19.71%	13.55%
1973	2.370	21.08%	15.39%
1974	2.398	13.29%	9.50%
1975	2.397	17.30%	12.38%
1976	2.415	17.61%	12.45%
1977	2.525	20.09%	13.17%
1978	2.401	19.12%	13.65%
1979	2.520	20.02%	13.17%
1980	2.564	21.43%	13.70%
1981	2.668	21.70%	13.01%
1982	2.620	22.12%	13.66%
1983	2.603	23.16%	14.45%
1984	2.655	23.59%	14.25%
1985	2.735	23.23%	13.39%
1986	2.796	23.87%	13.29%
1987	2.888	23.06%	12.22%
1988	2.745	24.98%	14.31%
1989	2.875	25.38%	13.53%

Throughout the era of the "modern" closer, the percentage of games that resulted in saves had been increasing. Suddenly, it dropped almost a full percentage point in 1987. More pitchers were used per game than had ever been used before, the increase outpacing the modest, evolutionary snowballing of the last ten years. Note also that the percentage of relieve appearances that resulted in a save for the reliever took a hit during the 1985-'87 offensive increase, with 1987's 1+ point drop being the worst of the three. All of these numbers returned to the normal projections in 1988.

One would be lead to believe that the closer role was becoming less important as more pitchers with more appearances, fewer of which ended in saves, were becoming the norm. However, if a count of the total number of pitchers who saved games in a given were tallied, that would not seem to be the case:

Year	Savers/Tm
1960	6.875
1961	6.556
1962	7.600
1963	6.400
1964	7.000
1965	6.700
1966	6.700
1967	6.450
1968	6.450
1969	6.042
1970	6.250
1971	5.625
1972	5.833
1973	6.167
1974	4.875
1975	5.333
1976	5.292
1977	5.269
1978	5.154
1979	4.962
1980	5.615
1981	4.769
1982	5.615
1983	5.231
1984	5.577
1985	5.808
1986	5.769
1987	5.692
1988	5.577
1989	4.923
1990	5.654
1991	5.692
1992	4.885
1993	5.071
1994	5.071
1995	4.821
1996	4.893
1997	5.000
1998	4.933
1999	4.733
2000	4.500
2001	4.333
2002	4.367

Note that the number of pitchers who saved at least a game per team actually increased during the 1985-'87 period and has never been that high since.

One logical conclusion of fewer saves and more pitching changes would be that relief pitchers in general and closers in particular were throwing fewer innings. The number of 3-inning saves and endurance-based saves would therefore be the culprit. However, the number of 100-inning pitchers actually increased. Here is a table of the number of 100-inning relievers per year (with fewer than 10 starts (7 in '81), at least 20 relief appearances, and at least 100 IP (66 in '81)):

Year	100-IP relievers
1970	16
1971	11
1972	15
1973	17
1974	24
1975	17
1976	22
1977	40
1978	25
1979	18
1980	25
1981	28
1982	36
1983	23
1984	25
1985	19
1986	19
1987	22
1988	12
1989	18


Evidently relievers in general did still pitch 100 innings. So maybe the manner in which closers were employed was the culprit of fewer saves. To test this I selected the "closer" for each team per year. This was the man with the most saves on the team. I then took the average for all such closers in the majors for each year. If two or more men were tied for the team save lead, I averaged their stats before adding them to the majors totals and deriving the major-league average. Here are the results (MTL = Miminum Team Leader, the team leader with the most saves; all the other stats are based on the closer average):

