From SABR member Colin Wyers at Baseball Prospectus on March 23, 2012:
At first, it truly was magical. Our first kiss was Dennis Eckersley back in 1987. Eckersley, viewed as a washed-up starter in the twilight of his career, ended up with the one manager creative enough to bring his career back to life, Tony La Russa. La Russa, no doubt with an assist from pitching coach Dave Duncan, tailored a role just for Eckersley, one that we now recognize as that of the modern closer: the pitcher would appear only at the end of the game, only to protect a lead, and almost never for more than an inning at a time. Eckersley credited the move with revitalizing his career:
”It was a hell of an idea, and I was the lucky recipient,” says The Eck. “I was 32. Starting was getting to be difficult. I couldn’t go six or seven innings, wade through all those left-handers anymore. But just pitching one inning, my fastball came back. I was throwing like I was 25 again. One inning suited me very well. I never would have lasted if I had to pitch two or three innings all the time. Plus, I would have had my head knocked off.”
The results were bewitching. Eckersley ended up with a Cy Young and MVP award in the same season, and every team in baseball decided they had to have a pitcher just like him. Like a virus, the fever spread, the limited role designed for Eckersley evolving to include other pitchers.
Now it’s routine. La Russa, not content to simply have a designated ninth-inning guy, added pitchers devoted solely to retiring left-handed hitters late in the game.
Read the full article here: http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=16287
Note: This is an excerpt from Baseball Prospectus’s “Extra Innings: More Baseball Between the Numbers“, edited by SABR member Steven Goldman, the sequel to Baseball Prospectus’s 2006 landmark “Baseball Between the Numbers“, a book that gave many their first taste of state of the art sabermetric thinking in the years after Bill James and “Moneyball“. The book is now available for ordering and immediate shipping from Amazon and Barnes & Noble ahead of its official release date of April 3, 2012.
Originally published: March 26, 2012. Last Updated: March 26, 2012.