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MLBs 10 Best Relief Pitchers of the 1960s: McMahon, Wilhelm, Wood

Michael WCorrespondent IIMay 6, 2010

NEW YORK - MAY 02:  Paul Konerko #14 of the Chicago White Sox bats against the New York Yankees on May 2, 2010 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City. The Yankees defeated the White Sox 12-3.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Relief pitching in the first half of the 20th century was much different than the relief pitching of today.

Back then, it was still the general ideology of managers that the good arms were in the starting rotation and the duds were in the bullpen.

In a way it was true.

However, that ideology was starting to shift by the 1960s and the relief pitchers on this list broke that rule.

They could flat out pitch.

We were also starting to see more and more career relief pitchers during the 1960s. In fact, seven of the 10 on this list started 0-15% of their career games.

It was starting to look like today, in that facet.

The big difference between relief pitchers of the 1960s and relief pitchers of today are the innings pitched that they chewed up.

The average relief pitcher in the top 10 of the 1960s averaged 2.3 innings pitched per game and the average relief pitcher in the top 10 of the 2000s, which were featured in an article I wrote a few weeks ago, averaged 1.2 innings pitched per game.

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As you can see, they averaged almost twice as many innings pitched per game in the 1960s, compared to the 2000s.

That’s the biggest difference.  

Hoyt Wilhelm was the earliest relief pitcher inducted into the Hall of Fame and he remains one of only five in the history of Major League Baseball to be inducted; making the 1960s one of only three decades with a relief pitcher in the HoF.

Three of the relief pitchers that are in the HoF are from the 1980s.

The other is from the 1970s.

There were 65 relief pitchers in the 1960s.

If a player does not appear on this list of 65, then they either didn't reach 250 games or I consider them a relief pitcher from the 1950s or the 1970s.

The 1970s will be covered in a separate article, and I just wrote an article on 1950s relief pitchers.

Relief pitchers will only be in one decade. For example, Don McMahon will appear in this article. So, he will not appear in my 1970s article, which I will write later, and he did not appear in my 1950s article.

An Explanation of the Stats

The statistics that I include will be Games Pitched, Games Started, Innings Pitched, ERA, ERA+, WHIP (OOB%), H/9 (OBA), SV, SV/50 (per 50 Games Relieved) and K/BB (ratio).

I will also letter grade career length.

First , I will include their raw career numbers first. These are simply their career numbers.

Second , I will include their adjusted career numbers, if they had a long career (which most did). Adjusted career is this: Let's take Wilbur Wood, for example. Wood had a long career. So in order to find his real numbers, I have to exclude some late seasons during his career to find the numbers that he really carried during his career.

With Wood, I'd exclude his 1975, 1977 and 1978 seasons. That is his adjusted career. Again, this can only be done with long career players. If I don't list an adjusted career under a player's raw career numbers, then it means they didn't played long enough to adjust for their long career or it means they didn't have any bad seasons late in their career.

Third, I will include peak career numbers. Many like short peaks, not me. I include the best seasons equaling at least 250 games for a peak. It takes away the possibility of a pitcher having one or two lucky seasons. The 250-game peak will tell us how good the pitcher was at his best.   

The 65 Relief Pitchers

Here are the 65 Relief Pitchers from the 1960s that reached at least 250 games (listed in alphabetical order):

Ted Abernathy, Hank Aguirre, Jack Aker

Jack Baldschun, Gary Bell, Bobby Bolin, Jim Brewer

Casey Cox

Moe Drabowsky

Roy Face, Turk Farrell, Bill Fischer, Eddie Fisher

Joe Gibbon, Dave Giusti, Fred Gladding

Dick Hall, Steve Hamilton, Jim Hannan, Bill Henry, Ron Herbel, Bob Humphreys

Ron Kline, Cal Koonce

Jack Lamabe, Don Larsen, Barry Latman, Bob Lee, Frank Linzy

Al McBean, Billy McCool, Lindy McDaniel, Don McMahon, Pete Mikkelsen, Bob Miller, Stu Miller

Don Nottebart

Billy O’Dell, John O’Donoghue, Dan Osinski, Jim Owens

Orlando Pena, Ron Perranoski

Dick Radatz, Pedro Ramos, Jim Ray, Claude Raymond, Phil Regan, Hal Reniff, Pete Richert, Ed Roebuck

