Top Ten Relief Pitchers of the 1980s

The 1980s in Major League Baseball history stand out for featuring three relief pitchers to be inducted into the Hall of Fame during this decade when career relief pitching became increasingly commonplace.

10) Steve Bedrosian

Bedrosian had an outstanding 1987 campaign. Pitching 65 games of relief out of nearly 90 IP, he posted an outstanding 2.83 ERA with 150 ERA+ and 2.6 K/BB ratio while leading the League with 40 saves - earning himself the Cy Young Award as a relief pitcher at season's end.

He recorded over 20 saves during the four seasons from 1986-1989.

9) Jesse Orosco

Jesse Orosco's career included five or six incredible seasons, the highlight being in 1983 when he pitched over 60 appearances of relief pitching 110 IP for an astounding 1.47 ERA, 247 ERA+, 1.04 WHIP and 6.2 H/9. With this stunning campaign came accolades and praise throughout his life! So why is Orosco so lowly ranked here? Because he only served as closer for part of his career - had this article focused on ranking relief pitchers instead, Orosco would surely rank higher up.

8) Dennis Eckersley

Dennis Eckersley With 390 saves to his name in Major League Baseball history, Dennis Eckersley currently ranks fifth all-time. Twice leading the League in saves and posting 25+ saves each of 10 seasons from 1988-1997 (including six consecutive years between 1988 and 1993 that saw over 30).

7) Tom Henke

Tom Henke has earned the eighth-best relief pitcher ERA in MLB history at 2.67, appearing in 10 out of 14 seasons (seven consecutive years from 1987-1993) with an ERA below 2.95.

6) Jeff Reardon

Jeff Reardon stands seventh all-time, having amassed 367 saves throughout his career - recording at least 20 saves every season from 1982 to 1992, leading the League with 41 in 1985 alone! His impressive record spans 11 consecutive seasons between 1982-1992 when at least 20 were made apiece year.

5) Lee Smith

Lee Smith Lee Smith still ranks third all-time among Major League Baseball sluggers for career stolen bases with 478 SV, leading the League four times from 1991-1994 and averaging over 25 steals each season when in that role.

His career accomplishments were remarkable, as he made 20 or more saves each season save for three and two of them (his initial three and final two).

He possessed an impressive arsenal of four or five great pitches he could use against opponents, such as sliders and various types of fastballs such as hard-rising fastballs and cut fastballs - historians even believe he had one of the greatest fastballs of the 1980s, whether as a starter or reliever.

4) Dan Quisenberry

His 2.76 career ERA ranks 15th-best among relief pitchers in Major League Baseball history. From 1981-1989 - eight of those nine seasons saw an ERA below 2.80; seven consecutive years from 1981 to 1987 saw that figure go below it as well.

By the time he reached retirement in 1985, he had amassed nearly 245 saves. He led the League in Saves Per Season during five of its initial six seasons from 1980-1985 and posted over 30 saves each time. Furthermore, four consecutive seasons from 1982-1985 found him leading with 30 or more.

3) Kent Tekulve

Kent Tekulve was one of only 13 pitchers ever to pitch over 1,000 innings during their careers, boasting a submarine-style arm that allowed for easy throwing motion and excellent control.

He certainly found success. In nine of 12 seasons between 1975-1986, his ERA never exceeded 2.90; that includes four consecutive years from 1981-1984.

He enjoyed some remarkable seasons during his career, perhaps most notably in 1983 when he pitched nearly 100 IP. That year he achieved record-low ERA, 227 ERA+, 1.15 WHIP and H/9 figures of 1.64, 228, 1827 and 7.13, respectively.

2) Goose Gossage

Gossage remains one of only 13 relief pitchers to have pitched over 1000 innings throughout his MLB career.

He is one of only five relief pitchers to ever be honored with inclusion into MLB history's Hall of Fame, hailing from an era with multiple relief pitchers being recognized: the 1980s.

Hitters found him difficult to hit during 11 of 16 seasons from 1975-1991 - including six consecutive years from 1977 to 1982 when his H/9 ratio dropped below 7.5% - making him one of the hardest opponents to hit in baseball. Of his five or six exceptional seasons between 1975 and 1991, two stood out: 1977 and 1981.

1) Bruce Sutter

By the end of his career, Sutter had amassed 300 saves. From 1979-1984 - including four consecutive years between 1979-1982 where he led the league with over 20 saves per season; every season except his initial and last two saw over 20 SV totals over that span.

Here are ten relief pitchers who fell just outside of my top 10, for various reasons, but which still earned honorable mention. I will list them alphabetically: Larry Andersen, Tim Burke, Mark Eichhorn, Greg Harris, Willie Hernandez Rick Honeycutt Gary Lavelle Greg Minton Dave Righetti and Dave Smith.

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