The best relief career you never hear about

Who were the top relievers of the 1970s?

If you ask the average fan, you’d likely hear Rollie Fingers, Sparky Lyle, Goose GossageMike Marshall, Tug McGraw, Kent Tekulve and others before John Hiller. Hell, I’m a Tigers fan, and even I would have named a few guys ahead of my hometown hero.

But John Hiller was #1 in Reliever* bWAR in the ’70s, and it wasn’t even close:

Rk Player WAR ERA+ SO/9 SO/BB WPA/LI IR IS% From To Age G GS CG SHO GF W L W% SV IP
1 John Hiller 25.7 144 8.02 1.96 7.888 455 31.65% 1970 1979 27-36 426 17 6 2 321 69 63 .523 115 911.0
2 Rich Gossage 19.2 119 7.25 1.77 6.412 355 30.14% 1972 1979 20-27 359 37 16 0 223 55 59 .482 101 910.1
3 Sparky Lyle 16.7 141 5.53 1.85 10.127 688 33.72% 1970 1979 25-34 600 0 0 0 477 69 59 .539 190 960.1
4 Mike Marshall 16.4 126 5.90 1.76 8.292 455 31.87% 1970 1979 27-36 628 10 0 0 505 89 94 .486 177 1176.2
5 Rollie Fingers 15.9 118 7.18 2.76 12.024 545 29.54% 1970 1979 23-32 640 29 3 1 480 84 85 .497 209 1219.0
6 Bruce Sutter 14.2 177 9.63 3.63 8.055 195 26.67% 1976 1979 23-26 240 0 0 0 179 27 22 .551 105 390.2
7 Terry Forster 13.0 109 6.87 1.82 3.006 338 28.70% 1971 1979 19-27 360 39 5 0 213 38 52 .422 100 774.0
8 Bill Campbell 12.8 124 6.48 1.80 2.447 374 31.28% 1973 1979 24-30 355 9 2 1 274 55 39 .585 95 706.0
9 Jim Kern 12.5 141 8.33 1.81 6.122 318 27.67% 1974 1979 25-30 256 12 1 0 178 42 35 .545 75 539.0
10 Tug McGraw 12.1 120 6.75 1.96 11.426 301 33.55% 1970 1979 25-34 542 9 1 1 374 69 58 .543 132 967.1
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 2/11/2012.

(* All “reliever” claims herein refer to pitchers who relieved in at least 80% of their games.)

Today, Hiller is remembered mainly for his 38 saves in 1973, a record that lasted a decade (and a season that ranks #2 all-time in reliever bWAR). You may also know that he had no other 20-save years, and a modest 125 career saves. But he had 7 years of at least 2 WAR in the ’70s; no other reliever had more than 5. He had 3 years of 4+ WAR in the decade, more than any other RP.

If you’re not impressed by WAR, well, Hiller’s 144 ERA+ was also #1 among ’70s relievers. (Min. 400 IP; 58 relievers met that threshold.)

Was it an accident of timing? Is the ’70s comparison misleading because Hiller’s prime fits the decade pretty neatly, while other relief stars began or ended halfway through?

Not really. Hiller leads in reliever WAR for:

  • every 10-year period from 1965-74 through 1971-80; and
  • the 5-year periods 1970-74, 1971-75, 1972-76 and 1973-77. He’s 2nd for 1974-78, behind Gossage but well ahead of all others.

In fact, Hiller leads in reliever WAR for the 20 years 1961-80 combined:

Rk Player WAR ERA+ SO/9 SO/BB WPA/LI IR IS% From To Age G GS CG SHO GF W L W% SV IP
1 John Hiller 28.2 134 7.51 1.94 9.486 550 32.36% 1965 1980 22-37 545 43 13 6 363 87 76 .534 125 1242.0
2 Rich Gossage 22.4 123 7.45 1.85 8.056 409 29.10% 1972 1980 20-28 423 37 16 0 281 61 61 .500 134 1009.1
3 Hoyt Wilhelm 20.9 161 7.13 2.63 17.610 353 34.84% 1961 1972 38-49 597 4 0 0 423 70 64 .522 162 1083.2
4 Sparky Lyle 20.4 135 5.87 1.93 9.968 920 34.02% 1967 1980 22-35 806 0 0 0 598 87 67 .565 233 1266.2
5 Tug McGraw 18.6 119 6.74 1.90 12.714 367 32.15% 1965 1980 20-35 697 38 5 1 465 87 84 .509 165 1337.1
6 Bruce Sutter 17.7 171 9.02 3.32 8.788 233 26.18% 1976 1980 23-27 300 0 0 0 222 32 30 .516 133 493.0
7 Clay Carroll 16.9 122 4.53 1.54 8.474 528 35.98% 1964 1978 23-37 731 28 1 0 373 96 73 .568 143 1353.1
8 Dave Giusti 16.9 95 5.78 1.94 5.677 414 36.71% 1962 1977 22-37 668 133 35 9 380 100 93 .518 145 1716.2
9 Rollie Fingers 16.6 115 6.88 2.58 11.372 660 29.85% 1968 1980 21-33 767 37 4 2 556 101 101 .500 244 1442.1
10 Mike Marshall 16.3 118 5.79 1.72 6.807 506 33.40% 1967 1980 24-37 703 24 3 1 540 94 110 .461 188 1355.2
11 Don McMahon 15.3 126 6.91 1.80 10.267 497 34.41% 1961 1974 31-44 696 2 0 0 383 73 54 .575 111 1061.0
12 Ted Abernathy 15.2 131 6.10 1.38 7.191 478 32.43% 1963 1972 30-39 608 0 0 0 400 55 47 .539 148 910.2
13 Ron Perranoski 15.0 124 5.26 1.47 8.110 632 32.91% 1961 1973 25-37 737 1 0 0 458 79 74 .516 179 1174.2
14 Jim Brewer 14.4 113 7.09 2.27 6.934 443 33.18% 1961 1976 23-38 579 31 1 1 351 69 62 .527 132 1018.2
15 Lindy McDaniel 14.2 110 6.07 2.31 8.273 664 35.84% 1961 1975 25-39 761 13 3 0 464 88 81 .521 131 1456.0
16 Grant Jackson 13.8 107 6.01 1.81 3.545 578 27.85% 1965 1980 22-37 626 83 16 5 260 81 72 .529 75 1276.2
17 Al McBean 13.2 111 4.83 1.58 3.692 217 36.87% 1961 1970 23-32 409 76 22 5 186 67 50 .573 63 1072.1
18 Terry Forster 13.1 110 6.79 1.81 3.200 341 29.03% 1971 1980 19-28 369 39 5 0 220 38 52 .422 100 785.2
19 Gary Lavelle 12.8 132 6.31 1.62 3.676 324 35.80% 1974 1980 25-31 412 0 0 0 244 49 46 .516 83 622.0
20 Bob Miller 12.7 105 5.15 1.44 0.705 494 36.03% 1961 1974 22-35 663 82 4 0 282 61 75 .449 51 1419.0
21 Bill Campbell 12.6 121 6.32 1.72 2.509 395 31.39% 1973 1980 24-31 378 9 2 1 285 59 39 .602 95 747.1
22 Dick Radatz 12.3 122 9.67 2.52 5.220 283 33.22% 1962 1969 25-32 381 0 0 0 297 52 43 .547 122 693.2
23 Jim Kern 12.1 131 8.05 1.68 5.282 361 30.47% 1974 1980 25-31 294 13 1 0 193 45 46 .495 77 602.1
24 Frank Linzy 11.3 124 3.94 1.27 4.974 436 35.55% 1963 1974 22-33 516 2 0 0 342 62 57 .521 111 817.1
25 Dave LaRoche 11.1 104 7.23 1.77 4.230 577 28.94% 1970 1980 22-32 595 14 1 0 351 57 55 .509 126 951.1
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 2/11/2012.

Now, maybe WAR isn’t the perfect measure of a relief ace. But still, that’s a big margin in WAR. The gap from Hiller to #2 is the same as the gap from #2 to #9.