Diego Segui, Dick Selma, Larry Sherry, Tommie Sisk, Lee Stange, Wes Stock

Ron Taylor

Dave Wickersham, Hoyt Wilhelm, Stan Williams, Wilbur Wood, Hal Woodeshick, Al Worthington and John Wyatt  

 

The Top 10

10. Turk Farrell (1956-1969) Career Length Grade: A-

Raw Career: 590 G, 134 GS, 1,704.2 IP, 3.45 ERA, 104 ERA+, 1.23 WHIP, 8.6 H/9, 83 SV, 9.1 SV/50 and 2.5 K/BB

Adjusted Career: 490 G, 134 GS, 1,547.2 IP, 3.42 ERA, 105 ERA+, 1.20 WHIP, 8.4 H/9, 68 SV, 9.6 SV/50 and 2.6 K/BB (exclude his last two seasons)

Peak Career: 265 G, 30 GS, 626 IP, 2.82 ERA, 133 ERA+, 1.16 WHIP, 7.8 H/9, 48 SV, 10.2 SV/50 and 2.6 K/BB (include his 1957, 1958, 1960, 1962 and 1967 seasons)

 

He was a good control pitcher with an arsenal of pitches that included a fastball, slider, and palmball. Some historians argue that he had the best fastball of the decade, starter or reliever.

During his 14 year career, he pitched nine seasons as a relief pitcher and five seasons as a starting pitcher.

He was a relief pitcher during his first six seasons and his last three seasons. He was a starting pitcher for five consecutive seasons from 1962-1966.

His best season as a starter was arguably his first season as a starter during the 1962 season. He pitched over 40 G, almost 30 GS and threw over 240 IP. He posted a 124 ERA+, 1.10 WHIP, 3.7 K/BB and over 200 Ks.

Extraordinary numbers for a starting pitcher.

He had four or five great seasons as a relief pitcher.

His best season as a relief pitcher was arguably his 1957 season. He pitched over 50 G of relief and 80 IP. He recorded a 2.38 ERA and 161 ERA+.

His best back to back seasons as a relief pitcher were his consecutive seasons in 1957 and 1958. He pitched over 105 G of relief and almost 180 IP during those two seasons combined and posted a 2.89 ERA and 135 ERA+.

As you can see, Farrell could pitch from the bullpen or the starting rotation and had some extremely good seasons at both.

There are certainly five or six relief pitchers on the Honorable Mentions list that have good arguments to take this 10th and final spot from Farrell and they were certainly higher caliber pitchers.

Most notably: Ted Abernathy, Hank Aguirre, Jim Brewer, Dick Hall and Frank Linzy.

The difference is, those five all had average length of careers, give or take, and Farrell had a nice long career. His long career more than makes up for the slight caliber difference between he and any of those five when length of career is properly taken into account.

9. Bill Henry (1952-1969) Career Length Grade: C

Raw Career: 527 G, 44 GS, 913 IP, 3.26 ERA, 120 ERA+, 1.25 WHIP, 8.3 H/9, 90 SV, 9.3 SV/50 and 2.1 K/BB

Adjusted Career: 507 G, 43 GS, 886.1 IP, 3.18 ERA, 124 ERA+, 1.24 WHIP, 8.2 H/9, 90 SV, 9.7 SV/50 and 2.1 K/BB (exclude his last two seasons)

Peak Career: 256 G, 1 GS, 364.2 IP, 2.34 ERA, 166 ERA+, 1.03 WHIP, 7.1 H/9, 43 SV, 8.4 SV/50 and 3.3 K/BB (include his 1958, 1959, 1961, 1964, 1966 and 1967 seasons)

He was basically a starting pitcher during his first three seasons and he was a relief pitcher during his last 13 seasons.

He was okay as a starting pitcher, but he was a much better relief pitcher.

He had some incredible seasons as a relief pitcher during his career.

His best season was arguably his 1964 season. He pitched almost 40 G of relief and over 50 IP. Incredibly, he posted a 0.87 ERA, 420 ERA+, 0.83 WHIP and 5.4 H/9.

It’s on the short list of the great relief seasons of all time.