Year   Sv/  MTL/  W    L     G    GS     IP   ERA   K/  HR/ K/BB WHIP
      162G  162G                                   9IP  9IP
1970 19.63  8.00 6.13 5.92 60.25 0.33  91.44 3.01 6.39 0.65 1.90 1.256
1971 15.13  4.01 6.15 5.67 54.56 1.58  90.15 2.93 6.41 0.64 1.71 1.274
1972 16.51  4.18 5.48 5.48 50.50 0.75  80.47 2.78 6.56 0.51 1.82 1.246
1973 16.63  6.00 6.32 5.65 54.99 1.25  97.06 2.88 6.05 0.61 1.73 1.266
1974 12.70  3.00 6.96 6.25 59.46 0.92 106.42 2.90 5.58 0.54 1.82 1.257
1975 13.90  5.03 6.02 5.60 52.88 0.50  87.98 3.13 5.97 0.55 1.62 1.311
1976 14.41  6.02 7.08 6.08 57.67 0.42  98.58 2.76 6.25 0.40 1.73 1.245
1977 17.60  8.01 7.65 6.50 60.69 0.92 106.23 2.97 6.66 0.67 2.11 1.235
1978 18.23  9.02 7.31 7.23 58.04 0.19  93.94 2.82 6.59 0.57 1.83 1.229
1979 17.60  6.02 7.35 6.73 57.19 0.96  94.50 2.89 6.32 0.58 1.78 1.268
1980 19.20  6.00 6.65 5.96 62.54 0.31  98.35 2.75 5.64 0.46 1.80 1.233
1981 19.23  4.53 4.35 4.08 41.40 0.23  65.41 2.75 5.63 0.48 1.61 1.254
1982 19.57  7.00 6.77 7.08 61.40 0.46 100.62 2.93 6.02 0.60 2.01 1.221
1983 19.86  6.99 6.35 6.69 59.81 0.27  93.41 2.97 6.29 0.60 1.99 1.231
1984 22.32  8.00 5.83 6.79 60.63 0.04  90.62 2.96 6.43 0.66 2.08 1.234
1985 22.15  9.01 6.46 6.17 60.85 0.42  90.78 2.95 6.50 0.71 2.22 1.210
1986 22.53 10.01 6.58 6.88 60.38 0.92  87.91 3.26 7.21 0.76 2.09 1.292
1987 19.93  8.00 5.23 5.65 56.27 0.37  84.40 3.36 7.71 0.88 2.41 1.261
1988 25.84 13.04 4.46 5.27 57.46 0.04  73.87 2.88 7.66 0.57 2.49 1.205
1989 27.38 15.00 4.17 4.27 59.35 0.04  73.82 2.61 7.77 0.57 2.39 1.181

A number of interesting conclusions may be drawn. First, note that the average number of saves per closer is lower in 1987 than in the surrounding years, just as we saw earlier with saves in general. Note also that the lowest team closer has a save total lower than expected. The lowest in 1988 would be more than 50% higher than 1987's.

Note too the ERA upswing in 1987. Clearly this was affected by that year's offensive/home run explosion. One logical consequence of a higher ERA for a closer would be fewer saves, but one would also expect more losses and possibly more wins, as the pitcher's team regains the lead with him on the mound. However, neither was the case as closers experienced historically low win and loss totals.

Closer's innings pitched did decrease in 1987 by three innings, but I cannot imagine that a few innings cost that many saves. It did portend the sub-80-inning closer that came thereafter. Note that the number of appearances per closer did decrease slightly but clearly closers pitched fewer innings per appearances. Compare the similar appearance totals for 1976-1983 and for 1987. Note that there are a number of years in the '76-'83 range in which the average closer had about the same number as he did in 1987. However, the closer in the earlier range was expected to pitch 90-100 innings as opposed to the 84 in 1987.

Note that 1987 was also a transition for the number of games started by the closer. Whereas closers would start an average of almost one game prior to the "modern" period (1977 and '79), the average closer started only 0.37 games in 1987, or rather only one in three closers started a game on average. As late as 1986, a start per closer was the norm, possibly to combat the offensive onslaught of the mid-Eighties by enlisting a starter as a closer or a closer as a starter. Note that the games started average plummets after 1987. Again this year is a transition point.

Also, note the increase in strikeout pitchers being used as closers. Both the strikeouts-per-nine-innings and the strikeouts-to-walks-ratio were historically high for closers. When scoring is high, even large leads can be lost quickly. Managers began selecting pitchers who would keep batters off the basepaths via the strikeout. These were fireballers who still had good control, which is evident by the slight increase in 1987 over the norm in Walks-Plus-Hits-Per-Innings-Pitched (WHIP). 1987's average closer WHIP is actually lower than 1986's. The strikeout stats remained high even after scoring returned to normal after 1987, and control improved as the closer's WHIP went down with the scoring.

I see 1987 as a year in which the "modern closer" established by Bruce Sutter in the late Seventies started to break down and a new closer who was a power pitcher with good control, pitched fewer innings per appearance, almost never started a game, and was rarely involved in win-loss decisions. The "neo-modern" closer had more saves and was more widely used than the Sutter-type.

Of course, a man, who personified all of these elements, began his closer career in 1987 and would go on to be widely-held as the best reliever of all time. That man is, of course, Dennis Eckersley. Eck would walk few, strikeout many (anout one per inning), would never pitch more than 80 innings in a year as a reliever, and would set the standard for the next generation of closers.
Eckersley would never have been able to succeed without his excellent supporting bullpen staff in Oakland. The growth of the setup men is the subject of the last study.

Setting 'Em Up And Knocking 'Em Down

To Be Continued...


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