Year Inducted: 2006 (BBWAA, ballot #13, 400/520)
The usage of bullpens have changed over the years. For many years, the bullpen was only there for mop up work if the starter just couldn’t go any further. Now, it’s not starters throwing the most high leverage innings but relievers. Initially, pitchers like Roy Face were dubbed “firemen” as they came out of the pen in stressful situations no matter the inning and pitched till the end of the game. One of the best firemen of all-time was Bruce Sutter.
Sutter was a dominant closer for 12 seasons in the bigs, mostly with the Cards and Cubs. Although he never started a game in the Major Leagues, he pitched over 1000 innings, winning 68 games against 71 losses and 300 saves (3rd highest upon his retirement). Sutter was one of the first pitchers to use the split-fingered fastball grip, which helped him strikeout nearly 8 batters per 9 innings. He also successfully limited his walks and his homers, making him a strong and reliable presence at the back-end of the bullpen.
Fangraphs recently came out with new metrics for relief pitchers measuring their effectiveness at stopping the opposition. These new measures are based off of WPA (Win Probability Added) and are called Shutdowns or Meltdowns. The more a pitcher comes in and has a big positive effect on the game, the more shutdowns he gets. The more times a pitcher comes in and has a big negative effect on the game, the more meltdowns he gets. Is it fairly accurate? It seems to be doing an OK job. This past season, the two best closers were probably Zach Britton and Jeurys Familia who were the top two in SD’s. WPA data only goes back to 1974, so it’s tough to use on some of the older pitchers, but it shouldn’t be a shock who has the most shutdowns on the list (hint: his name starts with M and ends in ariano Rivera). How does this relate to Sutter? At the time of his retirement, he had 350 shutdowns which ranked 3rd of all-time, behind Gossage and Tekulve. This helps to illustrate just how great Sutter was at pitching in tight games.
Sutter isn’t without his faults, of course. He only pitched 12 years due to shoulder issues, which hurt his last few years with the Braves. This also means that he didn’t throw many innings overall compared to other relievers in his time period (Gossage and Fingers, for example, threw at least 700 more innings each than Sutter did). This of course limits his traditional stats, but also his advanced stats as fewer innings mean less value.
Sutter’s career may have been short, but it was extremely dominant and effective. Sutter was a top closer, saving 25-30 games a season when that total actually meant something. He was an excellent addition to the Hall of Fame.
Stay tuned for the next update.
On deck 10/16/16, the catcher who hit the “Homer in the Gloamin” steps up to the plate.