Thursday, March 25, 2010

A History of the Oriole Closer: From Zuverink to Sherrill - The 70's

For the third installment of this series, (the 50's and 60's can be found here and here) we enter the 70's, the Oriole golden years. We have seen saves collected by a collection of swingmen, to a dedicated reliever supported by swingmen, to the primitive closer/setup man roles of Hank Bauer and the lefty/righty closer combos of Earl Weaver.

Weaver would continue his lefty/right pattern in the 70's...but he wouldn't end up that way.


Reliever         W-L     ERA     SV     IP
Pete Richert     7-2    1.98     13    54.2
Dick Hall       10-5    3.08      3    61.1
Marcelino Lopez  1-1    2.08      0    60.2
Eddie Watt       7-7    3.25     12    55.1

30-year-old Pete Richert acted as the lefty complement to the righty Eddie Watt and they comprised the now familiar 1-2 relief punch that the Orioles had used for the past 8 seasons. Richert, a fastball/slider pitcher had come from the Senators (the best starting pitcher on a wretched team) in a trade during the '67 season but he was converted to a reliever and performed admirably in that role for three Oriole World Series teams. He set a career high for saves in 1970.

Iowa native Eddie Watt was signed out of the University of Northern Iowa by Baltimore in 1961 and would be a vital piece of the Oriole bullpen for four World Series teams. While in Aberdeen, Cal Ripken, Sr. taught Watt how to throw a slider and how to vary his delivery angle. He could throw all his pitches (which included a sinker, a curve, a "reverse change" and a change to go with his slider) either overhand or from a 3/4 slot. This made him formidable out of the bullpen and 1970 was no exception as he saved 12 games. He would take a loss to the Reds in the World Series but that was the only game Baltimore would lose.

Ageless wonder Dick Hall (who had formed a lethal 1-2 relief combo with Stu Miller in the previous decade) posted one more fine season winning 10 games out of the bullpen. In 1970, Roger Angell would write this about Hall in The New Yorker:

"Dick Hall is a Baltimore institution, like crab cakes. He is six feet six and one half inches tall and forty years old, and he pitches with an awkward, sidewise motion that suggests a man feeling under his bed for a lost collar stud. He throw a sneaky fastball and never, or almost never, walks batters..."

Hall himself was proud of his control saying, "In my last seven years in the majors, I only allowed 23 bases on ball that were not intentional..." Indeed, during those seasons he allowed a minuscule 1.9 BB/9.

He would also pitch 2.1 perfect innings to save Game 2 of the '70 World Series. He pitched one more sub par season for Baltimore in 1971 and then hung up his spikes at the age of 41.

Marcelino Lopez kind of comes out of nowhere to post a great season of relief for the O's. A native of Cuba, Lopez had come to the Orioles from the Angel organization via a 1969 trade but had not pitched in the majors in '68. He was a one-pitch hurler with his fastball as his greatest asset but did throw a curve occasionally to keep the batter off his balance. After an uneven '69, Lopez would hold opposing batters to a .217 batting average in a long relief role for the World Champions in 1970. He would be traded to the Brewers in the offseason for Roric Harrison who will appear later in this post.

Reliever         W-L     ERA     SV     IP
Eddie Watt       3-1    1.82     11    39.2
Grant Jackson    4-3    3.13      0    77.2
Pete Richert     3-5    3.47      4    36.1

There's Eddie Watt and Pete Richert again. Richert would be shipped to the Dodgers for Tommie Agee after the season. In many ways, this was Eddie Watt's career season.

Who is Grant Jackson? The lefty was acquired from the Phillies during the 1970 offseason and would act as something of a swingman for the '71 club. The Bowling Green alum  would go on to pitch for the O's for the next few seasons and shape Oriole history in many ways over the next decade.

Reliever         W-L     ERA     SV     IP
Grant Jackson    1-1    2.63      8    41.0
Doyle Alexander  6-8    2.45      2   106.1
Roric Harrison   3-4    2.30      4    94.0
Eddie Watt       2-3    2.17      7    45.2 

With the departure of Richert, Jackson became the lefthanded Ying to Watt's righthanded Yang. Once he was moved to the pen, Jackson figured it would be tough to crack the rotation again, shelved his big curve and went with just with his fastball, slider and change with good success.

