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Top 10 Closers of the 1980s: Sutter or Gossage at Number one?

Publish Date: 04/04/2023
Fact checked by: Mark Lewis

Top ten relief pitchers

The 1980s are unique in Major League Baseball history, featuring three relief pitchers in the Hall of Fame.

In the 1980s, career relief pitching became increasingly common.

 

10) Steve Bedrosian

His 1987 season was remarkable. During that time, he pitched 65 games of relief and almost 90 IP, posting a 2.83 ERA, 150 ERA+, 2.6 K/BB ratio and leading the League with 40 saves. As a result, he earned himself the Cy Young Award as a relief pitcher at the end of that season.

He finished with over 20 saves in the final four seasons of 1986-1989.

Video: 1987 ASG: Winfield out at home on wild play, game goes into extras

1987 ASG: Winfield out at home on wild play, game goes into extras

9) Jesse Orosco

His career featured five or six incredible seasons, the best being in 1983 when he pitched over 60 appearances of relief and 110 IP for a 1.47 ERA, 247 ERA+, 1.04 WHIP and 6.2 H/9. With this record-setting campaign came an immense amount of accolades throughout the years to come for this amazing pitcher! Why is Orosco ranked this low? He was only a closer for a few years of his career. If this article was ranking the greatest relief pitchers and not just closers, Orosco would be in the top 5.

Video: 46-year old Jesse Orosco records the save

46-year old Jesse Orosco records the save

 

8) Dennis Eckersley

His career 390 SV still ranks fifth all-time in Major League Baseball history. He led the League twice in SV and posted over 25 SV during nine of 10 seasons from 1988-1997 – including six straight years between 1988 and 1993 when he posted over 30 SV.

Eckersley was one of the greatest of all time; he ranks this low because his best decade was the 1970s.

Video: Dennis Eckersley

Dennis Eckersley

7) Tom Henke

His career 2.67 ERA still ranks as the eighth best ERA for a relief pitcher in Major League Baseball history. Throughout 10 of his 14 seasons in the league, including seven consecutive years from 1987-1993, he posted an ERA below 2.95.

His career 156 ERA+ remains the eighth best ERA+ in MLB history for a relief pitcher. He posted over 140 ERA+ in nine of his 14 seasons, including five straight from 1989-1993.

Video: Tom Henke - The Terminator

Tom Henke – The Terminator

6) Jeff Reardon

His career total of 367 saves still ranks seventh all-time. Amazingly, he recorded at least 20 saves in 11 consecutive seasons from 1982-1992 – including leading the League with 41 in 1985.

His two greatest seasons were undoubtedly 1981 and 1982. In those two seasons combined, he pitched nearly 120 G of relief and 180 IP for a 2.11 ERA, 170 ERA+, 1.07 WHIP and 6.8 H/9. With these numbers at his disposal, it’s easy to understand why those seasons remain so memorable today.

Video: 1987 WS Gm7: Twins win first World Series

1987 WS Gm7: Twins win first World Series

5) Lee Smith

His career 478 SV still ranks third in Major League Baseball history. Throughout his 18-season MLB career, he led the League in SV four times – including three of four seasons from 1991-1994 – and averaged over 25 SV per season during those four years when he led the League in SV.

He achieved remarkable feats throughout his career, scoring 20 or more saves every season except for his initial three and last two.

He had an impressive arsenal of four or five great pitches that he threw, including a slider and two or three types of fastballs – including hard-rising fastballs and cut fastballs. Some historians contend that he had the best fastball for the decade of the 80s, whether as a starter or reliever.

Video: 1984 NLCS Gm2: Smith shuts the door in NLCS Game 2

1984 NLCS Gm2: Smith shuts the door in NLCS Game 2

4) Dan Quisenberry

His career 2.76 ERA ranks as the 15th-best ERA for a relief pitcher in Major League Baseball history. Throughout eight of the last nine seasons of the 1980s – 1981-1989 – he posted an ERA below 2.80, including seven consecutive years from 1981 to 1987 – his ERA fell below that mark.

By the end of his career, he had amassed almost 245 saves. He led the League in SV during five of its initial six seasons from 1980-1985 and posted over 30 saves each of those five seasons that he led the League.

He led the League with over 30 saves in four consecutive seasons from 1982-1985.

Video: Dan Quisenberry - Kansas City Royals - Ace Reliever

Dan Quisenberry – Kansas City Royals – Ace Reliever

3) Kent Tekulve

His Major League Baseball career spanned an incredible 1,050 games, making him one of only 13 pitchers in history ever to pitch over 1,000 innings during a career.

He threw with a submarine-style arm, somewhere between sidearm and submarine.

Man, did it work for him. In nine of the 12 seasons from 1975-1986, his ERA never exceeded 2.90; that included four straight years from 1981-1984.

He had some remarkable seasons during his career, with perhaps his best coming during 1983 when he pitched 75 innings of relief and nearly 100 IP. That year, his 1.64 ERA, 227 ERA+, 1.15 WHIP and 7.1 H/9 were all record highs for him.

Video: Tekulve throws out the ceremonial first pitch

Tekulve throws out the ceremonial first pitch

2) Goose Gossage

He remains one of only 13 relief pitchers in MLB history ever to pitch over 1,000 innings during a career.

He’s one of only five relief pitchers in MLB history to make it to the Hall of Fame, and he hails from the 1980s – the only decade in baseball with more than one relief pitcher included.

He was an intimidating opponent to hit, with an impressive H/9 percentage of less than 7.5 during 11 of 16 seasons from 1975-1991 – including six consecutive years between 1977 and 1982.

His career featured five or six outstanding seasons, but the two best were undoubtedly 1977 and 1981.

Video: PHI@CHC: Goose Gossage picks up his 300th career save

PHI@CHC: Goose Gossage picks up his 300th career save

1) Bruce Sutter

At the conclusion of his career, he had amassed 300 saves. Throughout five of the six seasons from 1979-1984, including four consecutive years from 1979-1982, he led the League with over 20 saves per season; moreover, every season except his initial and last two seasons saw over 20 SV totals during that span.

Sutter was a dominant closer and helped lead the Cardinals to a 1982 World Series championship.

Video: Cardinals win the 1982 World Series

Cardinals win the 1982 World Series

The Honorable Mentions

Here are the ten relief pitchers that missed the top 10 for various reasons. I will list them in alphabetical order: Larry Andersen, Tim Burke, Mark Eichhorn, Greg Harris, Willie Hernandez, Rick Honeycutt, Gary Lavelle, Greg Minton, Dave Righetti and Dave Smith.

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