Monday, May 11, 2020

How do you spell relief?

This advertisement appears on the inside front cover of the Philadelphia Phillies' 1988 media guide.

The Rolaids Relief Man Award was a well-known baseball award (and savvy marketing tie-in) from 1976 to 2012. Each year, Rolaids honored baseball's two top relief pitchers, one in the National League and one in the American League.

Steve Bedrosian (who had the awesome nickname "Bedrock") was the National League's top reliever in 1987, saving 40 games and earning five wins in relief. Inexplicably — and I say this even as a biased Phillies fan — Bedrosian also won the National League Cy Young Award in 1987. That award, far more prestigious than the Rolaids Relief Man Award, goes to the top pitcher, starter or reliever, in the league. It is usually awarded to a starting pitcher.

Using some modern statistical terminology, it's hard to see how Bedrock, a guy who only pitched 89 innings, had a 2.83 ERA, a 1.202 WHIP and 7.5 strikeouts per nine innings, was remotely worthy of the Cy Young Award.

To be fair, there weren't many standout starting pitchers in the National League that season. Rick Sutcliffe won 18 games and finished second to Bedrosian in the voting. Offspeed artist Rick Reuschel, at age 38, who split his season between Pittsburgh and San Francisco, might have been most worthy, with his 3.09 ERA, 12 complete games and four shutouts over 227 innings pitched. But his mere 13 wins and 4.2 strikeouts per nine innings weren't enough to wow voters. Poor guy. All he did was get people out.

The most intriguing choice of all might have been the Houston Astros' 40-year-old Nolan Ryan, who had one of the greatest bad-luck seasons of all time. He led the league in ERA (2.76) and strikeouts (270), but had a win-loss record of 8-16. Suffice to say that assessing pitchers based on wins and losses is pretty stupid. Nolan Ryan was the best National League pitcher of 1987.

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