A's Top 5 relievers: Gallegos' take

June 8th, 2020

No one loves a good debate quite like baseball fans, and with that in mind, we asked each of our beat reporters to rank the top five players by position in the history of their franchise, based on each player’s career while with that club. These rankings are for fun and debate purposes only. If you don’t agree with the order, vote in the Twitter poll for your favorite at this position.

Here is MLB.com’s ranking of the top five relief pitchers in A’s history, as selected by Martín Gallegos.

• A's All-Time Around the Horn Team: C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | LF | CF | RF | DH | RHP | LHP

1) , 1987-95
Key fact: One of three relievers in MLB history to win MVP and Cy Young Award in same season (1992)

Eckersley was an accomplished two-time All-Star as a starter by the time he arrived to the A’s in a trade just before the start of the 1987 season, but it was his connections with manager Tony La Russa and pitching coach Dave Duncan that transformed him into a Hall of Famer.

La Russa and Duncan crafted an idea to convert Eckersley to a reliever. While there were many successful closers before him, the way Eck was used revolutionized the role as the A’s employed a strategy to maximize his effectiveness by limiting him to mostly one-inning appearances. Eckersley quickly adapted to the new role, leading MLB in saves (45) in 1988. He finished second in American League Cy Young Award voting that year, and though his season ended in devastating fashion as the A’s lost to the Dodgers in a World Series forever remembered for the walk-off homer he gave up to Kirk Gibson in Game 1, Eckersley brushed himself off and helped the A’s return to the Fall Classic in ‘89, recording the final out of a four-game sweep against the Giants to bring Oakland its most recent World Series title.

A four-time All-Star with the A’s, Eckersley’s dominant run reached its apex in 1992 as he led MLB with 51 saves and posted a 1.91 ERA over 80 innings to earn the AL Cy Young Award and the AL Most Valuable Player Award. In nine seasons with the A’s, Eck saved 320 games while posting a 2.66 ERA as a reliever, producing the highest fWAR of any A’s reliever (19.1) and serving a vital role in helping the A’s reach the World Series in three straight years from ‘88-90. Elected to the Hall of Fame in 2004, he remains the club’s all-time saves leader and is one of five players to have their number retired by the A’s.

2) Rollie Fingers, 1968-76
Key fact: Leads all A’s relievers with 16 World Series appearances

While Eckersley revolutionized the role of closer, Fingers paved the way for that about two decades earlier, often closing out the final two or three innings of games. He was a part of the A’s dynasty that captured three straight World Series titles from 1972-74, earning MVP honors for the ‘74 Fall Classic against the Dodgers after posting a 1.93 ERA in four appearances and closing out Game 5 with a two-inning save to clinch the series. Fingers was clutch in all three World Series he participated in, posting a 1.35 ERA over 16 games.

Durability was one of Fingers’ many strengths. His rubber arm allowed him to work at least 111 innings for eight straight seasons with the A’s from 1969-76, a workload that is extremely rare for relievers nowadays. Quantity and quality from Fingers resulted in a legendary nine-year stint with Oakland that included four All-Star selections. He posted a 2.91 ERA with 136 saves over 502 games and remains the all-time leader for innings pitched by an A’s reliever (820 1/3). Fingers left for free agency in ‘76 and played eight seasons with the Padres and Brewers, retiring with 341 saves and a career 2.90 ERA.

In addition to innings pitched, Fingers tops all A’s relievers in wins (60), strikeouts (668) and ERA (2.58) while also ranking second in saves. Like Eckersley, Fingers is one of five A’s players to get his number retired by the club. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1992.

3) , 2005-08
Key fact: Earned AL Rookie of Year Award in 2005

Selected 40th overall in the 2004 Draft, Street only needed 21 Minor League games before getting the call to Oakland at the start of the ‘05 campaign. After an early-season injury to closer Octavio Dotel opened the door for ninth-inning duties, Street grabbed hold of the role and never relinquished it. Recording his first save in June, he went on to save 23 games and posted a 1.72 ERA, which was second only to Mariano Rivera among AL relievers that year.

Street saved 37 games in 2006, but injuries limited him the following two years. He eventually lost the closer job to Brad Ziegler in ‘08 before getting traded later that offseason to the Rockies in a package deal for Matt Holliday. In four seasons with the A’s, Street posted a 2.88 ERA and recorded 94 saves, which ranks fourth all-time among A’s relievers.

4) , 2009-11
Key fact: Earned All-Star selection in each of first two seasons with A’s

The way Bailey’s career began, it appeared as if he’d be entrenched as the A’s closer for the long haul. His 26 saves and 1.84 ERA in his 2009 All-Star season earned him the AL Rookie of the Year Award, and the success continued in ‘10 with another All-Star selection as he finished with 25 saves and a 1.47 ERA. But injuries limited Bailey to 42 appearances in ‘11, and his ERA rose to 3.24.

Bailey was traded along with Ryan Sweeney to the Red Sox for Josh Reddick following the 2011 season. Bailey's A’s stint was short but impressive, with 75 saves and a 2.07 ERA over 157 appearances.

5) , 2011-13
Key fact: Holds Oakland record for consecutive saves (44)

Balfour’s intensity on the mound made him a fan favorite in Oakland, with the Coliseum erupting into “Balfour Rage” whenever he entered in the ninth. He went on a dominant run from 2012-13 as he racked up 44 consecutive saves to surpass the previous Oakland record of 40 held by Eckersley. An All-Star in ‘13, Balfour finished with 64 saves and a 2.53 ERA over three seasons with the A’s.

Honorable mentions
(1999-2001) racked up 75 saves in three seasons with the A’s and did not allow a run in four postseason appearances.

(2017-19) had a historically great 2018 campaign, as he became the first reliever in MLB history to record at least 30 saves (39), 100 strikeouts, and a sub-1.00 ERA. His 0.78 ERA that year was the 10th-lowest by any pitcher with at least 40 innings pitched in MLB history.

(2012-17) was an All-Star in 2014 and his 7.3 fWAR ranks third among A’s relievers.