From Rollie and Eck to Jason Isringhausen, Billy Koch and Huston Street, if there is one position the Oakland Athletics have consistently cultivated (and sometimes lucked into) over the years, it's that of major league closer.
That the A's major-domo, Billy Beane, has so loudly disdained this position during his reign (a posture that blew up in his face during what, to keep it "SFW," I'll merely refer to as The Arthur Bleepin' Rhodes Era), and yet gotten superlative seasons out of Isringhausen and Street especially, has been one of life's happy ironies for Oakland fans.
Fingers and Eckersley are two of the only three relievers in major league history to win the Cy Young and MVP awards, Fingers the first-ever reliever to do it. In 2005, Street was the second reliever ever to win the AL's Rookie of the Year.
Until this year, when Oakland has another opportunity to renew its commitment to end-cellence. (I admit that pun was something less than excellent.)
In a year that hasn't seen much in the way of happy ironies or much else that would be characterized as happy (with the possible exception of learning that sometimes giving a Holliday, rather than taking one, is just what the doctor ordered), the A's have somehow done it again at the closer position, with young Mr. Andrew Bailey, the lone player representative for the Athletics at the All-Star Game this year.
Sure, the A's had to send someone, but Bailey's numbers were definitely All-Star worthy, and he's only been better in the second half.
Just how good has Bailey been? Check out this line:
81.1 IP, 24 BB, 89 K, 6 W, 26 SV, 1.88 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, 3.71 K/BB, 9.85 K/9, .170 BAA.
That strikeout total leads all American League closers, from the babyfaces to the grizzled veterans rapping on retirement's door.
By comparison, this is what Street did during his own successful Rookie of the Year campaign:
78.1 IP, 26 BB, 72 K, 5 W, 23 SV, 1.72 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 2.77 K/BB, 8.27 K/9, .194 BAA.
Now, Street's numbers are nothing to sneeze at. Hey, they were good enough to take home hardware in 2005, but in all categories except ERA, Bailey has him beat. In some categories, Bailey blows Street away.
However, Bailey may face stiffer competition this season than Street did (Robinson Cano and Jonny Gomes) in his first major league go-round.
The other candidates most bandied about for ROY this season include the Texas Rangers' Elvis Andrus (72 R in 471 AB), the Chicago White Sox's Gordon Beckham (.272 AVG, 14 HR, 62 RBI in only 367 AB), and the Tampa Bay Rays' Jeff Niemann (12 W, 3.94 ERA).
Statistically, I believe Bailey still has a marked advantage over these players, but they all play for contending teams and, in the case of Andrus and Beckham, have done so every day.
Those facts have a way of clouding the vision of baseball writers, who treasure the "gamers" that show a little something beyond the box score. Also, it's always tough to beat a guy named "Elvis" in this country, no matter the competition.
In fact, that Bailey did so well on a team that played so poorly before the month of September should count for something as well. Before the A's went on their .630 winning jag last month, Bailey was responsible for nailing down 21 of Oakland's 58 wins up to that point.
So, do what's right, Baseball Writers Association of America, and give Oakland fans something they can hang their hat on (literally) this season. It would be the perfect capper to a remarkable season by the former Tommy John survivor, Wagner College graduate and Vorhees, NJ native.
On that note, how perfect would it be if they announce the award on Friday, Nov. 13?
As for you, Andrew, whether or not you win the award, congratulations on an eye-popping (in all the right ways) effort this year.
Now, if you could just get to work on that facial hair...