Dennis Eckersley: Closing “not as tough as you think”

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For years, we have been inundated with the sentiment that there is nothing tougher, nothing that requires more focus and mental fortitude than being a Major League closer. Former Athletics closer Dennis Eckersley, who authored two of the best relief seasons of all time in 1990 (0.61 ERA. 48 saves) and ’92 (won the AL Cy Young and MVP awards), says that closing is “not as tough as you think”.

Via Tyler Kepner of the New York Times:

“I don’t want to take away anything from what I did,” Dennis Eckersley, a Hall of Fame closer, said Thursday before the game. “But it’s not as tough as you think.”

[…]

“You can find somebody to do it,” Eckersley said. “You could groom somebody to do it who’s on the staff, if you manage it the right way. I mean, think about it: the tougher job is to come in with guys on base, because he’s got to be quicker to the plate and he has to hold runners on.”

The motivation behind the article was Mariano Rivera’s sixth blown save of the year, which came last night against the Red Sox. The 43-year-old Rivera is set to retire after the season as the greatest closer of all-time with 649 saves to his name and a career 2.21 ERA. While Rivera is by no means having a terrible season, many are having better seasons, as Kepner points out. Craig Kimbrel, Koji Uehara, Mark Melancon, Greg Holland, Kenley Jansen, and Edward Mujica are just a handful of players doing a better job for a much cheaper price and a fraction of the praise, seemingly putting to bed the notion that one must have an inborn “closer’s mentality”.

Gerrit Cole second-fastest to 200 strikeouts in a season

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Astros starter Gerrit Cole dominated the Athletics on Monday night, limiting them to one run on two hits and a walk while striking out 11. It marked his 12th start out of 22 this season with double-digit strikeouts, giving him 205 total on the season.

It is no surprise, then, to hear that Cole is the second-fastest in baseball history to reach 200 strikeouts in a season, per MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart. Cole got there in 133 1/3 innings. The only pitcher faster than Cole was Randy Johnson, who reached 200 K’s in 130 2/3 innings back in 2001 with the Diamondbacks.

Along with the 205 strikeouts, Cole holds an 11-5 record with a 3.03 ERA across 136 2/3 innings. Among qualified starters in the American League, only Charlie Morton (2.61), Mike Minor (2.86), José Berríos (2.96), and teammate Justin Verlander (2.99) have a better ERA than Cole, who has twice finished in the top-five in Cy Young Award voting.