His two best back to back seasons were arguably his consecutive seasons in 1966 and 1967. He pitched over 60 G, 1 GS and over 40 IP during those two seasons combined and recorded a 2.27 ERA, 159 ERA+, 1.15 WHIP and 6.4 H/9.

As you can see, he had several great seasons as a relief pitcher and he posted extraordinary career numbers. The only reason that he is not higher on this list is because he had an average length of career.

In fact, he’s the only relief pitcher on this list that did not have an above average length of career.

8. Ron Kline (1952-1970) Career Length Grade: A+

Raw Career: 736 G, 203 GS, 2,078 IP, 3.75 ERA, 102 ERA+, 1.37 WHIP, 9.2 H/9, 108 SV, 10.1 SV/50 and 1.4 K/BB

Adjusted Career: 688 G, 203 GS, 2,012.2 IP, 3.70 ERA, 103 ERA+, 1.36 WHIP, 9.1 H/9, 103 SV, 10.6 SV/50 and 1.4 K/BB (exclude his last two seasons)

Peak Career: 316 G, 1 GS, 477.1 IP, 2.34 ERA, 147 ERA+, 1.21 WHIP, 8.4 H/9, 90 SV, 14.3 SV/50 and 1.8 K/BB (include his 1963, 1964, 1965, 1966 and 1968 seasons)

During his incredibly long 17 year career, he was basically a relief pitcher for 10 seasons and a starting pitcher for seven seasons.

He was a relief pitcher during his first season and his last nine seasons and he was a starting pitcher for seven consecutive seasons from 1955-1961.

He was okay as a starting pitcher, but not great.

He was a great relief pitcher during the second half of his career and arguably the best overall relief pitcher during the half dozen seasons from 1963-1968.

He played more seasons for the Pittsburgh Pirates than any other team during his career, but he didn’t have many of his best seasons with them, unfortunately.

Having said that, his 1968 season with Pittsburgh, it was arguably the best season of his entire career, as a relief pitcher, and really his only truly great season with the organization. During the 1968 season, he pitched over 55 G of relief and 110 IP. He posted a 1.68 ERA, 173 ERA+ and 1.11 WHIP.   

He pitched eight seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates, but that 1968 season was his best season with them. He pitched four consecutive seasons with the Washington Nationals/Senators from 1963-1966 as a relief pitcher.

His four consecutive seasons with Washington were incredible. During those four consecutive seasons with Washington, he pitched 260 G, 1 GS and almost 365 IP. He recorded a 2.54 ERA, 83 SV, 142 ERA+ and led the League in SV during the 1965 season with 29.

So, he pitched more seasons with Pittsburgh, but he generally pitched his best seasons with Washington.

That was five incredible seasons that I just brought up and they are five of the six seasons from 1963-1968. He was simply an extraordinary relief pitcher during the second half of his career.

7. Roy Face (1953-1969) Career Length Grade: A-

Raw Career: 848 G, 27 GS, 1,375 IP, 3.48 ERA, 109 ERA+, 1.24 WHIP, 8.8 H/9, 193 SV, 11.8 SV/50 and 2.4 K/BB

Adjusted Career: 749 G, 27 GS, 1,236 IP, 3.34 ERA, 114 ERA+, 1.23 WHIP, 8.8 H/9, 184 SV, 12.8 SV/50 and 2.4 K/BB (exclude his 1964 and 1969 seasons)

Peak Career: 254 G, 0 GS, 363 IP, 2.48 ERA, 152 ERA+, 1.15 WHIP, 8.0 H/9, 75 SV, 14.7 SV/50 and 2.4 K/BB (include his 1958, 1959, 1962, 1965 and 1967 seasons)

He was a career relief pitcher. He had some spot starts here and there during his career, but year in and year out, he was a relief pitcher.

And man, was he good.

He led the League with a .947 W% during the 1959 season and it still stands as the Major League Baseball single season record.

He led the League in SV during three of the five seasons from 1958-1962.

He was dominant when he was on, and he was on during the better part of his career.

His best single season was arguably his 1962 season. He pitched over 60 G of relief and 90 IP; and posted a 1.88 ERA, 211 ERA+, 1.01 WHIP, 7.3 H/9 and led the League with 28 SV.

It was a magical season. One of five or six truly great seasons he had during his career.

