FanGraphs Baseball


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  1. Looks like Kern also blew his arm after that 79 season.

    Comment by lexomatic — January 25, 2013 @ 4:40 pm

  2. I was glad to see this. I was just a pup in 79 but Kern was a beast. Plus he has that crazy man beard for a while. Too bad it ended so quickly for him.

    Comment by FieryFurnaces — January 25, 2013 @ 6:22 pm

  3. I think this is an area that teams should explore again. They use pitch count for starters, so why not or relievers? My point is that the top bullpen arms are dramatically underutilized. Who says your top three relievers should not be able to throw 30-40 pitches each in an outing by May or June. It’s a waste to carry 7-8 pitchers in a bullpen and cripples a manager’s ability to better use platoon matchups, defensive replacements and pinch runners.

    I’d like to see top relievers getting 80-100 innings or more each season over 55 appearances. Teams should try to carry a true long man to save the pen on the days when it’s 8-1 after 6 and the starter is done. Those extra 1-2 bench spots are all too critical in several situations throughout a season.

    Comment by Brian — January 25, 2013 @ 8:59 pm

  4. Jim Kern was the first player consistently clocked in triple digits. He never had great command, but that was part of his game; high hard stuff where not even he was sure where it was going, and the batters never dug in. I rembember him in those years, and he was scary. Back in those days Eckersley was _starting_ in Cleveland, and then they’d bring in Kern. He threw harder than Gossage, but Rich Gossage had better location and repeated his motion more consistently, which was why Gossage had the better results overall. Gossage, Tekulve, Kern, Lyle, Fingers: those were the guys that put it in managers’ heads that a ‘fireman’ was a game-changing asset rather than a band-aid for a starter who didn’t cut it that day.

    Man, that whole list takes me back. I remember when every guy on that list was ‘the Man’ who could come in and shut the other team down late; the guy you _didn’t_ want to see up in the bullpen if your were for the other squad. Several things stand out looking at the table. Rivera is indeed from another planet. No one else has been as good. No one else has had such a long career as a dominating closer. (And of course, it would be the Yankees who latched onto him). But the further thing that stands out is that it’s ridiculous that Lee Smith isn’t in the Hall of Fame. That was in my mind during the recent debates about “Who’s going to get in in 2012?” People get in more because they are popular than because they are ‘the best.’ There is no case for Fingers being in and Lee Smith not. Lee Smith was arguably better than Trevor Hoffman, who was a shoo in. Big Lee was a very Gossage like guy; hard stuff, consistent mechanics, good location, went about his job. He lasted a very long time, and team after team let him go (which has hurt him for the Hall, in my view). And Lee would show up somewhere else the next year, throw exactly as always, and close down the last inning like always. Lee Smith would be worth a post by himself, though I’m happy to see Jim Kern getting some love. Kern was a colorful, memorable guy who would still be among the best if he was throwing today.

    Comment by Balthazar — January 25, 2013 @ 11:09 pm

  5. There is a point missed in the ‘have ‘em throw more’ argument: frequency of appearances. What managers want isn’t two shut down innings today, i.e. 30-40 pitches in an outing, but a shout down inning today and a shut down inning tomorrow also. Yes, a dominating reliever going 2+ innings likely increases the odds of winning the current game, but having the guy throw the last inning today and then again tomorrow increases the odds of winning _two games_. Managers want that closer edge as often as possible because winning more games is there goal. The only times we see closers go two are where the individual games themselves are judged to be critical, and even then the manager is often second-guessed it seems.

    The key aspect of modern closing is frequency. Guys throwing 30-40 aren’t going to routinely throw back to back days in the present era. Maybe they could; arguably they wouldn’t be as effective if they did on a per outting basis as now. And that’s what managers are giving up in trying the experiment, the likelihood of frequent dominance in the last inning. The way to go about it if someone tried, it seems to me, would be with a co-closer situation, where two guys alternated days, pitching multile innings each time. Finding two guys that good isn’t easy. Then there is the question of handedness, where a manager might have a closer-type guy but the one ready on a given day didn’t have a platoon advantage on a particular line-up. Then there is the whole psychological aspect which has built up around ‘if we get to our closer it’s in the bag’ which teams and especially managers seem to lean on (too much). Given all those permutations, I don’t really see anyone trying this.