Hiller’s 28.2 career bWAR ranks 7th all-time among relievers. Here are those with at least 20 bWAR:

Rk Player WAR GF IP ERA+ From To Age W L SV
1 Mariano Rivera 56.3 883 1211.1 206 1995 2011 25-41 75 57 603
2 Hoyt Wilhelm 41.3 651 2254.1 147 1952 1972 29-49 143 122 227
3 Rich Gossage 40.0 681 1809.1 126 1972 1994 20-42 124 107 310
4 Trevor Hoffman 30.8 856 1089.1 141 1993 2010 25-42 61 75 601
5 Lee Smith 30.3 802 1289.1 132 1980 1997 22-39 71 92 478
6 Billy Wagner 29.7 703 903.0 187 1995 2010 23-38 47 40 422
7 John Hiller 28.2 363 1242.0 134 1965 1980 22-37 87 76 125
8 John Franco 25.8 774 1245.2 138 1984 2005 23-44 90 87 424
9 Bruce Sutter 25.0 512 1042.0 136 1976 1988 23-35 68 71 300
10 Kent Tekulve 24.8 638 1436.2 132 1974 1989 27-42 94 90 184
11 Rollie Fingers 24.4 709 1701.1 120 1968 1985 21-38 114 118 341
12 Dan Quisenberry 24.3 553 1043.1 147 1979 1990 26-37 56 46 244
13 Lindy McDaniel 23.4 577 2139.1 110 1955 1975 19-39 141 119 172
14 Tom Henke 23.1 548 789.2 157 1982 1995 24-37 41 42 311
15 Francisco Rodriguez 22.7 445 648.2 172 2002 2011 20-29 36 27 291
16 Stu Miller 22.6 405 1693.1 115 1952 1968 24-40 105 103 154
17 Joe Nathan 22.1 408 729.2 152 1999 2011 24-36 48 23 261
18 Dave Righetti 21.6 474 1403.2 114 1979 1995 20-36 82 79 252
19 Doug Jones 21.5 640 1128.1 129 1982 2000 25-43 69 79 303
20 Bob Stanley 21.5 376 1707.0 119 1977 1989 22-34 115 97 132
21 Francisco Cordero 21.4 557 785.1 145 1999 2011 24-36 44 45 327
22 Rick Aguilera 21.3 557 1291.1 118 1985 2000 23-38 86 81 318
23 Jeff Montgomery 21.1 549 868.2 135 1987 1999 25-37 46 52 304
24 John Wetteland 20.8 523 765.0 149 1989 2000 22-33 48 45 330
25 Jesse Orosco 20.6 501 1295.1 126 1979 2003 22-46 87 80 144
26 Tug McGraw 20.4 541 1514.2 117 1965 1984 20-39 96 92 180
27 Jeff Reardon 20.3 695 1132.1 122 1979 1994 23-38 73 77 367
28 Keith Foulke 20.2 406 786.2 140 1997 2008 24-35 41 37 191
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 2/11/2012.

Now, I’m not trying to put John Hiller in the Hall, just because he has more bWAR than Sutter or Fingers, and a bigger 5-year peak than Rivera, Hoffman, Wilhelm or Eckersley (as a RP). But he was a hell of a pitcher.

So why isn’t he widely considered one of the all-time great relievers?

Saves became the predominant reliever stat. And after his record-setting ’73, Hiller didn’t rack up saves. Two reasons why:

  • After ’73, the Tigers got real bad, averaging 92 losses over the next 4 years; and
  • Detroit was one of the last teams to adopt the “closer” role. They were in the bottom 4 in saves each year from 1974-78. In 1978, Hiller’s last big year, the Tigers won 86 games, but had just 21 saves. The MLB average was 31 saves; the other winning teams averaged 36.

Hiller also got just a whiff of postseason exposure: Detroit made the playoffs just once in the ’70s, losing the ’72 ALCS to Oakland in 5 tense games. Hiller pitched in 3 of the 5 games, totaling 3.1 scoreless IP, allowing just an infield single and stranding both inherited runners. Most of the World Series teams in the ’70s had star relievers, whose status was raised by pitching on the biggest stage: Fingers, Gossage, Lyle, McGraw, Kent Tekulve, Mike Marshall, Clay Carroll and Rawly Eastwick….