His best back to back seasons were arguably his consecutive seasons in 1958 and 1959, the last two seasons of the 1950s. During those two seasons, he combined to pitch almost 115 G of relief and 180 IP; he recorded a 2.79 ERA and .885 W%, yes, .885.

This guy was one of the handful of relief pitchers that helped revolutionize the position during the 1950s and 1960s.

6. Ron Perranoski (1961-1973) Career Length Grade: B

Raw Career: 737 G, 1 GS, 1,174.2 IP, 2.79 ERA, 124 ERA+, 1.33 WHIP, 8.4 H/9, 179 SV, 12.2 SV/50 and 1.5 K/BB

Adjusted Career: 656 G, 1 GS, 1,067.2 IP, 2.54 ERA, 136 ERA+, 1.29 WHIP, 8.2 H/9, 172 SV, 13.1 SV/50 and 1.5 K/BB (exclude his last three seasons)

Peak Career: 264 G, 1 GS, 451.1 IP, 2.17 ERA, 168 ERA+, 1.25 WHIP, 7.7 H/9, 92 SV, 17.4 SV/50 and 1.4 K/BB (include his 1961, 1963, 1969 and 1970 seasons)

His career 2.79 ERA still ranks as the 17th best ERA in the history of Major League Baseball for a relief pitcher. He posted less than a 2.90 ERA during seven of his first 10 seasons, including each of his first three seasons.

He was able to post one of the 20 best ERA’s in history for a relief pitcher, in part, because he had an arsenal of four or five pitches that included a sinkerball, curveball and fastball.

He’s another player in this top 10 that was a career relief pitcher. In fact, he only started one game during his entire career, a relief pitcher, year in and year out.

He was an extraordinary relief pitcher and had some amazing seasons.

His best season was arguably his 1963 season. He led the League with 69 G of relief and almost 130 IP. Incredibly, he posted a 1.67 ERA, 21 SV, 179 ERA+ and led the League with .842 W%.

His best back to back seasons were arguably consecutive seasons in 1969 and 1970.

During those two seasons combined, he pitched over 140 G and 230 IP. He recorded 65 SV, 2.26 ERA, 166 ERA+ and led the League in SV during each of those two seasons and recorded over 30 SV each of those two seasons.

All of these facts in combination are part of the reasons why Ron Perranoski remains as one of the 20 best left-handed relief pitchers in the history of MLB.

5. Lindy McDaniel (1955-1975) Career Length Grade: A+

Raw Career: 987 G, 74 GS, 2,139.1 IP, 3.45 ERA, 110 ERA+, 1.27 WHIP, 8.8 H/9, 172 SV, 9.4 SV/50 and 2.2 K/BB

Adjusted Career: 862 G, 71 GS, 1,919 IP, 3.36 ERA, 114 ERA+, 1.26 WHIP, 8.8 H/9, 164 SV, 10.4 SV/50 and 2.2 K/BB (exclude his 1967, 1971 and 1975 seasons)

Peak Career: 262 G, 2 GS, 478.1 IP, 2.35 ERA, 160 ERA+, 1.09 WHIP, 7.4 H/9, 63 SV, 12.1 SV/50 and 2.9 K/BB (include his 1960, 1965, 1966 and 1970 seasons)

He began his incredibly long 21 year career as a teenager during the 1955 season. Basically, he was a relief pitcher for 18 seasons and he was a starting pitcher for three seasons; three of his first four seasons.

He was OK as a starting pitcher, but he had his best seasons as a relief pitcher.

He had some incredible seasons as a relief pitcher and he led the League in SV during three of the five seasons from 1959-1963.

The best season of his entire career was arguably his 1960 season. He pitched 65 G, 2 GS and over 115 IP. He posted a 2.09 ERA, 197 ERA+, 0.94 WHIP, 6.6 H/9, 4.4 K/BB, led the League with .750 W% and led the League with 26 SV.

What a great season that was. There’s not a relief pitcher today that wouldn’t take those numbers this season.

His best back to back seasons were arguably consecutive seasons in 1965 and 1966. During those two seasons combined, he pitched 135 G of relief and over 250 IP. He recorded a 2.62 ERA and 141 ERA+.

What a pitcher, what a career.