Richert was packaged with Frank Robinson and shipped to the Dodgers for four players, including 21-year-old Doyle Alexander. Alexander would take over the swingman role, saving two games and also pitching two complete games. Alexander would be traded for another future Hall of Famer 15 years later when the Braves would ship him to Detroit for John Smoltz. He would be part of another big trade for the Orioles later in the decade.

Roric Harrison came over from Milwaukee in the Marcelino Lopez trade and turned in a stellar rookie season. He was promptly packaged with Pat Dobson and two future Oriole managers (Johnny Oates and Davey Johnson) and sent to the Braves for Earl Williams and Taylor Duncan. He would essentially be out of baseball by the 1976 season.

Reliever         W-L     ERA     SV     IP
Bob Reynolds     7-5    1.95      9   111.0
Grant Jackson    8-0    1.90      9    80.1
Eddie Watt       3-4    3.30      5    71.0

Eddie Watt would save 5 games in 1973 and then was unceremoniously sold to the Phillies in the offseason. He would pitch only two more seasons in the majors. He finished his 8 year Orioles career with 74 saves and a 2.74 ERA.

"Bullet" Bob Reynolds came to the Orioles from the Brewers as the "player to be named later" in the Curt Motton trade in 1972. Reynolds was a fireballer and earned his nickname with his ability to throw 100 mph. Major league success had eluded him but at age 25, Weaver put him in the bullpen and he excelled. With Watt on his way out, Reynolds paired with Jackson to form the closer tandem for '73-'74.

Grant Jackson continued his effectiveness out of the 'pen, going 8-0 with a 1.91 ERA and 9 saves. Jackson took his unblemished record with a grain of salt and instead was prouder of other traits he possessed.

"I got lucky last year,"he admitted. "I'd come in when we were tied or a run behind. Once we were ahead by a run and I gave up the tying run, but we scored in the bottom of the ninth and I won sitting in the clubhouse...."

"All the games I saved last year I earned." Jackson said. "On this team, most of our starters finish...Relief pitchers on the Orioles don't get many saves."

Jackson kind of dismissed saves as a relevant statistic. What did he value? High leverage situations.

"Whoever got you out of the jam should get the save," Jackson said. "If a guy enters in the seventh with the bases loaded and one out, and he gets out of it, he should get the save. Another guy might pitch the last two innings, but he enters with nobody on base."

Reliever         W-L     ERA     SV     IP
Grant Jackson    6-4    2.56     12    66.1
Wayne Garland    5-5    2.97      1    91.0
Bob Reynolds     7-5    2.73      7    69.1

Jackson and Reynolds both turn in fine years yet again.

Jackson had formulated a blueprint for success; throw hard, challenge the hitter and throw strikes.

Reynolds was traded to Detroit early in the 1975 season and would not pitch in the majors after that season. He never reached the successes that he enjoyed as part of the Orioles' closer tandem in '73-'74 before or after his Baltimore tenure.

Wayne Garland was the Orioles' 1st round draft pick in 1969 and '74 was his first good year in the majors. At age 23, Garland would pitch in 20 games (starting 6) and rack up 91 innings of good work.

Reliever         W-L     ERA     SV     IP
Dyar Miller      6-3    2.72      8    46.1
Doyle Alexander  8-8    3.04      1   133.1
Wayne Garland    2-5    3.71      4    87.1
Paul Mitchell    3-0    3.63      0    57.0
Grant Jackson    4-3    3.35      7    48.1

Here's Grant Jackson again. Jackson would turn in another good season as the bullpen ace and become a big part of Oriole history by being part of the package sent to the Yankees for Rick Dempsey, Tippy Martinez, Scott McGregor, Rudy May and Dave Pagan. In 1979, Jackson would again be tied to Oriole history as he would finish and win Game 7 of the World Series for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Doyle Alexander acted as the swingman as he started 11 games. He was Earl Weaver's kind of pitcher, starting hitters off with a low slider and mixing in his sinker and curve from there and he refused to give in to the hitter, walking very few. Despite this, he would be sent the the Yankees in 1976 in the aforementioned trade.

Wayne Garland was unlucky to arrive in Baltimore at a time when the Orioles had an embarrassment of riches in terms of starting pitching depth. But Garland threw strikes, challenged hitters and had a good complement of pitches (curve, slider, screwball, fastball, even a knuckler) even if he didn't command them all at the same time. After another good season as a long man, Garland would be lucky enough to break into the rotation in 1976 and go 20-7 with a 2.67 ERA. Garland was doubly lucky in fact that he was eligible for the initial free agent class before the 1977 season. Garland hit the market and was signed by the Indians to a 10-year deal worth $2.3 million. Garland would only pitch 5 seasons for the tribe before being released.

