Eric Gagne and Established Closers

Earlier this week, in a story that was appropriately reported without much fanfare,Eric Gagne retired. Between 2002-2004, Gagne had been one of the best relievers in the game saving 152 games and posting a 1.79 ERA over that three year period, while appearing in three All Star Games and finishing 4th, 1st and 7th in Cy Young balloting. For those three years, Gagne was the best closer in baseball, but he never recovered from an injury in 2005 and bounced around between the Dodgers, Rangers, Red Sox and Brewers between 2005 and 2008. He spent last year trying to get one more chance to play, but was not successful.

Has Bill James Jumped the Shark

James is, to some extent, a victim of his own success. He changed the way we write about and understand baseball which led to many imitators who have become competitors. Similarly, James was too smart and too influential to be overlooked by the generation of general managers who have been influence by him. In this respect, Theo Epstein deserves credit for acting more quickly than his competitors in securing James’ services. James’ journey from fringe figure to wise old man of the game has been impressive and rewarding for both him and his longtime fans. However, his recent writings have been a disappointment. It would be great to see James regain the edge he had a quarter century ago, but perhaps that is not a realistic expectation and we should just be grateful for the contributions he has made.

A Very Freaky Cy Young

Lincecum, known as “The Freak” because of his size and unorthodox pitching delivery has been an extraordinary pitcher during his first two years plus in the Major Leagues.  During this time, he has pitched 598.2 innings striking out 671 while walking 217 with an ERA of 2.90.  While these numbers are extremely impressive, they do not provide much of a context.  Lincecum’s numbers look better in a comparative context.  Only 24 pitchers have pitched 550 or more innings with an ERA+ of 135 or better before the age of 25.  Lincecum’s career ERA+ is 152.  The only players who had better ERA+ for their age, with 550 or more innings pitched were Walter Johnson and Ed Reulbach.  The closest postwar pitcher was Tom Seaver whose ERA+ at a comparable age was 149.