Monday, December 19, 2016

Red Sox in Cooperstown Pt. 28: Dennis Eckersley

Years in Boston: 1978-1984, 1998 (88-71, 3.92 ERA, 1 save, 1,371.2 innings, 771 strikeouts, 312 walks)
Best Year in Boston: 1978 (20-8, 2.99 ERA, 268.1 innings, 162 strikeouts, 71 walks)
Dennis Eckersley is primarily in the Hall of Fame because of his outstanding career as a closer.  But Eckersley started his career as a very impressive starting pitcher.  He was one of the best starters in the game for several seasons, until his career began to stall.  After a few seasons of mediocre results, he was turned into a relief pitcher by his manager in Oakland, Tony LaRussa.  And his career at that time got a big boost.  Eckersley was the best closer in the game for several seasons.  And he cruised into the Hall of Fame on his first ballot.

After a few good seasons to start his career with the Cleveland Indians (including throwing the only no-hitter of his career), Eckersley was traded to the Red Sox along with Fred Kendall for a package of players including Rick Wise, Mike Paxton, Ted Cox, and Bo Diaz.  Boston easily won the deal as Eckersley became one of the best pitchers in the game.  He won 20 games with a 2.99 ERA for a Red Sox team that made it to a one-game playoff with the Yankees to determine the AL East winner.  Eckersley finished fourth in the Cy Young vote that year.

1979 saw Eckersley have a similar year.  He had the same ERA and was 17-10, but he finished seventh in the Cy Young vote that season.  Unfortunately, after that Eckersley's numbers started to decline, with some exceptions.  In 1980, he was 12-14 with a 4.28 ERA and then 9-8 with a 4.27 ERA in 1981.  The Red Sox in general were not very good those seasons, so Eckersley was one of the better pitchers on the team.

Eckersley made it into his first All-Star game with the Red Sox in 1982 (his second overall) and actually started the game.  He took the loss after giving up three runs in three innings.  He had been 9-7 with a 3.20 ERA at the half.  He declined a little in the second half and ended the season 13-13 with a 3.73 ERA and led the league in strikeouts-to-walks at 2.95.  He struck out 127 and walked just 43 in 224.1 innings.  He was easily the team's best starter.

Unfortunately in 1983, Eckersley had his worst season of his still-young career at 28 years old.  He was 9-13 with a 5.61 ERA, and his strikeout-to-walk ratio dropped to 1.97.  He started off poorly in 1984 at 4-4 with a 5.01 ERA before being traded to the Cubs for Bill Buckner.  With the Cubs, Eckersley was able to improve his numbers somewhat before having another poor season in 1986.  He was traded to Oakland the next season and turned into a terrific closer.

After several seasons as one of the best closers in the game, including a 1992 season in which he won both the Cy Young Award and the MVP, with the Athletics and Cardinals, Eckersley returned to Boston as a free agent in 1998.  It was the last season of Eckersley's Major League career.  He was not the closer, as that job belonged to Tom Gordon in his first season as a closer.  Eckersley was used as more of a setup man, though he did record the last save of his career.  He finished the season 4-1 with a 4.76 ERA and struck out 22 while walking eight in 39.2 innings.  He retired after the season.

Dennis Eckersley wears an Oakland Athletics cap on his Hall of Fame plaque.  He had some great seasons with the Red Sox as a starting pitcher, but it is not as a starter that Eckersley will be remembered.  Eckersley's numbers as a starter with the Red Sox were good, but not Hall of Fame-worthy, other than his 1978-1979 seasons.  He is in the Red Sox Hall of Fame.

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