I’ll close with two last tables:

Total strikeouts among ’70s relievers:

Rk Player SO ERA+ SO/9 SO/BB
1 Rollie Fingers 973 118 7.18 2.76
2 John Hiller 812 144 8.02 1.96
3 Mike Marshall 771 126 5.90 1.76
4 Rich Gossage 733 119 7.25 1.77
5 Tug McGraw 726 120 6.75 1.96
6 Tom Hall 687 107 9.06 2.15
7 Dave LaRoche 675 105 7.38 1.72
8 Terry Forster 591 109 6.87 1.82
9 Sparky Lyle 590 141 5.53 1.85
10 Diego Segui 546 102 6.33 1.53
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 2/11/2012.

All pitchers — Top strikeout rates in the ’70s (min. 500 IP):

Rk Player SO/9 IP SO ERA+ From To Age
1 Nolan Ryan 9.78 2465.0 2678 113 1970 1979 23-32
2 Tom Hall 9.06 682.1 687 107 1970 1977 22-29
3 Jim Kern 8.33 539.0 499 141 1974 1979 25-30
4 J.R. Richard 8.29 1492.1 1374 105 1971 1979 21-29
5 John Hiller 8.02 911.0 812 144 1970 1979 27-36
6 Sam McDowell 7.88 902.1 790 106 1970 1975 27-32
7 Tom Seaver 7.82 2652.1 2304 138 1970 1979 25-34
8 Ron Guidry 7.80 752.1 652 155 1975 1979 24-28
9 Dave LaRoche 7.38 823.1 675 105 1970 1979 22-31
10 Al Hrabosky 7.37 591.1 484 127 1970 1979 20-29
11 Rich Gossage 7.25 910.1 733 119 1972 1979 20-27
12 John D’Acquisto 7.22 655.2 526 81 1973 1979 21-27
13 Rollie Fingers 7.18 1219.0 973 118 1970 1979 23-32
14 Bert Blyleven 7.14 2624.2 2082 130 1970 1979 19-28
15 Frank Tanana 7.14 1411.1 1120 122 1973 1979 19-25
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 2/11/2012.

 

0 0 vote
Article Rating
Subscribe
Notify of
guest
60 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
DaveR
DaveR
9 years ago

WOW! 17-14 in ’74? That is incredible. I’ve never seen so many decisions by a reliever, and he only pitched in 59 games! Adding 13 saves to the mix, he sure wasn’t wasted that year.

J. B. Rainsberger
9 years ago

Canadian baseball fans of a certain age would immediately guess John Hiller. 🙂

Steven
Steven
9 years ago

Didn’t Hiller have a heart attack prior to his big success?

Ed
Ed
9 years ago

Yep. Actually he had 4 really good seasons before the heart attack but was better afterwards. In fact, if he hadn’t missed 1 1/2 years in the 70s due to the heart attack, he’d have an even bigger lead on some of Andy’s tables. BTW, this is what wikipedia says about the heart attack: “After his January 11, 1971 heart attack, he had a lengthy recovery and was invited to 1972 spring training, but was left off the roster and designated as a coach when the year began, starting the season as a batting practice pitcher.” He didn’t rejoin the… Read more »

Adam Darowski
9 years ago

Hiller has to be the most underrated pitcher (any role) in history. His story is incredible, too.

Putting him in the Hall, however, would be as crazy as putting Bruce Suttee or Rollie Fingers in.

Oh wait…

Andy
Admin
9 years ago

JA did you change the name of this post after it went up? I notice that our Twitter feed published it under a different name.

AlbaNate
AlbaNate
9 years ago

Great post John!

I always thought that John Hiller was a pretty good pitcher when I was a kid–thanks for providing the proof.

As an added bonus, this post made me think about a bunch of players I hadn’t thought about in a long time. Like Dave Giusti, who I remember most for his odd delivery–at least I thought it odd at the time. And Gary Lavelle and Diego Segui, more forgotten player from that era.

