Perhaps some of you enjoyed the latest MLB Network Present’s Eck: The Story of Saving, I know I did. You saw that after years of being a dominant starter with both Cleveland and Boston, he started to lose some of that “zing” during his tenure with the Cubbies. When he was traded to Oakland to play under Hall of Famer Tony LaRussa, he was moved to the bullpen.
An idea that sounds familiar to the Mariner’s current needs. LaRussa figured that Eckersley could stay sharp in the bullpen until one of their unreliable starters went down with an injury, which at that point he could move back into the rotation.
Eck was about the same age that Felix is now, he had just about the same career path to this point and the conditions that moved him to the bullpen (loss of velocity and five better but unreliable starters) is one of the best comparisons to Felix’s current situation.
We all know that besides that memorable home run to Kirk Gibson, Eckersley went on to be one of the games best closers and cemented himself into the Hall of Fame. When Boston thought he was washed up, he transitioned to reliever and extended his career another 12 years!
1. John Smoltz
If you look at Felix’s Baseball Reference page you will see a “Similarity Scores” section. In my opinion, it’s the most fascinating area of the entire website. Using a particular scoring system they compare current and former players who are on the same career path statistically. Felix started his career similar to that of Catfish Hunter at age 20, at 24 & 25 he was on the same path as the aforementioned Dennis Eckersley. Age 28, Greg Maddux, 29 & 30 Don Sutton and as of the end of last season at age 32 he is most similar to John Smoltz. Smoltz missed all of the 2000 season with an injury, that would be his age 33-season.
When he returned he moved to the bullpen with a couple of spot starts, before committing to closing full time for three seasons. My favorite thing about Smoltz is he was given the opportunity to move back to the rotation after three full seasons without a start and he returned with force. Leading the league in 2006, at the age of 39, with 16 wins in 35 starts. He too seemed to prolong his career from serving a few seasons in the pen, pitching 21 years in total.