4. Stu Miller (1952-1968) Career Length Grade: A

Raw Career: 704 G, 93 GS, 1,693.1 IP, 3.24 ERA, 115 ERA+, 1.25 WHIP, 8.1 H/9, 154 SV, 12.6 SV/50 and 1.9 K/BB

Adjusted Career: 702 G, 93 GS, 1,692.2 IP, 3.22 ERA, 116 ERA+, 1.25 WHIP, 8.1 H/9, 154 SV, 12.6 SV/50 and 2.0 K/BB (exclude his last season)

Peak Career: 305 G, 31 GS, 715.2 IP, 2.29 ERA, 159 ERA+, 1.09 WHIP, 7.1 H/9, 86 SV, 15.6 SV/50 and 2.5 K/BB (include his 1952, 1958, 1961, 1963, 1965 and 1966 seasons)

During his nice long 16 year career, he was basically a relief pitcher for 14 seasons and he was a starting pitcher for two seasons.

He actually pitched well as a starting pitcher during his first season in 1952. It was a short season, but a great season for him. He pitched over 10 G, all but one as a starter and almost 90 IP. He posted a 2.05 ERA, 181 ERA+, 1.01 WHIP, 6.4 H/9 and .667 W%.

Again, not a long season as a starting pitcher, but a great first season, nonetheless.

He spent most of his career as a relief pitcher, and man was he great.

He led the League in SV during two of the three seasons from 1961-1963 and seemed to record great numbers year in and year out.

His best season was arguably his 1958 season with the San Francisco Giants. He spent as much time with the Giants as any other team during his career and it was the Giants first season in San Francisco, having just moved from New York.

Again, it was arguably the best season of his entire career. He pitched over 40 G, 20 GS and over 180 IP during that 1958 season. He posted a 1.15 WHIP, led the League with 2.47 ERA and led the League with 154 ERA+.

Four years later, and his last season with San Francisco, Miller helped the Giants to the World Series. Unfortunately, they lost, but Miller pitched great. In fact, during that World Series, he pitched 2 G and recorded a 0.00 ERA, 6.8 H/9 and never allowed a run.

That’s how he finished his time with San Francisco and the following year he pitched for the Baltimore Orioles, and he ended up spending as much time in Baltimore as he did in San Francisco.

He pitched the best overall baseball of his career in Baltimore. His two best back to back seasons were arguably his 1965 and 1966 seasons with the Orioles.

During those two seasons combined, he pitched almost 120 G of relief and over 210 IP. Incredibly, he posted a 2.04 ERA, 42 SV, 169 ERA+, 0.98 WHIP, 6.5 H/9 and 3.2 K/BB.

Wow, two incredible seasons, back to back.

Miller had an amazing career and he was able to do this, in part, because of the pitches that he threw. He had two or three good pitches in his arsenal and some historians still argue that it is Stu Miller that possessed the single best change-up in the history of MLB, starter or reliever.

Here are a few good quotes that I’ve collected that help support this opinion by historians:

“Relief ace, Stu Miller, was amazing…He had the greatest change-up in the world, without any question.”—Billy Pierce, seven time All-Star starting pitcher from the 1950s

“It was unbelievable. If it wasn’t the best change-up ever, it was one of the best…hitters knew what was coming, and they still couldn’t hit it.”—Frank Robinson, Hall of Fame right fielder from the 1960s

 

“Stu Miller had the best change-up ever.”—Dick Hall, 1960s relief pitcher who’s career 1.10 WHIP still ranks 10th all time for relievers

 

 

3. Don McMahon (1957-1974) Career Length Grade: A-

Raw Career: 874 G, 2 GS, 1,310.2 IP, 2.96 ERA, 120 ERA+, 1.25 WHIP, 7.2 H/9, 153 SV, 8.8 SV/50 and 1.7 K/BB

Adjusted Career: 722 G, 2 GS, 1,105 IP, 2.80 ERA, 127 ERA+, 1.26 WHIP, 7.3 H/9, 131 SV, 9.1 SV/50 and 1.7 K/BB (exclude his 1969, 1971 and 1972 seasons)

Peak Career: 285 G, 0 GS, 448.2 IP, 1.95 ERA, 177 ERA+, 1.09 WHIP, 6.0 H/9, 45 SV, 7.9 SV/50 and 2.0 K/BB (include his 1957, 1962, 1964, 1967, 1968 and 1973 seasons)

During his nice long 18 year career, he was a relief pitcher every season and only had two career starts. He was a career relief pitcher.