MikeD
MikeD
9 years ago
Reply to  John Autin

I just took a quick look at Hiller’s fWAR numbers, and it appears Fangraph’s dings him related to FIP, which is included in their formula. Normally this is fine, and it’s one of the things I like about fWAR (I like rWAR too, but use them for different things), but it can lead to underrating select pitchers who have consistently shown the ability to exceed their FIP numbers. The folks at FanGraphs, for example, will admit that their formual underrates Mariano Rivera, whose cutter allows him to consistently produce weak contact, moving it from luck to a repeatable skill. For… Read more »

kds
kds
9 years ago
Reply to  MikeD

Maybe he had a skill to produce weak contact and that is why his ERA is consistently better than his FIP. But it is also possible that he had above average defenses behind him and that explains the difference. I don’t think there are direct ways to test the first hypothesis, but we can look at the defense independent of his pitching and test the second theory.

Chris Maddix
Chris Maddix
9 years ago
Reply to  John Autin

I guess the most interesting aspect of this for me is that Tiger defense dropped in efficiency coincident with the additions of Aurelio and Brinkman, and with, arguably, the best seasons of Mickey Stanley.

MikeD
MikeD
9 years ago
Reply to  kds

I saw your note over the weekend and meant to circle back to it once I took a closer look at Hiller’s FIP numbers in the context of Detroit’s defense. I see John A. beat me to it.

The result is as I expected. Detroit was quite bad for a number of those years, with a poor defense. It further indicates why fWAR underrates Hiller.

Kerry W
Kerry W
9 years ago

He was always primarily used as a reliever, but in many years he did start a number of games (8% of total games), and completed about a third of them. I wonder how much of his WAR came from the starts? Using WPA (which I think is a good measure for a relief pitcher), he is only 30th overall for relief pitchers (define as JA did). For the 70’s he was 4th in reliever WPA, behind Gossage, McGraw and Lyle. Looking into it further, in the 70’s Gossage and Hiller had almost identical IP, Hiller had more bWAR and Gossage… Read more »

birtelcom
birtelcom
9 years ago
Reply to  Kerry W

Gd point about Hiller as a starter. His numbers as a starter are good, and he might well have been a solid starter if he’d been used that way consistently. He started 42 games between 1967 and 1977, with an ERA in those games of 3.03. Among 298 pitchers who had at least 30 total starts over the period 1967 to 1977, Hlller’s 3.03 is the 17th best (just behind Nolan Ryan’s 3.02 ERA as a starter over that period). Hiller’s career OPS against as a relief pitcher was .648 — his career OPS against as a starter was only… Read more »

Kerry W
Kerry W
9 years ago

JA mentioned the number of inherited runners scoring. Hiller had 125 saves and 63 blown saves, which is not very good. That could account for his weaker WPA. He may be one of those relievers for whom ERA is not the best measure of their effectiveness.

Dr. Remulak
Dr. Remulak
9 years ago
Reply to  Kerry W

Hiller averaged more than 2 innings per relief appearance. Blown saves are more likely if you are out there 2 or 3 innings, rather than 1.

Richard Chester
Richard Chester
9 years ago
Reply to  Dr. Remulak

In 1974 Hiller averaged 2.54 IP/G. That is the second highest ratio for pitchers in a season with all of his appearances in relief. The highest belongs to Bob Stanley with 3.50in 1982.

Doug
Doug
9 years ago
Reply to  John Autin

Must have been a relief approach the Red Sox were trying out that year. Stanley’s teammate Mark Clear had a very similar 1982 season.

– all relief appearances: 55 for Clear, 45 for Stanley
– almost 2 IP per appearance for Clear, over 3 for Stanley
– 14 saves for each
– lots of decisions: 14-9 for Clear, 12-7 for Stanley
– ERA+: 145 for Clear, 140 for Stanley

Lawrence Azrin
Lawrence Azrin
9 years ago
Reply to  John Autin

John A., Good to see Bob Stanley, the “Rodney Dangerfield” of Red Sox pitchers, get a little respect here. Not only did he get constant critisism from Red Sox fans most of his career, he wasn’t even _listed_ on the HOF ballot in 1995 when his career was over, despite getting MVP votes in three different seasons. I remember him once publicly commenting on this, and he was genuinely disappointed. Was he that much worse than Mike Krukow or Chris Speier, who at least appeared on that 1995 ballot and even got a HOF vote? I understand Willie Hernandez getting… Read more »

Doug
Doug
9 years ago
Reply to  John Autin

Yes, Stanley is the last reliever to qualify for the ERA title, leading the league (among qualifiers) in ERA+.

