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With Goose Gossage seeming to have increasing popularity as Hall of Fame candidate, I thought that a preview of my thinking about relievers for the Hall Watch series was in order.

The changing role of relievers from 1950 to the present makes blanket statements about them well nigh impossible. Prior to 1980, it was common for relievers to throw over 100 innings in a season and 130-140 was by no means unusual. In and around 1980, relief roles were firmed up. Closers threw the 9th inning in save situations and sometimes in the 8th. Set-up men threw the 8th inning and sometimes the 7th. Seasonal innings totals fell for the top relievers to 70-80. Unfortunately, this did not always mean that the top relievers were pitching in higher leverage situations, due to the vagaries of the save rule which create low leverage save situations (the 3 run lead in the ninth) where closers are often used, and high leverage tie games in the 8th where closers are rarely used.

Gossage straddled the two eras. His best seasons in 1975, 1977 and 1978 occurred in the former era of the ace pitcher throwing 130-140 innings. He was very valuable in those seasons. From 1979-1985, he threw fewer innings, averaging about 90 per season, and with somewhat less effectiveness. From 1986 (age 34) on, he threw 50 innings per season and was really an average pitcher at best. He threw until age 41.

There really are two questions about Gossage:

1. where does he stand among the great relievers- Rivera, Wilhelm, Eckersley, Fingers, Sutter, Quisenberry, Lee Smith, Henke and Hoffman (leaving Billy Wagner out of the discussion because of his relative youth)?
2. how does one compare the contributions of relievers in general with that of starters? Have the Hall of Fame voters so far correctly valued the contributions?

The first question is actually fairly easy to answer. He's behind Rivera (massively more effective), Wilhelm (more effective and more innings) and Eckersley (many more innings due to 5 very good years as a starter). He is ahead of Hall of Famers Fingers and Sutter, as well as Lee Smith and Henke. Quisenberry and Hoffman are a little more complicated, each for different reasons. Quiz was better in his prime (through age 34 he was significantly better and had thrown almost as many innings) and attaching much weight to the end of Gossage's career is a dubious proposition. Hoffman has thrown half the number of innings that Gossage did but with much greater effectiveness. Personally, I would put Gossage ahead of either of these two, but that is for another day.

The second question is much harder, and how one answers that question will determine what happens to Goose Gossage. It is known that relievers in general, and closers in particular, not only have significantly lower ERAs than starters but also much better component performance. It is easy to see in the careers of John Smoltz and Dennis Eckersley. For this reason, the relevant comparison points for Gossage are not only Fingers, Sutter and Lee Smith, but also Tommy John, Jim Kaat, Ron Guidry and Vida Blue. My quick and dirty calculation has him significantly behind John and Kaat and just ahead of Guidry and Blue. Through age 38, John had thrown 3500 innings of 116 ERA+ as a starter. Gossage had thrown about half that many with an ERA+ of 126 in his career as a reliever.

I will come back to this topic in nauseating depth in February. Now let us see what the voters said.

Goose Gossage | 6 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
smcs - Tuesday, January 09 2007 @ 02:10 PM EST (#161690) #
The voters say...
Mick Doherty - Tuesday, January 09 2007 @ 02:18 PM EST (#161692) #

Maybe I'm just exactly the right age or something, but to me, Gossage is such an absolutely no-brainer that it's barely worth arguing. If a guy is THAT dominant, and the type of guy you couldn't wait to see pitch (if he was on your team) or who made you turn the radio off in disgust before the game was over (if he was with the other guys) ... how is that not Hall of Fame material?

I think McGwire should get in (I voted "Make him wait" in the poll, FWIW) but think the greater travesty is arguably THE dominant reliever of all time not being in the Hall. Eck was great, but not scary. Brad Lesley (for example) was scary but not great. Goose was Da Man.

Pistol - Tuesday, January 09 2007 @ 02:36 PM EST (#161697) #
I'm too young for Gossage, but Eck was scary to me in the sense you figured you had no hope (unless you mean Gossage was literally scary).  That's why Alomar's HR off Eck and Gibson's HR were that much better.
Mike Green - Tuesday, January 09 2007 @ 03:22 PM EST (#161701) #
I don't know, Mick.  Goose had a fastball, but it wasn't that good. I told my father immediately before Brett's homer in 1980 that Goose was going to be foolish enough to throw him one, and that it was going to end up in the right-field seats.  It's my only significant called shot.

I'm not being anti-Yankee here.  I think that Rivera is easily the best reliever ever.  To look at it another way, Gossage did not stand out from the rest of the Bronx zoo club (Randolph, Guidry, John, Jackson, Nettles) in the same way that Mariano Rivera stood with Bernie Williams and Derek Jeter head and shoulders above the rest of the Yankees of the late 90s.  In my mind, Goose (and Reggie of course) received more of the credit for the success of the Zoo and Randolph, Guidry, John and Nettles received less than their share.

I didn't mention it in the article, but some of the great relievers were starters for at least a couple of years and had signficant success.  Eckersley and Wilhelm would be the best examples.  Gossage was a washout when he tried starting in 1976.

What Goose had was the appearance of fearsomeness.  He looks much more imposing than Mariano Rivera.  With the game on the line, I'd much rather have Rivera out there.  Looks are only skin deep.

robertdudek - Wednesday, April 18 2007 @ 01:29 PM EDT (#166095) #
Goose's fastball at the time was behind only Ryan and JR Richard's. He was the hardest throwing ace reliever at the time by a comfortable margin (most others had great off-speed pitches)
robertdudek - Wednesday, April 18 2007 @ 01:33 PM EDT (#166096) #
I still think, in terms of peak value, Eckersley has it easily over both Rivera and Gossage.

Goose Gossage | 6 comments | Create New Account
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