He was simply a hard guy to hit and he led the League in SV during the 1959 season. He posted less than 7.5 H/9 during 10 of the 18 seasons during his career, including five consecutive seasons from 1966-1970.

He had six or seven absolutely incredible seasons during his career. One interesting thing about him that can’t be said about many relief pitchers in the history of MLB is that the three best seasons of his entire career were seasons that were in three different decades.

Arguably, the three best seasons of his career are one season in the 1950s, one season in the 1960s and one season in the 1970s.

His best season during the 1950s was arguably the first season of his career in 1957. He pitched over 30 G of relief and 45 IP. Incredibly, he posted a 1.54 ERA, 228 ERA+ and 6.4 H/9.

His best season during the 1960s was arguably his 1962 season. He pitched over 50 G of relief and almost 80 IP. He recorded a 1.69 ERA, 223 ERA+, 1.12 WHIP and 6.3 H/9.

His best season during the 1970s was arguably his 1973 season. He was 43 years old during that season, and still pitched lights out. He pitched over 20 G of relief and 30 IP. Incredibly, at the age of 43, he posted a 1.48 ERA, 263 ERA+, 0.92 WHIP, 6.2 H/9 and 2.9 K/BB.

Those are arguably the three best seasons of his entire career and they are in three different decades. I just love that kind of stuff.

Now, his best back to back seasons were arguably his 1967 and 1968 seasons. During those two seasons combined, he pitched almost 110 G of relief and over 190 IP. He recorded a 1.98 ERA, 158 ERA+, 1.00 WHIP and 5.7 H/9.

I don’t know what else to tell you, this guy was incredible; a bunch of good seasons and six or seven that were simply off the charts.

2. Wilbur Wood (1961-1978) Career Length Grade: A+

Raw Career: 651 G, 297 GS, 2,684 IP, 3.24 ERA, 114 ERA+, 1.23 WHIP, 8.7 H/9, 57 SV, 8.0 SV/50 and 2.0 K/BB

Adjusted Career: 556 G, 209 GS, 2,102 IP, 2.86 ERA, 126 ERA+, 1.17 WHIP, 8.3 H/9, 57 SV, 8.3 SV/50 and 2.3 K/BB (exclude his 1975, 1977 and 1978 seasons)

Peak Career: 292 G, 51 GS, 790.2 IP, 2.23 ERA, 161 ERA+, 1.09 WHIP, 7.8 H/9, 53 SV, 11.0 SV/50 and 2.6 K/BB (include his 1968, 1969, 1970, 1971 and 1976 seasons)

There are a lot of parallels to Wilbur Wood and Dennis Eckersley. First of all, they are almost the exact same rating, in my book. Eckersley might edge him out, but it’s close.

Another big parallel between the two of them is the fact that they both basically spent half of their career as a starting pitcher and half of their career as a relief pitcher.

The parallels between the two help some historians argue that if Eckersley is in the Hall of Fame, then Wood should be also. They argue, in short: generally the same career layout, and generally the same career numbers, when adjusted per decade.

Now, Eckersley was a starting pitcher during the first half of his career and he was a relief pitcher during the second half of his career.

Basically, Wood was opposite. He was a relief pitcher during the first half of his career and he was a starting pitcher during the second half of his career. Of course, what Wood did is rare, usually you start first and then spend the twilight of your career in the bullpen. Not Wood, he relieved first, and started as he got older, rare and arguably harder to do.

Wood had an incredibly long 17 year career and he started pitching in MLB as a teenager during the 1961 season.

He had two or three good pitches he threw, but he was generally a knuckleball pitcher. He usually threw the knuckleball and some historians argue he possessed the best knuckleball in history. Though, the guy ahead of him on this list in the one spot is also argued to have the best knuckleball of all time.

As I said, Wood basically spent the first half of his career as a relief pitcher, and he had some great seasons as a relief pitcher.

His best season as a relief pitcher was arguably his 1968 season. He led the League with 88 G, which was a MLB record at the time, 2 GS and almost 160 IP. Incredibly, while setting a MLB record of 88 G, he posted a 1.87 ERA, 171 ERA+, 1.01 WHIP and 7.2 H/9.

