Sunday, August 25, 2013

Unknown Heroes Before My Time Pt. 10: Bill Campbell

I am sure that a visible pattern is becoming obvious.  A lot of relief pitchers have ended up in these posts.  Here is yet another one.

Bill Campbell was the first high-profile free agent contract the Red Sox signed.  He had previously been a highly successful reliever for the Twins and had won the Rolaids Relief Man of the Year award in 1976.  In 1977 he went to the Red Sox on a five-year contract, a shocking contract at the time, and too many years for a reliever now.
1977 was Campbell's only great season under the new contract.  He went 13-9 with a 2.96 ERA and 31 saves.  He struck out 114 and walked 60 in 140 innings.  He finished 60 out of the 69 games he appeared in.  This was at a time when the closer position was becoming more prominent.  Sparky Lyle won the AL Cy Young award that season as a closer and Campbell actually finished fifth in the voting with his impressive season.  Lyle's and Campbell's seasons were not really all that different.  Lyle had a better ERA by a decent-sized margin, 2.17 to 2.96.  Lyle also had four fewer losses and walked only 33 to Campbell's 60, but Campbell had five more saves, three more innings, 19 fewer hits, and 46 more strikeouts.  Campbell was a 4.8 WAR pitcher compared to Lyle's 3.7.  The Yankees also won the division, which was probably a large part of the reason that Lyle won the award.  Campbell did win both the Rolaids Relief Man of the Year and the AL Fireman of the Year awards so it was pretty clear that his season was at least on par with Lyle's, if not better.

Unfortunately that was pretty much it for Campbell as an elite reliever.  In 1978 he was decent, going 7-5 with a 3.91 ERA but only saved four, pitching in just 50.1 innings.  In 1979 he saved nine and was 3-4 with a 4.28 ERA in 54.2 innings.  1980 saw his ERA rise again to 4.79 and he did not notch a single save.  1981 was his last season in Boston and his numbers improved somewhat as he saved seven and had a 3.17 ERA.
 After his last season of his five-year deal, Campbell signed with the Cubs.  He bounced around after that but never rose to the same level of play again, though he did appear in 82 games one season for the Cubs and held on through the 1987 season.

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