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Someone told me not long ago that Dennis Eckersley was the most dominant closer of his era. Thanks to the Baseball Musings Day by Day Database, we can evaluate this sentiment with relative ease.
Top Ten Pitchers in Saves, 1987-1998:
We find that Eckersley did indeed have the most saves over this period, although Franco and Smith finished with more for their career. Four of these relief pitchers threw more innings than Eck, even just during this span, although the edge for Myers and Aguilera is partly due to their games as a starter. We see that Franco, Henke, and Wetteland were able to post better earned run averages than Dennis did over this stretch, but that effect is lessened somewhat when we take unearned runs into account. Only Henke and Myers among these pitchers had a better save percentage in their career than Eckersley, and they're both less than a percentage point ahead.
There are still a couple of things that Eckersley did better than anybody else, and they both have to do with control. Dennis probably had better control than any other reliever ever. As a result, his K/BB ratio also looks outlandishly good. Something that astonished me was the WP column. Eckersley made only four wild pitches as a reliever. That's incredible.
But then we dart our eyes and see that Dennis had the third worst HR rate in this chart. In fact, John Franco allowed the longball almost twice as infrequently as Eck did during the period in question.
So was Eckersley indeed the most dominant closer of his era? Probably so. He's among the top three in most of these categories during his time as a reliever. But it's certainly not as clear cut as one may think. And when you look at how much time guys like Franco and Smith spent as relievers beyond Eckersley's career, and it's hard not to rate them as better closers overall.
But then we get to crediting Eckersley for his time as a starter. That's a bit more difficult, and is a topic for a later date...