What a season.

He had some truly great seasons as a starting pitcher during the second half of his career, also. It’s arguably if he was a better starter or reliever, as he was great at both.

His best season as a starting pitcher was arguably his 1971 season. He pitched almost 45 G, over 40 GS and almost 335 IP, yes, almost 335 IP. Unbelievably, while pitching almost 335 IP as a starting pitcher that season, he recorded a 1.91 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 7.3 H/9, 210 Ks, 3.4 K/BB, 22 W, .629 W% and led the League with 189 ERA+.

Again, I think it’s close if he or Eckersley was a better overall pitcher, but I can tell you this one thing for sure: Eckersley never had a season as a starting pitcher that was nearly as good as that 1971 season for Wood.

It’s a tough one, again, I might give Eckersley the overall edge, but it’s a virtual tie.

How about this?

Overall, it’s a toss up. Eckersley was a slightly better relief pitcher, but Wood was a slightly better starting pitcher.

Wood posted at least 20 W during four consecutive seasons as a starting pitcher from 1971-1974, including leading the League with 24 W during consecutive seasons in 1972 and 1973. He won almost 50 games in those two seasons combined as a starter and he won 90 games during the four consecutive seasons combined from 1971-1974 as a starter.

Look, Eckersley was a good starting pitcher, don’t get me wrong; but Eckersley won just over 150 games in 12 seasons as a starting pitcher, and Wood won 90 games just in the four consecutive seasons as a starter from 1971-1974.

As you see above, Wood won at least 20 games for four consecutive seasons, and Eckersley never won over 20 games during his 12 seasons as a starter. Again, Eckersley may have been a slightly better relief pitcher, but Wood was certainly a slightly better starter.

All of these things in combination are part of the reasons why Wood still remains one of the 10 best left-handed relief pitchers in the history of MLB.

1.Hoyt Wilhelm (1952-1972) Career Length Grade: A+

Raw Career: 1,070 G, 52 GS, 2,254.1 IP, 2.52 ERA, 146 ERA+, 1.13 WHIP, 7.0 H/9, 227 SV, 11.1 SV/50 and 2.1 K/BB

Adjusted Career: 989 G, 52 GS, 2,127 IP, 2.46 ERA, 150 ERA+, 1.11 WHIP, 7.0 H/9, 210 SV, 11.2 SV/50 and 2.1 K/BB (exclude his last three seasons)

Peak Career: 256 G, 0 GS, 452.2 IP, 1.85 ERA, 191 ERA+, 1.01 WHIP, 5.9 H/9, 54 SV, 10.6 SV/50 and 2.3 K/BB (include his 1954, 1962, 1966, 1967 and 1969 seasons)

His career 2.52 ERA still ranks as the fifth best ERA in the history of Major League Baseball for a relief pitcher. Incredibly, he posted less than a 2.75 ERA during 14 of the 21 seasons of his career. In fact, he posted less than a 2.65 ERA during each of the last nine seasons of the 1960s, from 1961-1969.

By the time his long career was through, he led the League in ERA twice and posted less than a 2.45 ERA each time he led the League.

His career 1.13 WHIP still ranks as the 14th best WHIP in the history of MLB for a relief pitcher. He recorded less than a 1.19 WHIP during 15 of the 21 seasons of his career, including 12 consecutive seasons from 1958-1969.

His career 146 ERA+ still ranks as the 15th best ERA+ in the history of MLB for a relief pitcher. He posted over a 140 ERA+ during 13 of the 21 seasons of his career. In fact, he posted over a 155 ERA+ during each of the last six seasons of the 1960s, from 1964-1969.

By the time his career was through, he led the League in ERA+ twice and posted over a 150 ERA+ each time he led the League.

That puts Wilhelm in the top 15 all time in ERA, WHIP and ERA+. In fact, there are only seven other relief pitchers in the history of MLB that are in the top 15 all time in those three important categories with Wilhelm.

They are: Mariano Rivera, Billy Wagner, Jonathan Papelbon, Trevor Hoffman, Joe Nathan, Tom Henke and Bryan Harvey.

