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Dominant Dennis Eckersley
by Keith Glab, BaseballEvolution.com
July 20, 2006


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:

Player G GS W L W% Sv IP H R ER HR BB K WP ERA RA K9 BB9 HR9
Dennis Eckersley 695 2 46 43 .517 387 790 675 281 260 79 114 774 4 2.96 3.20 8.82 1.30 .90
John Franco 637 0 53 57 .482 352 721 674 256 213 40 265 560 34 2.66 3.20 6.99 3.31 .50
Randy Myers 717 12 44 63 .411 347 872 747 333 309 68 386 869 32 3.19 3.44 8.97 3.98 .70
Lee Smith 626 0 35 51 .407 334 692 626 265 242 55 254 703 17 3.15 3.45 9.15 3.31 .72
Jeff Montgomery 651 1 45 48 .484 292 817 713 307 277 74 275 706 32 3.05 3.38 7.77 3.03 .81
Doug Jones 707 4 59 72 .450 290 930 940 380 333 69 198 779 15 3.22 3.68 7.54 1.92 .67
Rick Aguilera 568 50 56 61 .479 275 912 869 396 359 96 248 769 38 3.54 3.91 7.59 2.45 .95
Tom Henke 510 0 26 33 .441 268 598 449 172 163 53 183 650 25 2.45 2.59 9.78 2.75 .80
John Wetteland 494 17 38 36 .514 253 639 482 222 194 54 209 691 40 2.73 3.13 9.73 2.94 .76
Rod Beck 497 0 24 32 .429 250 543 490 197 180 63 113 474 15 2.98 3.27 7.85 1.87 1.04

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...



Disagree with something? Got something to add? Wanna bring up something totally new? Keith Glab resides in Chicago, Illinois, and can be reached at keith@baseballevolution.com.




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