Other relievers to do this since the 1960s are Sammy Stewart (’81), Bill Campbell (’76), Mike Marshall (’73, ’74), Fergie Jenkins!! (’66), and Eddie Fisher (’65).

Kerry W
Kerry W
9 years ago
Reply to  Dr. Remulak

I should have mentioned Gossage’s SV/BS ratio by comparison (310/112); it was closer to 3-to-1, not 2-to-1 like Hiller’s. Not great by today’s standards (perhaps for the reason you mentioned), but better than Hiller’s.

Doug
Doug
9 years ago
Reply to  John Autin

Except maybe comparing Hiller’s blown saves to Gossage’s. Hiller did better, but Gossage had similar sorts of numbers.

KalineCountry
KalineCountry
9 years ago

John Hiller was a pitcher of those veteran Tigers’ teams of 1967 and the magical season of 1968. I remember him starting his career a few years earlier when I was a teen and seeing him pitch at fenway, (Family moved from Detroit in 1957). iirc he was more a swingman, starting and relieving, before the heart attack. Remembering the shock of reading a baseball player, just a few years older than I was having such a serious health issue was/is just something you thought of that people more than twice his age. To come back from it and have… Read more »

Dr. Remulak
Dr. Remulak
9 years ago
Reply to  KalineCountry

Jim Bouton tells a bizarre Dick Radatz story in Ball Four. Apparently, some guy hired Radatz to throw — if I remember correctly — oranges at his naked ass. Ypu can look it up.

Andy r
Andy r
9 years ago
Reply to  Dr. Remulak

And Bouton added “And that’s back when Radatz could really bring it”…

Lawrence Azrin
Lawrence Azrin
9 years ago
Reply to  KalineCountry

KalineCountry, Ah, the MONSTER – Dick Radatz! – from 1962-1964 he was the most dominant Red Sox reliever ever (including Papelbon). He was Top-5 in Pitcher’s WAR, 1st or 2nd in Saves, received MVP votes all three of these years. In the 90s and early ’00s, he co-hosted several weekend baseball shows on Boston-area sports station WEEI. He was one of the few older players who readily admitted that the current baseball players were: – in better shape overall than players of his generation – better behaved in public (MUCH less drinking, in particular) – just as good as the… Read more »

KalineCountry
KalineCountry
9 years ago
Reply to  Lawrence Azrin

Lawrence, Yes he was a great guy. Living in and around boston since 1957, I used to see him close out games, watching them with my dad. Years later when I used to listen to the baseball talk shows, when they allowed a caller to speak, I used to call the old ‘Clif and Claf’ show with Cliff Keane a great writer imo for the boston globe, and Larry Claflin with the herald. Radatz was on one afternoon, and I was able to talk with him for a few minutes about his success as a reliever, and if he thought… Read more »

Lawrence Azrin
Lawrence Azrin
9 years ago
Reply to  KalineCountry

KalineCountry,

Thanks for sharing the anecdotes. I also heard that Radatz suffered from leg troubles for a while, and had trouble getting around, so that may have been the cause of the fall. Well, I guess it doesn’t matter now.

I always wondered why his career declined so quickly after 1965; he was still striking out about a batter an inning till the end of his career.

KalineCountry
KalineCountry
9 years ago
Reply to  Lawrence Azrin

You’re welcome, I don’t remember that much about Radatz’s leg problem, except maybe something about neuropathy. I just can’t say for sure. I do remember that Radatz had put on alot of weight later in life, which can also be an attributing factor. He was really most outgoing on the radio with all the fans that called in. The phone call into the radio station was back in 1978 or 79. My only other call to ‘Clif and Claf’ was in the same time frame of 78/79. They had Kaline on before a night game Tigers at fenway and I… Read more »

