A tweet Sunday from Jon Heyman, eight innings into the Yankees' 2-1 win over the Tigers:
- drew this game up in dreams. great start by joba, followed by great 8th by phil hughes. only mr. automatic to go.
"Mr. Automatic" being, of course, Mariano Rivera, who wasn't perfect -- with two outs in the ninth, he issued a walk for just the fourth time all season, but he did retire Ramon Santiago to clinch the Yankees' sweep of Detroit.
I didn't remember that nickname for Rivera, so I turned to the Google and came up with this story, from 2005:
- Ray Fosse has one of the most unique perspectives on Dennis Eckersley, because he was once Eckersley's catcher with Cleveland (including the night of Eck's no-hitter), faced Eckersley as an opponent and was an A's broadcaster when Eckersley became the best closer in baseball history.
"If there was ever a guy you could say was 'Mr. Automatic' -- and I know they talk about [Mariano] Rivera now -- it was Eck," Fosse said. "When Eck came in, these guys in the other dugout and us upstairs said, 'OK, let's go. That's it.'
"When you saw him warming up and he comes in, it was over."
Obviously, if nobody actually called Eckersley "Mr. Automatic," Fosse's point is moot, mostly. I mean, if we're talking about nicknames. And I think "Mr. Automatic" is a fine nickname for Mr. Rivera. "Mo" isn't much of a nickname, "Super Mariano" is atrocious, and "Sandman" isn't bad except: 1) it's suggests that he's boring and he's not, plus; 2) it doesn't seem to have caught on, really. So while I don't believe in doubling up nicknames, unless someone can show a connection between Eckersley and "Mr. Automatic," I think it's Rivera's if he wants it (or even if he doesn't).
But was Eckersley more automatic than Rivera? I got interested in these two just yesterday, when I was looking at the highest strikeout-to-walk ratios, ever. Last year, Rivera's 12.8 was the highest of his career. Until this year; this year it was even better until Sunday afternoon, when Rivera walked Gerald Laird but didn't strike out anybody, lowering his K/BB ratio all the way from 14.7 to 11.
Obviously, both figures are impressive, and I wondered if they might be the best ever.
Well, among pitchers with at least 50 innings in a season -- and no, Rivera hasn't thrown 50 innings this season, but for the sake of argument -- Rivera isn't the best ever, but he sure does figure high on the list. Last season's 12.8 is third all-time, and this year's 11 would tie him for fourth with Bret Saberhagen (1994).
And Nos. 1 and 2 on the list? Right: Dennis Eckersley. In 1989, Eckersley struck out 55 and walked three. In 1990, he struck out 73 and walked four. In both seasons, his strikeout-to-walk ratio was 18 and change.
Again: 18. Nobody else has topped 13, and Eck's got two 18s.*
* For some reason, HBO loves to show a movie called "Ballistics: Ecks vs. Sever." That might be the worst title in cinematic history, plus every single time I see that title on the schedule page, for a split-second I think it must be a documentary about Dennis Eckersley and Tom Seaver. Am I the only one?
I don't know that any closer's ever had a two-season run quite like Eckersley's: 8-2, 1.03 ERA, 81 saves in 87 tries. Not to mention the amazing K/BB ratio.
Eckersley had a few other great seasons. But the truth is that Eck was a truly brilliant reliever for only five or six years. Rivera's been brilliant for nearly 15 years. You can use "Mr. Automatic" for whomever you like, but I'll stick with the candidate who has essentially tripled the other candidate's automatic tenure.