Somewhat obscured by Brian Fuentes ripping his manager after last night’s game is that the whole thing transpired because he was stripped of closing duties and then took his seventh loss of the season while pitching in a non-save situation.
Fuentes is now 1-7 with a 5.06 ERA through the A’s first 48 games, which puts him on pace to lose 23 or 24 times this season. Suffice it to say that would be an all-time record for a reliever. By a lot.
Here’s the current single-season relief losses leaderboard:
Gene Garber 1979 16
Mike Marshall 1975 14
Mike Marshall 1979 14
Darold Knowles 1970 14
John Hiller 1974 14
It’s no coincidence that every season listed above is from the 1970s, when relievers often logged 100-plus innings and racked up far more decisions because bullpen management didn’t revolve around the save stat. Gene Garber threw 106 innings with a 4.33 ERA in his 16-loss season, getting the save or a decision in 47 of his 68 appearances.
At first glance you might see that list and conclude that Mike Marshall must have been a terrible reliever, but that’s far from the truth. In fact, he was one of the best relievers of his era and probably the most durable reliever in baseball history. In the two seasons listed above in which he lost 14 games as a reliever Marshall logged 109 and 143 innings. And he had ERAs of 2.65 and 3.29 while winning 19 games.
Fuentes has little chance of breaking Garber’s record by losing 17 times, let alone 23 or 24 defeats, but he’s off to a helluva start.
Retired big league pitcher Barry Zito has a memoir coming out. Much of it will likely track the usual course of an athlete’s memoir. The thrill of victory, the agony of defeat and a few fun and/or sad and/or thoughtful anecdotes along the way. One bit of it, though, is not the stuff of the usual athlete memoir.
He writes that he ctually rooted against the San Francisco Giants — his own team — in the 2010 World Series. He did so because he was left off the postseason roster, felt miserable about it and let his ego consume him. From the San Francisco Chronicle:
“It was really hard to admit . . . I rooted against the team because my ego was in full control and if we lost then I could get out of there . . . It would a) prove they couldn’t do it without me, and b) take me out of the situation because I was so miserable coming to the field every day. I was so deep in shame. I wanted out of that situation so bad.”
Zito at that point was midway through a seven-year, $126 million contract he signed with the Giants after the 2006 season. Almost as soon as he signed it he transformed from one of the better pitchers in the game — he had a 124 ERA+ in eight seasons with the Oakland Athletics and won the 2002 Cy Young Award — to being a liability for the Giants. Indeed, he only had one season in San Francisco where, again, by ERA+, he was a league-average starter or better. In 2010 he went 9-14 with a 4.15 ERA and was way worse than that down the stretch. It made perfect sense for the Giants to leave him off the 2010 postseason roster. And, of course, it worked out for them.
Things would improve. He’d still generally struggle as a Giant, but in 2012 he was a hero of the NLCS, pitching the Giants past the Cardinals in a must-win game. He then got the Game 1 start in the World Series and beat Justin Verlander as the Giants won that game and then swept the Tigers out of the series. As time went on he’d fine more personal happiness as well. When his contract ended following the 2013 season Zito took out a full-page ad in the San Francisco Chronicle thanking Giants fans for their support. He’d leave the game in 2014 and pitch three more games for the Athletics in 2015 before retiring for good.
Not many baseball memoirs deliver hard truths like Zito’s appears willing to do. That’s pretty damn brave of him. And pretty damn admirable.