Dr. Doom
Dr. Doom
9 years ago

Showing my age: I had never heard of John Hiller before. Thanks for the post, JA! Another interesting thing about Hiller is that in 1973, his saves+decisions is 53. That is a HUGE number. Even with the advent of the modern bullpen, that number is big. I mean, if your saves+decisions is high, that means you’re really in the game when it’s on the line. Even last season, Hiller’s S+D total of 53 would have tied for 2nd in the majors – only Jose Valverde (55) had more, and Craig Kimbrel also had 53. In the last five years, here… Read more »

Dr. Doom
Dr. Doom
9 years ago
Reply to  Dr. Doom

And holy cow!!! 150 relief innings in 1974? Wow. I don’t see anyone topping that any time soon, unless there’s a pretty major change in reliever usage patterns, which the post earlier this week seems to be specifically contradicting.

DaveR
DaveR
9 years ago
Reply to  Dr. Doom

Mike Marshall’s 1974 is just nuts. 208 innings in relief, and used almost 2 innings a game, on average. No manager will ever subject his best reliever to that type of abuse ever again.

KalineCountry
KalineCountry
9 years ago
Reply to  DaveR

The 4 year run by Radatz from 62-65 was similar with a 2 inning average per appearance. iirc any one of the sox managers of pesky, jurges, higgins, kasko, bringing Radatz in to pitch the 6th inning or before.

e pluribus munu
e pluribus munu
9 years ago
Reply to  DaveR

As I recall, Marshall’s usage was in large part self-abuse (so to speak). Marshall had some expertise in anatomy, a self-designed training method, a theory about optimal relief pitching, and a salesman’s relentlessness. He lobbied Alston publicly to let him pitch on an everyday basis – Wilbur Wood was pitching unbelievable innings totals in the AL on his own less academic theory of the immortality of the knuckleball arm. The abuse of Marshall wasn’t at all like Alston’s abuse of Koufax. To add to KalineCountry’s good comment, as a resident of the Detroit area in Hiller’s years, part of the… Read more »

Brandon
9 years ago

As stated Hiller did just pitch once in the postseason in the 70’s. But don’t forget he pitched twice in the ’68 World Series. He pitched two scoreless innings to finish up a 7-3 loss in Game 3. “Ratso” again appeared in Game 4, but failed to retire a batter and allowed four runs, three earned as the Tigers were blown out 10-1.

Doug
Doug
9 years ago

Pitchers with saves in 75% of appearances, since 1961. Minimum 15 saves and 40 games, 80% in relief. Showing saves and save rate. Francisco Rodriguez, 62, 0.816, 2008, LAA Lee Smith, 33, 0.805, 1994, BAL Trevor Hoffman, 53, 0.803, 1998, SDP Mike Williams, 46, 0.780, 2002, PIT Bryan Harvey, 45, 0.763, 1993, FLA Dennis Eckersley, 48, 0.762, 1990, OAK J.J. Putz, 45, 0.750, 2011, ARI Dennis Eckersley, 45, 0.750, 1988, OAK Pitchers with decisions in one-third of appearances, since 1961. Minimum 15 saves and 40 games, 80% in relief. Showing saves, W-L, and decision rate. NOTE: All seasons shows had… Read more »

Doug
Doug
9 years ago

The last pitcher (starter or reliever) to record a decision in every game pitched (min. 25 games) was Lum Harris, who went 11-15 for the 1942 Athletics. Since then, these guys have had only a single appearance where they did not record a decision. John Smiley, 1997, CLE-CIN, 11-14 Kirk McCaskill, 1991, CAL, 10-19 Greg Swindell, 1988, CLE, 18-14 Ron Guidry, 1983, NYY, 21-9 Larry Dierker, 1976, HOU, 13-14 Steve Rogers, 1974, MON, 15-22 Gaylord Perry, 1972, CLE, 24-16 Denny McLain, 1971, WSA, 10-22 Camilo Pascual, 1963, MIN, 21-9 Duane Pillette, 1954, BAL, 10-14 Ned Garver, 1951, SLB, 20-12 Eddie… Read more »

Richard Chester
Richard Chester
9 years ago
Reply to  Doug

If you lower the threshold to a minimum of 20 games Ted Lyons had 20 games and 20 decisions also in 1942. He started and completed all of those games making him the last player to have done that (minimum of 20 games).

