Milwaukee Brewers' Ninth Inning Struggle: the Eric Gagne Story

Kevin LuchanskyAnalyst IMay 11, 2008

Where has your right arm gone, Eric?

Ned Yost turns his lazy eyes to you.

In December of 2007, the Milwaukee Brewers signed relief pitcher Eric Gagne. With that contract, the organization adopted Gagne’s closing problems.

 Gagne, once considered one of the dominant closers of the post 2000 era, has completely lost his control and ability to close out games.

In 2002, the Dodgers moved Gagne from the starting rotation to the bullpen where he went on to lead the NL in saves that season with 52. The Montreal, Quebec native quickly rose to stardom when he was a perfect 55-for-55 in save opportunities with the Dodgers in ’03.

Gagne holds a few major league records, but none as impressive as his streak of 84 consecutive saves between August 26, 2002 and July 5, 2004. In 2003, Gagne became the first relief pitcher in eleven years to win the Cy Young Award.

In 2005, after battling several injuries and discomfort in his right elbow, Gagne underwent season ending Tommy John surgery. The Dodgers declined to pick up his contract following the 2005 season and Eric signed with the Texas Rangers.

Although it’s a long road to recovery following a serious operation like Tommy John, many pitchers return to the mound with an increased velocity on their power pitches. Several young pitchers are even choosing to undergo Tommy John surgery due to the benefit it can have on a power pitcher’s arm upon full recovery.

In July of 2007, just prior to the trade deadline, the Red Sox acquired the mess that is Eric Gagne.

Red Sox GM Theo Epstein was quoted as saying, “I think the bullpen is already a strength of the club, but acquiring a pitcher the caliber of Eric Gagné only makes it stronger and helps give us what we hope will be a truly dominant bullpen for the remainder of the year.”

What a mistake that was.

In Gagne’s first 15 appearances with the Sox, he allowed 14 earned runs in 14 innings of work. Opposing batters hit greater than .350 against the once stud closer.

Sox fans were relieved to see that Epstein had learned from his Gagne mistake and chose not to re-sign the set-up man/closer for the 2008 season.

Somehow Brewer’s GM Doug Melvin saw something left in Gagne and gave the washed-up closer a one year contract worth 10 million for the 2008 season.

Prior to being relieved of his relief duties by manager Ned Yost, Gagne had closed only 9 games in 14 opportunities and blew 5 saves. In 15.2 innings of work Gagne has allowed 12 earned runs, given up 4 home runs, and walked 11 batters!

Milwaukee fans rightfully cringe when they see the scrappy looking closer exit the bullpen and head for the mound in the 9th.

Will the once dominant closer ever return to form?