He was just a hard guy to hit. He had three or four good pitches that he threw, but he was basically a knuckleball pitcher and he threw that pitch quite often. Many historians argue that Wilhelm had the best knuckleball that the game has ever seen.

He recorded less than 7.5 H/9 during 15 of the 21 seasons of his career, including each of the last nine seasons of the 1960s, from 1961-1969.

He led the League in W% during two of the first three seasons of his career, posting over a .745 W% each time he led the League.

He was the first pitcher in the history of MLB to record over 200 SV during a career and he recorded almost 230 by the time his career was through.

He helped his 1954 team capture the World Series championship. He pitched 2 G during that World Series and posted a 0.00 ERA, 0.43 WHIP, 3.9 H/9 and never allowed a run.

Great World Series numbers, to say the least.

Many people forget, he was already 29 years old when he threw his first pitch in MLB during the 1952 season; obviously, he got a late start to his career. But he still had a long 21 season career and he was basically a relief pitcher for 20 seasons and a starting pitcher for 1 season. Started at the age of 29 and still had a long career.

He still remains as one of only 13 pitchers in the history of MLB to ever pitch in over 1,000 G during a career.

Wilhelm is the only relief pitcher from the 1960s that is in the Hall of Fame and he remains as one of only five in the history of MLB to be inducted; and he’s the earliest and first relief pitcher in the HOF.

In his Historical Baseball Abstract book, respected historian, Bill James, rates Hoyt Wilhelm as the best relief pitcher in the history of MLB. The book came out 10 years ago, and I agree with Bill James, 10 years ago.

Though relievers like Mariano Rivera may have something to say about that. Bill James may or may not have guys like Rivera ahead of Wilhelm now, I could see him going either way. Of course, only he knows for sure.

Wilhelm has one of the 20 best peaks in the history of MLB for a relief pitcher. During that peak, which is a peak over 255 G of relief and 450 IP, he recorded a 1.85 ERA, 191 ERA+, 1.01 WHIP and 5.9 H/9.

What a peak, what a career, what a pitcher.

All of these things in combination are part of the reasons why he remains as one of the 10 best relief pitchers to ever grace the fields of MLB.

 The Honorable Mentions

Here are the ten relief pitchers that just missed the top 10 for various reasons. I will list them in alphabetical order:

Ted Abernathy, Hank Aguirre

Jim Brewer

Moe Drabowsky

Dave Giusti

Dick Hall

Frank Linzy

Bob Miller

Billy O’Dell

Diego Segui

 

The 10 Highest Caliber Relief Pitchers of the 1960s

I consider this to be the Smoky Joe Wood section. Who’s the best pitcher, putting career values aside; putting length of career aside and putting some other things aside that affect a relief pitchers overall rating? So, these aren’t the best careers, these are the best pitchers, in a way.

Like Smoky Joe Wood in the 1910s, he was a starting pitcher that many historians feel is one of the 10 highest caliber starting pitchers in the history of Major League Baseball. But with his short overall career, he’s never rated that high when you see historians rate starting pitchers because they are almost always rating the best careers.

Don’t get me wrong, caliber is part of historians formula too, it’s just a smaller part of the overall equation; and smaller than it should be, if you ask me, but that’s another article.

Smoky Joe Wood’s overall rating and career value is lower because of his short career and some other factors. But if a highest caliber list were made, Smoky Joe Wood would appear on many historians all time top 10 lists. But almost never in the top 10 on their all time career list, which are the lists that we usually see.

I hope that makes sense. This is basically what I’m doing here with this list. Again, this list is not a list of the best careers, that list is the list you just read. This list is the highest caliber relief pitchers. Here it is.

10. Dick Hall

9. Jim Brewer

8. Frank Linzy

7. Stu Miller

6. Dick Radatz

5. Ron Perranoski

4. Bill Henry

3. Wilbur Wood

2. Don McMahon

1. Hoyt Wilhelm

The Caliber Honorable Mentions (listed in alphabetical order): Ted Abernathy, Hank Aguirre, Jack Aker, Roy Face, Steve Hamilton, Bob Lee, Lindy McDaniel, Billy O’Dell, Pete Richert and Al Worthington

 

There you go, the best relief pitchers from the 1960s.

The 10 best careers and the 10 highest caliber relief pitchers.

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