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This is former Mets GM and ESPN analyst Steve Phillips after Trevor Hoffman earned his 479th save this season to surpass Lee Smith on the all-time saves list: “For me, it’s time for baseball to recognize closers and the role they have on the game and the impact they have on the game.”

Watch the YouTube clip below:

Phillips was referring specifically to the Hall of Fame, but the argument could be applied to this season’s activities as well. With a shaky field of starters contending for the Cy Young and 46 saves under Hoffman’s belt, the 2006 season provided the Padres closer with his best opportunity to earn a Cy Young.

A little history.

In total, nine relief pitchers have won the coveted pitching award. The Dodgers’ Mike Marshall in 1974 earned the first Cy Young for a reliever. He only had 21 saves but pitched an astounding 208.3 innings with a 2.42 ERA. Sparky Lyle won in 1977, posting a 13-5 record with 26 saves and a 2.17 ERA. Bruce Sutter earned Cy Young had a 2.23 ERA and saved 37 of the Cubs’ 80 victories in 1979. Other relievers who have won include Dennis Eckersley, Steve Bedrosian, Rollie Fingers and Willie Hernandez. San Diego’s own Marc Davis won in 1989 (44 saves, 1.85 ERA). Most recently, closer Eric Gagne won the award in 2003 by closing all 55 chances with an insane 1.20 ERA.

Down year for NL.

It was a slow year for dominant pitchers in the NL. Webb went 16-8 with a 3.10 ERA. That’s the highest ERA for a NL Cy Young winner since Steve Carlton’s 3.11 ERA in 1982. His ERA was third in the NL. He tied with five other pitchers to lead the league in wins. Chris Carpenter also had a chance, but didn’t quite compile enough wins (15-8, 3.09 ERA).

On the other hand, Hoffman had a career year converting an NL-leading 46 of 51 save opportunities while holding opponents to a .205 batting average. Two outings hurt his chances: blowing the save at the All-Star Game (meaningless in terms of stats but a high profile blunder) and the historic collapse against the Dodgers in which the Padres gave up four home runs in the ninth inning. He wasn’t perfect (as Gagne was in 2003), but he was the best closer in the league. Sometimes close to perfect isn’t enough, especially when you’re a closer.

– CHRIS NIXON

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