Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Nailbiters

The Orioles have a one run lead in the 9th inning. The call to the bullpen sets your stomach to churning. Yeah, he's the closer. He's the best reliever on the team, in theory. But you don't feel good about him. He's about to take you on an eight minute emotional rollercoaster as Baltimore tries to hang on for the win...

You know that feeling. The Baltimore Orioles have had closers that come in and get the job done but they make you sweat while doing it. Current closer George Sherrill has this effect on the fans and has elicited comparisons to 70's closer Don Stanhouse with his ability to keep you on the edge of your seat. So where does he rank in Oriole history? I decided to find out.

These "nailbiter" closers couldn't be bums. They had to have a fair level of competence to qualify. I put the cap at 20 saves and ranked them by the number of base runners they allowed on average, Walks+Hits/Innings Pitched (WHIP). Here's the top ten:

10. Armando Benitez - 1998 - 22 SV, 5-6, 1.273 WHIP

In his last year in Baltimore, Benitez saved 22 games for a losing team but 10 home runs in 68 innings says it all. No lead was truly safe. Just to make it interesting, he hit 4 batters too.

9. Tim Stoddard - 1980 - 26 SV, 5-3, 1.279 WHIP

In his only year as the primary "fireman", Stoddard allowed 72 hits in 86 innings but kept the ball in the yard and posted an impressive 2.35 ERA for a team that won 100 games.

8. Stu Miller - 1963 - 27 SV, 5-8, 1.300 WHIP

Miller saved exactly 100 games during his Oriole career but during his first year his appearances were a real adventure. In 112.1 innings pitched he walked 58 and gave up 93 hits but his 114 strikeouts got him out of most of the jams unscathed.

7. Don Stanhouse - 1979 - 21 SV, 7-3, 1.376 WHIP

If not the king of the nailbiters, he was certainly the crown prince. The most maddening thing about Stanhouse was not the hits but the walks. 51 in 72.2 IP.

6. Gregg Olson - 1991 - 31 SV, 4-6, 1.398 WHIP

Olson is the one I remember most vividly. It seemed like he had to put a man on base before he was comfortable. Again, that sweeping curve ball garnered 72 Ks in 74 IP getting him out of many jams.

5. Jorge Julio - 2004 - 22 SV, 2-5, 1.420 WHIP

The name makes my blood run cold. 11 HR in 69 innings. More on him later.

4. Don Stanhouse - 1978 - 24 SV, 6-9, 1.500 WHIP

Again, 52 walks in 74.2 IP. But he induced 9 double plays and managed a 2.89 ERA.

3. Randy Myers - 1996 - 31 SV, 4-4, 1.517 WHIP

Honestly, I don't remember feeling anxious when Myers came in to close the game. Maybe because 1996 is completely overshadowed by Myers' dominant 1997 performance. But here he is. 60 hits in 58.2 IP including 7 home runs.

2. Doug Jones - 1995 - 22 SV, 0-4, 1.521 WHIP

The Orioles picked him up off the scrapheap and a year later, they put him back. 55 hits in 47 innings pitched and 6 homers. 5.01 ERA. Bad juju.

1. Jorge Julio - 2003 - 36 SV, 0-7, 1.524 WHIP

Over the course of 2003 and 2004, Julio pitched 130.2 innings and gave up 21 home runs! Aaarrgh!!! Sorry, I flashed back for a second.

So where's George Sherrill? As it turns out, Sherrill has posted a 1.125 WHIP thus far. That puts him only behind Tippy Martinez (1983), Chris Ray (2006) and Stu Miller (1965). Doesn't seem that way but so far Sherrill's been as lights out as any closer in Orioles history.

1 comment:

Matthew Taylor said...

This is a really good post. I feel the same way about Sherrill. He usually gets the job done, but he still doesn't give me that "lock down" sense when he enters from the pen. I felt the same way about Myers in the late '90s.

Notice how many of your Top 10 includes hard throwers who focused on simply overpowering the batter. Benitez, Stoddard, Julio are all examples. Meanwhile, there's Olson, an O's Hall of Famer who I'll always remember best for burning his throwback uniform after blowing a save.