You've probably figured out by now that one of my favorite sabermetric research topics involves trying to figure out the value of relief pitchers. Every time I write a post or make any kind of list, I always end up casting Dennis Eckersley aside. He's just so different compared with other Hall of Fame relievers. He was inducted because of his work as a reliever, though he provided a lot more value (by WAR) as a starter. Neither one of his "careers" is truly Hall-worthy by itself, but if you combine them, you've got yourself a Hall of Famer.
So, now I'm wondering… who exactly was like Dennis Eckersley? Anybody?
I built a list of pitchers below who started between 20% and 50% of their career games, pitched in over 2000 innings, and accumulated at least 25 WAR. It's not a terribly long list:
Eckersley leads the way in games, innings, starts, WAR, WAR/200 IP, wins, and saves. He is bested in ERA+ by Eddie Rommel and barely by Firpo Marberry.
In trying to figure out who Eck was "like", I tried to find guys who not only started and relieved, but spent time closing. While Ron Reed and Marberry each had over 100 saves, Tom Gordon stands out to me here. Like others on this list, they both also had a pretty clear break in their careers—first a starter, then a reliever. In fact, the biggest difference between Eckersley and Gordon, to me, is their total playing time. Let's project Gordon's career out to Eck's innings, just for fun:
|Tom Gordon (proj)||3285.6||1387||316||53.6||3.26||0.23||113||215||246|
Suddenly things look a lot more similar. Of course, Gordon didn't pitch those 1000 or so innings, so it we can't say he was close to Eckersley. But projecting him does show how similar their usage was throughout their careers.
Gordon and Eckersley were two of just five players in history to win and save 125 games. The others are John Smoltz (not on this list because he started too much), Hoyt Wilhelm and Lindy McDaniel (both not on this list because they relieved too much, though McDaniel also misses the 25 WAR cutoff).