High bar for closers set by Eck­er­s­ley

San Francisco Chronicle (Sunday) - - SPORTINGGREEN - John Shea is The San Fran­cisco Chron­i­cle’s na­tional base­ball writer. Email: jshea@sfchron­i­cle. com Twit­ter: @JohnSheaHey

It’s a ban­ner year for re­liev­ers. Not just be­cause teams are us­ing them to start games with a novel strat­egy to em­pha­size bullpens and turn starters into glo­ri­fied long re­liev­ers, but also be­cause of how a few re­liev­ers have been so dom­i­nant.

Oak­land’s Blake Treinen, for one. Seat­tle’s Ed­win Diaz. Mil­wau­kee’s Josh Hader. All mas­ter­ful in their own way. Treinen be­cause of his 97-mph sinker, which isn’t sup­posed to be pos­si­ble. Diaz be­cause of his 54 saves, fifth all time. Hader be­cause of his stun­ning strike­out/hit/walk-to-in­nings ra­tios.

They’re the ma­jors’ three best re­liev­ers, at least if you think highly of sta­tis­tics like Wins Above Re­place­ment (WAR) and WHIP, both of which they rank 1-2-3 among re­liev­ers. WHIP is a key stat sim­ply be­cause it mea­sures how many men reach base per in­ning (via walks and hits), and lim­it­ing baserun­ners will thrill any man­ager.

We like to mea­sure any great

sea­son by a re­liever against a fel­low who rarely put men on base, es­pe­cially with walks. He once walked three in an en­tire sea­son. Four in an­other. It wasn’t just about strike­outs, which are so preva­lent in to­day’s game — Hader and Diaz are 1-2, av­er­ag­ing more than 15 K’s per nine in­nings — but about get­ting outs any way pos­si­ble.

Den­nis Eck­er­s­ley was a per­fectly ef­fi­cient closer, and it’s still un­fath­omable that he walked four bat­ters (one in­ten­tion­ally) in 731⁄3 in­nings with the 1990 A’s, a year af­ter walk­ing three in 572⁄3 in­nings. That amounted to a ridicu­lous 0.49 and 0.47 bat­ters walked per nine in­nings.

By com­par­i­son, Diaz’s walks-per-nine is 2.08, Treinen’s 2.54 and Hader’s 3.13.

That’s not to di­min­ish this elite three­some — all should get MVP votes — as much as point out the beauty of Eck­er­s­ley, who av­er­aged fewer than nine strike­outs per nine in­nings in 1989 and 1990 (a frac­tion of what to­day’s hardthrow­ing re­liev­ers are do­ing) but still har­nessed his im­pec­ca­ble com­mand to dom­i­nate on a nightly ba­sis.

So, yes, Eck­er­s­ley over­came the fate­ful home run to Kirk Gib­son in Game 1 of the 1988 World Se­ries just fine. His WHIP in 1989 and 1990: 0.607 and 0.614.

Hader’s is 0.750 (still ab­so­lutely won­der­ful), Diaz’s is 0.793 and Treinen’s is 0.848.

Treinen has the best ERA in the bunch, a minis­cule 0.85. Eck­er­s­ley’s in 1990 was 0.61.

Mak­ing Eck­er­s­ley’s achieve­ments (we’re not even count­ing his 1992 MVP sea­son) more sig­nif­i­cant was the fact he was a trend­set­ter, fill­ing the ninthin­ning role that was the brain­child of A’s man­ager Tony La Russa and pitch­ing coach Dave Duncan, which all teams even­tu­ally em­u­lated.

Not only did Eck­er­s­ley set the stan­dard as the first to do what he did but as the one by which all oth­ers are mea­sured.

Around the ma­jors

⏩ Josh Don­ald­son is to the In­di­ans what DeMar­cus Cousins will be to the War­riors. No need to rush him into games. Let him ease in at his own pace and make sure he’s ready for the post­sea­son. That’s why the In­di­ans, when they ac­quired Don­ald­son from Toronto be­fore the Aug. 31 waiver dead­line, im­me­di­ately placed the third base­man on the dis­abled list to rest his strained left calf. Don­ald­son played his first In­di­ans game Tues­day, his first big-league game since May 28. Like the War­riors, the In­di­ans have no trou­ble mak­ing the play­offs, and they’re hop­ing Don­ald­son’s pres­ence will help them reach the World Se­ries for the sec­ond time in three years.

⏩ Twice this year, the Gi­ants were stuck us­ing a po­si­tion player to pitch an in­ning, the first time Bruce Bochy went that route in his 12 years as Gi­ants man­ager. Noth­ing against Pablo San­doval and Chase d’Ar­naud, but Bochy would just as soon use a pitcher to pitch. With bullpen sizes in­creas­ing and fewer po­si­tion play­ers on the bench, we’ll be see­ing more and more of the two-way player. Per­haps not as mighty as Sho­hei Oh­tani, but a hit­ter who will be able to fill in to face a bat­ter or three when needed, not just in lop­sided games, and be some­what re­li­able. The An­gels are try­ing some­thing new, invit­ing two Triple-A out­field­ers to in­struc­tional league as pitch­ers, ac­cord­ing to the Or­ange County Reg­is­ter. Jared Walsh and Bo Way both throw left-handed and were sum­moned to pitch a few mi­nor-league in­nings al­ready, reach­ing 94 mph and look­ing de­cent. The think­ing goes, if ei­ther reaches the big leagues as an out­fielder, it would give the An­gels more ros­ter flex­i­bil­ity to use them against a left-handed bat­ter and not burn a reg­u­lar re­liever.

⏩ Braves catcher Kurt Suzuki turns 35 next month, and he con­tin­ues to play his best base­ball with his fourth team, 12 years af­ter he broke in with the A’s. He joined the Braves last sea­son and posted his best OPS by far, and this year’s is his sec­ond best. His 31 homers in At­lanta ac­count for the high­est two-year to­tal of his ca­reer. De­spite the power in­crease, Suzuki — who cred­its Braves bat­ting coach Kevin Seitzer for his new­found me­chan­ics and clout — has lim­ited his strike­outs the past two years, whiff­ing just 11.2 per­cent of the time, low­est among catch­ers. Next on the list: Buster Posey (11.7 per­cent) and Jonathan Lu­croy (12.2 per­cent).

⏩ Thurs­day, MLB tweeted, “You ready for the #Post­sea­son?” with a mu­sic video of clips of play­ers from ap­par­ent play­off-bound teams. Some­how, that meant plenty of Di­a­mond­backs (plung­ing quickly in the NL West) and very few A’s. Then again, what have the A’s done ex­cept all but se­cure a play­off spot by win­ning more games than any other team since mid-June? Noted Martin Gal­le­gos of the Bay Area News Group, the only A’s ref­er­ences were a quick Khris Davis salute and catch at the wall by … Trayce Thomp­son, who last played for the A’s on April 14. Respect.

Paul Sakuma / As­so­ci­ated Press 1989

For­mer A’s re­liever Den­nis Eck­er­s­ley, seen clos­ing out a game against Texas in 1989, was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2004. He had three sea­sons with ERAs un­der 2 af­ter be­com­ing a closer.

Mike Carlson / Getty Images

Closer Blake Treinen has im­pressed since be­ing ac­quired in last sum­mer’s Sean Doolit­tle trade.

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