Greatest Relief Seasons: Willie Hernandez 1984
Willie & the Detroit Tigers had a magical 1984. Awards, saves, manly pitching feats, its all here. Hernandez takes his rightful place in our series of greatest relief seasons of all time.
Originally drafted by the Phillies, Willie began in MLB career in the Cubs oganization after Chicago used a 1976 Rule V pick. At 22 Willie started only 1 game for the Cubs, yet pitched in 110 IP. He went on to pitch a total 6+ years for the Cubbies, primarily as a set-up man. In 1983 he was shipped off to the Phillies, where he again resumed a set-up role. In the procedding off-season, Hernandez was traded along with Dave Bergman to the Tigers for John Wockenfuss & Glenn Wilson. Wilson had went on to have an all-star season in 1985, saving this deal from the annuals of Philly poorest trade horrors.
This brings us to 1984. We’ve seen the stats at the top and we now have a snazzy summation in a box to our right. The 140+ IP out of the bullpen are unheard of today and this wasn’t a bunch of easy mop-up duty work either. More than half of Hernandez’s saves were 2+ IP, with a total of six being earned with 3+IP of work. No one has thrown as many relief innings since. His one lone blown save is made that much more impressive due to the length of many save opportunities. On top of this Willie’s 112 K’s led all relievers and he gave up only 6 HR all-season long.
Hernandez was part of a three prong bullpen that hall of fame manager Sparky Anderson used throughout the 1984 season. Doing the set-up work was Aurelio Lopez. Lopez threw 137.7 IP himself, with a 2.81 ERA. Along with the third leg, Doug Bair (93.7 IP), these three combined for more than 370 IP out of the pen in 1984. If that wasn’t enough, the Tigers went out and aquired another reliever in Bill Scherrer at the trading deadline.
The Tigers won the east by a cool 15 games with an outstanding record of 104 – 58. In the AL championship series they swept the Kansas City Royals three games to none. Hernandez pitched in all three games, going 4 IP with 1 save and a 2.25 ERA.
The Tigers went into the World Series against the underdog San Diego Padres , led by Tony Gwynn’s .351 AVG & great pitching depth. The Tigers proceeded to dispatch the Fryars in five games. This time around Willie picked up 2 saves in 5.1 IP, giving him a 1984 playoff ERA of 1.93. Let the Riots begin!!
In the off-season Willie brought home the hardware, collecting the AL Cy Young & MVP awards, edging out another reliever in Dan Quisenberry for both awards.
Hernandez spent the rest of his career with the Tigers. While he was understandably never as dominate as he was in 1984, he remained a top level relief pitcher and made the all-star team in 1985 & 1986. Willie retired following the 1989 season. He received hall of fame two votes from the writers committee in 1995, his only year on the ballot.