Greatest Relief Seasons: Dennis Eckersley 1990
Eck had a string of 5 seasons that were probably the best 5-year stretch that any relief pitcher has ever had. Between 1988 and 1992 Eckerley was unhittable. His A’s were a powerhouse and he anchored a great pen. There may be some debate as to his greatest year. Eck won the Cy Young in 1992 by gaining 75% of the vote as well as the MVP. However, his 1990 season was one for the ages.
Yes, that is not a typo, he had an ERA of 0.61! That is only 5 earned runs! He had a WHIP of 0.614! If a pitcher has a WHIP and ERA as the same number he is a superstud. Yes he had almost a 20:1 K to BB ratio! And believe it or not Eck finished 6th in Cy Young voting. Teammate Bob Welch took the honour with a 27 win performance and many other pitchers had great seasons. Eck wasn’t even the releiver to gain the most votes as Bobby Thigpen had 57 saves that season. His save conversion rate was great as great as he blew only two saves. One of those he was charged with the loss and 4 UER.
Impact on his Team
The A’s were by far the best regular season club in the majors in 1990 and Eckersley was a big part of that success. His dominance gave his starters confidence that they only had to get through 6 innings and he, Gene Nelson and Rick Honeycutt were a lock in the final stanza of a game. Eckersley will be remembered just as much as the Bash Brothers when it comes to the A’s of the late 80s and early 90s. Any one of the seasons Eck pitched in Oakland could be Cy Young calibre. If there is a fault to Eck it came in the playoffs. He was tagged with a loss in his only meaningful appearance in the 1990 Series. He did shut the door in the ALCS vs Boston, getting credit for 2 saves.
Eckersley was in his mid 30s during his stink with his hometown Athletics. He was a converted starter who had bottomed out with a now widely known battle with alcholism. When he retired Eck was the only man to win 20 games in a season, save 50 in a season and throw a no-hitter. He had a disticntive side-arm delievery which was popular in the 1980’s. He was an all-star as a starter and as a closer he pitched until he was 43 and was still effective. Agian, his one fault was he was not lights out in big games. In the 1990 WS he lost game 2 in extra innings putting the A’s down 2-0 and setting the stage for a sweep. In 1988 he will be remembered for giving up Kirk Gibson’s walk off game one homer and in game 4 of the 1992 ALCS he blew a save putting the A’s behind 3-1 to the Blue Jays and eventually lost out.