High bar for closers set by Eckersley
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.
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.
Closer Blake Treinen has impressed since being acquired in last summer’s Sean Doolittle trade.