MLB's 10 Wackiest Closers
They have they own world.
In the ninth inning, when most pitchers have come and gone, they eagerly await the call from the bullpen that their team needs them to close to the door.
Now, "wacky" doesn't necessarily mean these closers listed are all clowns or cultural oddities. But they all have aspects about their games that make us want to turn to that channel when they come into the game. They each have something about their styles that make us go "WHAT?!"
These are the 10 wackiest closers of baseball.
NOTE: They are not ranked in order of perceived wackiness. I will leave the rankings to you.
Mariano Rivera: The One-Pitch Wonder
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I know, Rivera's is not the name that comes to mind when one thinks "wacky." He is all business on the mound and pitches for the most anti-wacky team in baseball. The Yankees don't stand for antics.
But, in the next couple weeks, Rivera will likely become the all-time leader in saves, passing Trevor Hoffman, and he only throws one pitch. That fits the qualification of something that makes me go, "WHAT?!"
That cutter will go down as one of the most incredible pitches in history, as it has continually baffled hitters for his entire career. He has done more with one pitch than any other closer has done with two, three or four.
Dennis Eckersley: The Transfer
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Between 1975 and 1987, "Eck" made 361 starts. Between 1987 and his retirement in 1998, he saved 390 games. In fact, Eckersley wasn't happy being moved to the bullpen in an age where the closer was just beginning to gain popularity. However, he wanted to be in the game, and the role grew on him.
Eckersley wasn't bad as a starter. He went 149-130 with a 3.71 ERA and a 1.214 WHIP. But when he made the switch, he took off. In 710 games as a reliever, Eckersley had a 2.85 ERA, 0.998 WHIP, 6.29 K/BB ratio and 577 total games finished.
Eckersley is currently sixth on the all-time saves list.
Lee Smith: The Beast
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6'5", 220 pounds falling towards you in the batters box in the ninth inning of a game you are losing... In 18 seasons, Smith grabbed 478 saves—third all-time, and first when he retired in 1997.
Adding to the intimidation of seeing such a big man staring down at you was the fact that he was fearless with his pitches. Smith was known to throw any pitch in any count to any hitter.
Smith started his career with eight years in Chicago, but his best years were 1990-92, spent mostly with the Cardinals. In '91 and '92 he was second and fourth in Cy Young Voting, respectively, and in '91 he was also eighth in MVP voting.
Rollie Fingers: The Stache
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Is there a more recognizable piece of facial hair in sports than Rollie Fingers' mustache?
While Fingers made 37 starts in his first three seasons, by 1972 he had settled into his role closing games for the A's. Fingers has had his numbers retired twice, by the Oakland A's and Milwaukee Brewers.
Coincidentally, Fingers celebrated his best years—in terms of saves—with the San Diego Padres in 1977 and 1978 with 72 saves total in those years.
His signature season came in 1981, however, pitching for the Brewers at 34 years old. Fingers saved 28 games in 78 innings accrued over only 47 games. He finished with a 1.04 ERA and 0.872 WHIP, both easily career highs. He not only took home the Cy Young Award but added the MVP award as well.
Rich Gossage: The Goose
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Goose Gossage was not the typical one-inning save artist. He would come into a game and finish it, regardless of when he was called upon. He finished in the Top-6 of Cy Young voting on five occasions.
In 1975, '77 and '78, Gossage pitched more than 130 innings each, entirely in relief, tallying 79 saves in those years. In his 22 years of baseball, he averaged 118 innings in 66 games per season. To put that in perspective, none of the top 30 in saves last season pitched more than 80 innings. Only five topped 70.
Gossage gave managers the closer and the setup man in one, and he did that day in and day out for 22 years.
Troy Percival: The Fury
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Troy Percival is eighth all time, with 358 career saves. He had a career 9.9 K/9. From 1996 to 2004, with the Angels (of various official names), he saved at least 30 games all in all but one of those years.
But the stats don't tell you who Percy was. I was fortunate enough to be living in southern California when Percival was blowing away hitters with the Halos, and it was scary to watch. It's difficult to imagine being in the box.
Percival pitched angrily. From his composure on the mound to his high leg kick and delivery, he radiated intense anger directed at the batter. And batters paid the price to the tune of 781 strikeouts in 708.2 innings.
Trevor Hoffman: The Undertaker
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Bells ringing in PetCo Park meant everyone could pack up and leave—the game was over. Opposing batters could head for the clubhouse. Trevor Hoffman was coming in.
What is so uncanny about Hoffman to put him on this list? It isn't all that different from the Undertaker loved by wrestling fans across the world. He didn't need to make a big show or some intimidating, flashy entrance. He would enter the arena and the air would leave.
That's how it felt being in the stadium when Hoffman entered—and it was that chilling atmosphere that made him fun to watch. It was that no-doubt-about-it reliability that made him the first member of baseball's 600 save club.
Francisco Rodriguez: The Season
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Francisco Rodriguez has 113 more saves than anyone else under 30 years old. Mariano Rivera had 129 saves before he turned 30. At 29 years old, Rodriguez has 291.
But his career—to this point—is a series of good seasons around his gleaming 2008. To put it in perspective, there have only been 11 seasons in history of 50 or more saves, and only five of those were by people under 30. Four of those five tallied 55 saves or more.
At 26 years old, Rodriguez saved 62 games with a 2.24 ERA and 10.1 K/9. He was third in Cy Young voting, and sixth in MVP voting. His 38 saves before the All Star Break would have placed him ninth among everyone else's complete seasons. Nobody else that year topped 45.
He makes this list because those are numbers that make you go, "WHAT?!"
Craig Kimbrel: The Kid
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Craig Kimbrel is 23 years old. In 68.2 innings so far, he leads the league with 58 games finished and 42 saves. His 14.8 K/9 is other-worldly. He has a 1.57 ERA and 0.961 WHIP.
In the minors, he had some of the best stuff scouts had seen, but his control was historically erratic. In 151 innings of minor league ball, Kimbrel had an astounding 14.4 K/9 paired with 5.7 BB/9. In 20.2 innings of major league ball in 2010, that inflated to 17.4 K/9 and 7.0 BB/9.
He could be historically incredible if the control is there. If not, however, the Braves are in for a decade of nail-biting ninth innings.
Brian Wilson: The Beard
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Do you fear the beard? Since taking over as the closer in 2008, Wilson has at least 38 saves every season. And if he can get off the DL with the 35 he already has this year, Wilson should easily reach that number again.
Wilson is also the personification of "wacky," from his appearance to his wardrobe. He wore a skintight tuxedo to the ESPY Awards.
This has been a tough year battling injuries, but Wilson is still one of the elite closers in the game when he is out there. He is coming off a 2010 that saw him tally a league-leading 48 saves with a 1.81 ERA and 11.2 K/9. He also helped the Giants to the World Series Title.