    Having a closer as dominant as the guys on this list is NOT overrated. Most other closers aren’t that good, so pair of multi-inning guys might work just as well in terms of the results. But from the ‘security blanket’ standpoint, the idea seems, well, a non-starter.

    Comment by Balthazar — January 25, 2013 @ 11:26 pm

  6. Articles about Jim Kern leave a bad taste in my mouth as he turned John Henry Johnson on to drugs in 1980 and ruined both their careers. I grew up in Sonoma and followed John’s rise to the majors from a local boy (we are both from Sonoma) who signed with the home team(Giants) to being traded to the A’s ( in the Vida Blue deal). He (John) turned his career around in 1976 and in 1977 went 14-2 to bring a two year W-L total to a wonderful 27-4.
    I have pictures of my brother and John playing video games on our couch. His downfall was a heartbreak. My brother , a CHP officer , mentioned that, after I asked him one day what had happened to John Henry Johnson, he had fallen into a bad crowd that had included Jim Kern.
    It is so sad that wonderful careers and lives can be changed and/or shortened because of wrong choices. I will never forget the first start of John’s career in the home opener of 1978 season ( I was 16). The A’s won 1-0 as Johnson threw a shutout. I thought he would be a Hall of Famer.

    Comment by psychump — January 26, 2013 @ 2:06 pm

  7. You missed Dick Radatz who did all this first from 62-65. From 62-65 his FIP-‘s were 53,57,64 and 80. Over that 4 year period his ERA- was 151 and he averaged 12 wins, eight losses, 134 innings (1.97 innings/game) 68 games, 25 saves, 10.2 K’s a 3/1 k/bb and 2.5 fWAR a year and 4.5 rWAR. The original short lived fireman.

    Comment by Spit Ball — January 26, 2013 @ 9:34 pm

  8. That’s upsetting on a couple of levels. For whatever reason, his ’65 season didn’t turn up in my leaderboard. Or perhaps I deleted it manually by accident. I actually had the chance to meet Mr. Radatz a couple of times before he passed, he was an awesome guy. And yes, one of the original, but also short-lived firemen. Thank you for the catch.

    Comment by Paul Swydan — January 26, 2013 @ 9:56 pm

  9. A very fond memory for me is I used to play this card game called Status Pro Major League Baseball back in the 1980s and early 90s. The very first season of cards we used were 1979 cards (in 1983). I drafted Kern, Joe Sambito (great in 1979), Dick Tidrow and Tekulve as closer and middle men and they dominated big time all season. Tug Mcgraw was my long man (over 5 era but lots of innings). For those who have not gotten bored yet, I also had Willie Wilson cf, Dave Parker rf, Ron Cey 3b, Gary Mathews lf, Bump Wills 2b, steve Yeager , Gary Templeton, and Rod Carew. Ralph Gar and Rick Cerone were on my bench (with a few forgotten others). My starting pitching was Dennis Lamp, Rick Wise, Bert Blyleven, Fred Norman, and Mike Lacoss (all slightly above average that season, but none dominated). I had Rod Carew steal third and home against Sutter in the 14th inning for a regular season win. I finished only 3rd (one win short of the playoffs) out of 5 teams because all the teams were full of very good players. The world series champ had JR Richard and the WS loser had Ron Guidry. The 5th place team was full of good players yet still lost (Phil Neikro , George Brett and Paul Molitor)

    Comment by NATS Fan — January 27, 2013 @ 4:22 am

  10. I strongly disagree that Trevor Hoffman is a shoo-in for the HOF and will actually be surprised if he gets in. Lee Smith doesn’t appear to be getting in and I don’t have a problem with that. I believe the only reliever who gets in at any point in the foreseeable future will be Mariano Rivera. The days of grossly overrating the value of a relief pitcher are long gone. Steve Bedrosian got 40 saves for an 80-82 team in 1987 and won the Cy Young Award despite a pretty unimpressive (for a reliever) 2.83 ERA. Dude was 149th in MLB in WAR that season… with just 1.0 WAR. 149th!

    Comment by Robbie G. — January 27, 2013 @ 12:50 pm

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