Paul Mitchell was another Oriole 1st round pick (1971) who served as a spot starter and long relief man in '75. He would be flipped in the offseason with Don Baylor for Reggie Jackson and bounce around the league with a middling career until 1980.

Dyar Miller debuted in '75 at the age of 29 and perhaps led the Orioles to believe that Grant Jackson was expendable. Miller was cut late in Spring Training that year and seeing his career evaporating before his eyes, he took an unusual tactic...he went to Earl Weaver and chewed him out. "It brought tears to my eyes," said Weaver, "it really did. I felt sorry for the guy and, to be honest with you, I didn't know if he'd ever get another chance to do what he had done." But he did get another chance. Buried in the Oriole minor league system for 6 years, Miller got his shot at mid-season and made the most of it. He led the team in saves and strikeout rate (6.4 K/9)

Reliever         W-L     ERA     SV     IP
Tippy Martinez   3-1    2.59      8    41.2
Dyar Miller      2-4    2.94      7    88.2
Fred Holdsworth  4-1    2.04      2    39.2

Martinez came over from the Yanks in the mid-season trade and was plugged into Grant Jackson's spot in the lefty/righty closer team with Dyar Miller. Martinez led the team with 8 saves and, while wild, he displayed a good strikeout rate which would improve over his Oriole tenure.His fastball sat in the upper-80's but he had a wicked overhand curve that he would learn to control as the years went by.

Miller, on the other hand, lost his strikeout touch in '76 but turned in a good year nonetheless. He was sent to the Angels in 1977 for RP Dick Drago.Miller is now a minor league pitching coach in the Cardinal organization.

Fred Holdsworth was a journeyman, the classic AAAA player who only appeared in 72 major league games in a 7+ year career. '76 would be his shining moment in the sun with a 160 ERA+ and 24 Ks in 39.0 innings.

Reliever         W-L     ERA     SV     IP
Tippy Martinez   5-1    2.70      9    50.0
Dick Drago       6-3    3.63      3    39.2

Tippy was the leader of the bullpen as he and Dick Drago made up Weaver's left/right ace combo.

Veteran Drago came over from the Dodgers in a mid-season trade for Dyar Miller and turned in a nice partial season for the O's using his slider and change to good effect and would depart in the offseason via free agency to sign with Boston.

Reliever         W-L     ERA     SV     IP
Don Stanhouse    6-9    2.89     24    74.2
Tippy Martinez   3-3    4.83      5    69.0

Eddie Watt aside, it was unusual for Earl Weaver to ride one ace reliever. It was usually at least a pair of guys closing games and one guy finishing more than 30 games was rare. Don Stanhouse would finish 47 games in '78 and 46 in '79, something unheard of in back to back seasons for Weaver's O's. Even though Stanhouse would walk more than he struck out in each season and he was known as the slowest-working pitcher in baseball, Weaver trusted him and gave him the ball to close things out more than any Baltimore reliever before him. This amounted to 24 saves for Stanhouse in 1978.

Martinez took a step back in '78 but still was able to pick up 5 saves.

Reliever         W-L     ERA     SV     IP
Don Stanhouse    7-3    2.85     21    72.2
Tippy Martinez  10-3    2.88      3    78.0
Tim Stoddard     3-1    1.71      3    58.0

Stanhouse would save 21 games in '79 and then left for the Dodgers via free agency in the offseason saving the nerves of Oriole fans everywhere.

Martinez displayed better control of his curveball and was dominant, setting up his run as a top reliever for the O's well into the next decade.

Fireman of the Decade: Grant Jackson

Stanhouse led the decade with 45 saves but Jackson pitched more than twice as many innings for Baltimore and had 39 saves himself and a 2.81 ERA for his Oriole career.

Runner Up: Eddie Watt

If you gave this award to the best reliever of the 60's and 70's, Watt probably is the man. As it stands, he is penalized for losing a couple good years to the 60's.

References:, The Neyer-James Guide to Pitchers by Bill James and Rob Neyer and various issues of Sports Illustrated, Baseball Digest and The Sporting News.

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