Back in March, Goose Gossage said he thinks Mariano Rivera is pretty great, but also added, "I think that these guys are so dominant in that one-inning role that they've forgotten what we used to do. It takes three guys to do what we used to do."
He's right, of course. I wrote about Gossage versus Rivera at the time, so I'm not going to revisit that debate. But in writing earlier about Koji Uehara's terrific season, I pointed out that Gossage's 1975 season with the White Sox rates as the most valuable relief season ever, at least by Baseball-Reference WAR.
Gossage was 23 years old that year, turned 24 in July. It was his second full season in the majors and he went 9-8 with a 1.84 ERA and league-leading 26 saves. More impressively, he pitched 141.2 innings, held batters to a .201 average and allowed just three home runs.
I thought it would be fun to take a quick look at Gossage's season. Let's compare it to Craig Kimbrel's 2012 season, certainly one of the greatest seasons ever by a modern closer.
One concept of the modern closer is that using him for one inning supposedly means he is available to pitch in more games, but that wasn't the case with Gossage's season.
Gossage threw more innings than Kimbrel has in two seasons.
Inning of entry
Gossage: 3rd (1 time), 5th (6), 6th (8), 7th (20), 8th (13), 9th (12), extra (2)
Kimbrel: 8th (1), 9th (60), extra (2)
Obviously, the modern closer is used only in the ninth to protect a lead, or in home games when the game is tied. Gossage was used any time the game was close, usually in the seventh inning on, but sometimes in the fifth or sixth.
Times pitched more than one inning
Here's an interesting nugget: Gossage pitched exactly one inning just three times. So even when he entered in the ninth, it was often after the starter or another reliever had run into trouble, not to start the inning.
Gossage: 7.2 innings
Kimbrel: 1.1 innings
Gossage pitched five-plus innings six times and three-plus 22 times. On this account, he's absolutely right about the modern closers. Imagine if managers stretched out the bullpens even a little bit, cut down on a reliever or two, and added another bat or pinch-runner to the bench. Would teams be better off? Gossage's 7.2-inning stint came on June 11 against Boston. He entered in the seventh inning and pitched through the 14th -- finally faltering in the 14th, giving up two runs on a Carl Yastrzemski home run and taking the loss. At least he was given three days of rest before his next appearance.
Another huge difference between generations. Modern closers, even with their sky-high strikeout rates, are rarely brought in to actually put out fires. That's left to the middle relievers. Gossage had to escape jams and pitch the rest of the game.
So, yes, modern closers like Kimbrel and Uehara and Rivera are harder to hit and more dominant than ever. But, as Gossage said, don't forget what he used to do.
By the way, in 1976 the White Sox hired Paul Richards as manager. He was 67 and hadn't managed since 1961. That was a different and he thought it made sense to put your best arms in the rotation, so he mad Gossage a starter. He went 9-17 with a 3.94 ERA ... although did throw 15 complete games. Chuck Tanner, who managed him in 1975, got him in trade for the Pirates and returned him to the bullpen. From 1977 through 1985, Gossage posted a 2.10 ERA while averaging 93 innings per season.