Hartvig
Hartvig
9 years ago

Good ole’ Sunday Teddy Lyons- one of the more unique career paths in the game. Arm trouble in 1931 changed him to a control pitcher & he seemed to lose a lot of effectiveness the next couple of years. Then they somehow hit on the idea of starting him only on Sundays- partly because of doubleheaders and partly because he would draw big crowds- and his effectiveness returned. The odd part is, even with his arm problems, he still continued to complete the vast majority of his games- which is pretty much the polar opposite of what they would do… Read more »

Doug
Doug
9 years ago
Reply to  Hartvig

Looks like Teddy specialized in summer Sundays, at least in 1942. All of his Sunday starts came between May 17 and Aug 30. He had only one start in that period (Aug 4) that wasn’t on a Sunday. Lyons also had decisions in every appearance in 1935 (15-8), and 1941 (12-10), and had no more than 3 games without a decision every year from 1935 to 1942. Lyons was out of the majors for 3 years in WWII, serving despite being in his forties. Nevertheless, he returned in 1946 at age 45 and was still pitching effectively (5 CG in… Read more »

kds
kds
9 years ago
Reply to  Hartvig

Today you couldn’t do that because it would mess up your rotation, making it harder to start every 5 days. In his time with all the doubleheaders it actually helped keep the other starters on a more regular schedule.

Andy R
Andy R
9 years ago
Reply to  Doug

Perry’s 1972 season was different- 40 starts, 40 decisions, and a save in his only relief appearance- pitchers sure were treated differently years ago…

bluejaysstatsgeek
bluejaysstatsgeek
9 years ago

Here’s a trivia factoid: Besides both being Canadians and pitchers in MLB, what else links John Hiller and Ferguson Jenkins? There were AL Comeback Player of the Year in consecutive years, 1973 and 1974.

(They probably also both held team records of some sort, but I’m just trying to do a bit of (very un-Canadian) flag-waving!)

Doug
Doug
9 years ago

Another connection is this game from Apr 22, 1978. Jenkins and Hiller, both appearing in relief, duelled each other into extra innings, with Hiller prevailing.

http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/DET/DET197804220.shtml

A sign that this game was from another time is that Jenkins was still in the game after loading the bases with one out in the 10th, in his fourth inning of relief. This was the last of Jenkins’ four straight relief outings to start the ’78 season. He made 30 starts the rest of the way.

bluejaysstatsgeek
bluejaysstatsgeek
9 years ago
Reply to  Doug

Thanks, that’s neat to know.

Doug
Doug
9 years ago

Here’s another cool matchup of Jenkins and Hiller, from June 17, 1974.

http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/TEX/TEX197406170.shtml

– Tigers had the better of Jenkins, leading 4-0 going into the home 9th
– In the 9th, the Rangers got a 3-run HR by Fregosi off starter Woody Fryman, and then a solo HR off Hiller to tie the game.
– Tigers came back with a 2-run HR by Kaline (in his final season) off Jenkins in the 10th, and Hiller held onto to that lead for the win.

Stu
Stu
9 years ago
Reply to  John Autin

John,
Thanks for the cool info. I actually pitched against Jon Hiller in the Wichigan league in 1984. I was 22. Quinnesec (us) vs. Felch. At the time, I didn’t even know who he was. We actally won the game. Now I need some grandkids to tell the story.
Stu

Tmckelv
Tmckelv
9 years ago

I always knew Hiller was really good, but just how much better his numbers were than other relievers of the era is surprising. But not shocking.

The most shocking stat of this post is Tom Hall’s K rate/total K’s on the last 2 tables above. I guess I remembered him more from his Mets days, but he had great years in the early 1970’s with the Big Red Machine.

Steven
Steven
9 years ago
Reply to  Tmckelv

I remember Hall as that skinny Red. He only weighed about 150 pounds.

Lee Panas
9 years ago

Excellent article. I wish I had written it. As a long-time Tigers fan, I remember him well. I knew he was very good, but your research shows he may have been even better than I remember.

Of course, it’s hard to compare relievers over eras because of their changing roles. I love the way relievers were used back in those days. I think teams got more value out of them than they do today.