Appreciating the historic, unhittable greatness of Billy Wagner

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Billy Wagner’s phenomenal career ending with him leaving a save situation and limping off the field before being replaced on the playoff roster due to an oblique injury is all kinds of not fair, but the diminutive flame-thrower remained a badass until the very end, agreeing to a pair of injections for the slim chance it would allow him to pitch again because he “didn’t care about the risk of long-term injury.”
My hope is that the unfortunate manner his career ended doesn’t take anything away from how spectacular he was for 15 seasons. Wagner is a seven-time All-Star who ranks fifth all time with 422 saves, but a deeper look at his career numbers reveals his true dominance.
For instance, among all the pitchers in baseball history with at least 800 career innings Wagner has the highest strikeout rate:

                     SO/9
BILLY WAGNER        11.92
Randy Johnson       10.61
Kerry Wood          10.35
Pedro Martinez      10.04
Nolan Ryan           9.55

That’s a pretty amazing list to sit atop. Not coincidentally, he’s also the all-time leader in fewest hits allowed per nine innings:

                     H/9
BILLY WAGNER        5.99
Herb Score          6.39
Nolan Ryan          6.56
Sandy Koufax        6.79
J.R. Richard        6.88

Wagner is also the all-time leader in adjusted ERA+ among all left-handed relievers with at least 800 innings:

                      ERA+
BILLY WAGNER          187
John Franco           138
John Hiller           134
Sparky Lyle           128
Jesse Orosco          126

The degree to which Wagner blows away the rest of the lefty reliever competition in ERA+ is ridiculous. To put those numbers in some context, consider that the difference between Wagner at 187 and second-place John Franco at 138 is bigger than the difference between Franco at 138 and, say, Scott Schoeneweis at 92.
And here’s how Wagner ranks in ERA+ among all relievers with 800-plus career innings:

                      ERA+
Mariano Rivera        204
BILLY WAGNER          187
Hoyt Wilhelm          147
Dan Quisenberry       147
Trevor Hoffman        141

Highest strikeout rate of all time, fewest hits per nine innings of all time, best ERA+ ever by a left-handed reliever, and second-best ERA+ among all relievers behind only Mariano Rivera. I really hope everyone who saw Wagner limp off the mound Friday night realizes they saw the end of one of the most extraordinarily dominant reliever careers in baseball history.
In his final season, at age 38, he saved 37 games with a 1.43 ERA, .159 opponents’ batting average, and 13.5 strikeouts per nine innings. I hope Wagner enjoys his retirement, because I know National League hitters will.

Brown hired as general manager of Houston Astros

astros general manager
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HOUSTON — In joining the World Series champion Houston Astros, new general manager Dana Brown’s goal is to keep the team at the top of the league.

“I’m coming to a winning team and a big part of what I want to do is sustain the winning long term,” he said. “We want to continue to build, continue to sign good players, continue to develop players and continue the winning success.”

Brown was hired by the Astros on Thursday, replacing James Click, who was not given a new contract and parted ways with the Astros just days after they won the World Series.

Brown spent the last four seasons as the vice president of scouting for the Atlanta Braves.

“He is very analytic savvy,” Astros’ owner Jim Crane said. “He’s a great talent evaluator based upon what we’ve seen at the Braves, seasoned at player acquisitions, seasoned at player development and retention. They were often able to extend some of their player contracts… he’s got great people skills, excellent communicator and, last but not least, he’s a baseball player and knows baseball in and out and we were very impressed with that.”

The 55-year-old Brown becomes the only Black general manager in the majors and joins manager Dusty Baker to form just the second pairing of a Black manager and general manager in MLB history. The first was general manager Ken Williams and manager Jerry Manuel with the White Sox.

Brown said he interviewed for GM jobs with the Mets and Mariners in the past and that MLB commissioner Rob Manfred told him to stay positive and that his time to be a general manager would come.

“It’s pretty special,” he said. “We understand that there are a lot of qualified African Americans in the game that know baseball and that could be a big part of an organization and leading organization in baseball operations. So at the end of the day, I think it’s good for our sport to have diversity and I’m really excited for this opportunity.”

Crane was asked about having the league’s only Black general manager.

“Certainly, we are very focused on diversity with the Astros,” he said. “It’s a plus, but the guy’s extremely qualified and he’ll do a great job. It’s nice to see a man like Dana get the job and he earned the job. He’s got the qualifications. He’s ready to go.”

Brown doesn’t have a lot of connections to the Astros, but does have some ties. He played baseball at Seton Hall with Hall of Famer Craig Biggio, who spent his entire career with the Astros and serves as special assistant to the general manager. He played against fellow Hall of Famer and special assistant to the general manager Jeff Bagwell in the Cape Cod league during a short minor league career.

Brown said he spoke to both of them before taking the job and also chatted with Baker, whom he’s know for some time.

“Dusty is old school, he cuts it straight and I like it,” Brown said. “And so that means I can cut it straight with him.”

Brown worked for the Blue Jays from 2010-18 as a special assistant to the general manager. From 2001-09 he worked as director of scouting for the Nationals/Expos. He began his career with the Pittsburgh Pirates, where he spent eight years as their area scouting supervisor and East coast cross checker.

Click had served as Houston’s general manager since joining the team before the 2020 season from the Tampa Bay Rays.

Brown, who has been part of drafting a number of big-name players like Stephen Strasburg, Ryan Zimmerman and last season’s National League rookie of the year Michael Harris, is ready to show Crane that bringing him to Houston was the right choice.

“Baseball is all I know, it’s my entire life,” he said. “So I want to empty myself into this city, the Astro fans and let Jim Crane know that he made a special pick.”