Orioles' Top 5 relief pitchers: Trezza's 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 their career while playing for that club. These rankings are for fun and debate purposes only … if you don’t agree with the order, participate in the Twitter poll to vote for your favorite at this position.

Here is Joe Trezza’s ranking of the top 5 relievers in Orioles history. Next week: managers.

Orioles' Top 5: C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | LF | CF | RF | DH | RHP | LHP

1. , 1988-93
Key fact: Franchise all-time leader in saves

One-inning closers were coming into vogue when Olson, armed with a cuddly nickname and killer curveball, emerged as an elite one for the Orioles in the late 1980s.

“The Otter” debuted late in 1988 but burst onto the scene in the Orioles’ "Why Not?" season of ’89, earning Rookie of the Year honors by notching 27 saves with a 1.69 ERA. He saved 37 games and was an All-Star the following season, recording at least 29 saves in each of the next three years before battling arm issues with several other teams.

But Olson was always brilliant in Baltimore, posting sub-2.10 ERAs in three of his five full seasons and a cumulative 2.26 mark across 320 games -- the paragon among pitchers who spent their entire O's tenure in relief. He was the youngest pitcher in MLB history to record 100 career saves when he reached the milestone in 1992, and he remains the franchise leader with 160 career saves.

2. , 2011-18
Key fact: Converted American League-record 60 consecutive saves between '15-17

Ranking relievers is always a tricky thing, given how bullpens are utilized and depending on what you choose to value: longevity or dominance. If you’re looking for the latter, it’s hard to argue against Britton.

Few relievers in MLB history have been as dominant as Britton was during his three-year run as the Orioles' full-time closer from 2014-16, which saw him convert 120 of 128 saves (94 percent) with a 1.38 ERA and 0.909 WHIP. His '16 season was one of the finest in baseball history by any measure, when he went 47-for-47 in save chances and posted a 0.54 ERA. He went 43 straight appearances without allowing an earned run at one point and finished fourth in AL Cy Young Award voting. Rated by ERA+, which adjusts for league and park factors, Britton’s '16 performance was the best by a reliever in baseball history.

But it was his AL-record 60 consecutive saves converted from 2015-17 that accounted for a large chunk of what would become Britton’s signature accomplishment. The southpaw sinkerballer pitched to a 1.14 ERA over 95 innings during the streak, earning two All-Star nods. He ultimately clamped down 139 saves -- the second most in franchise history -- before leaving for the Yankees via trade in '18.

3. Tippy Martinez, 1976-86
Key fact: Only pitcher to ever pick off three runners in one inning

On Aug. 24, 1983, in the 10th inning amid the heat of a pennant race, Martinez made the strangest kind of baseball history. The veteran left-handed reliever kicked ... and threw to first, picking off Toronto’s Barry Bonnell. A batter later, Martinez picked off Dave Collins. Then he allowed a hit to Willie Upshaw, and picked him off to finish the frame. The Orioles went on to win the game in the bottom of the inning, and, eventually, the World Series.

Martinez appeared in 499 games across 11 seasons for the Orioles, the second most in club history among pitchers. But he’s best remembered for that Blue Jays game, recording three outs on the basepaths. It’s an unfair legacy, really, given how good he was and for how long. Acquired in the 1976 blockbuster trade with the Yankees that also netted them Scott McGregor and Rick Dempsey, Martinez saved 105 games with a 3.46 ERA for the O’s, earning All-Star recognition and that ring in ’83. His 585 strikeouts are the most by an Orioles reliever.

4. , 2012-18
Key fact: Third in franchise history in both appearances and ERA among relievers

One of the best relievers in Orioles history was a 29-year-old journeyman who was acquired off waivers from the Rangers in November 2011. For the next four years, he was one of baseball’s top set-up men, a submarining nightmare for right-handed hitters and a key cog of the excellent Orioles bullpens of that era.

From 2012-15, O’Day ranked among MLB’s leaders in reliever ERA (ninth), WHIP (seventh) and Win Probability Added (seventh), posting a 1.92 ERA across 273 appearances. He pitched to a 1.70 ERA in '14 and a 1.52 mark in '15, making the All-Star team during that season and signing a four-year, $31 million contract after it. O’Day battled injuries for the duration of the new contract, and was never that dominant again. But when he left for Atlanta via trade in '18, he was ranked third all time among Baltimore relievers in both ERA (2.40) and games pitched (391).

5. , 1963-67
Key fact: Second-best ERA among qualified Orioles relievers

One of the more underrated players in team history, Miller was the Orioles’ durable, late-inning anchor of the mid-1960s, who succeeded despite his small stature and lack of overpowering stuff. A failed starter who morphed into an ERA champion and All-Star with the Giants, Miller arrived in Baltimore via trade in '62 and assumed a multi-inning fireman role that has no equivalent in the modern game. Over the next five years, he saved 99 games (though it wasn’t an official stat yet), averaging 100 innings per season with a 2.37 ERA. That remains the second-best mark among qualified relievers in franchise history.

Miller's most decorated season came in 1963, when he pitched to a 2.24 ERA and led MLB pitchers in games (71), saves (unofficially, with 27) and struck out more than a batter per inning. But his best campaign was '65, when Miller went 14-7 with a 1.89 ERA in 67 games as a 37-year-old. He was a member of the Orioles' first World Series title in '66 and was inducted into the club’s Hall of Fame in '89.

Honorable mentions
We are only considering Orioles players for this exercise, but Satchel Paige spent most of the MLB portion of his Hall of Fame career with the St. Louis Browns in the early 1950s. … fellow Hall of Famers (three All-Star seasons) and (league saves title in ’94) went into Cooperstown with the caps of other clubs, but they enjoyed success in Baltimore. … As the franchise’s all-time leader in WHIP, '60s righty Dick Hall just missed the cut here. ...

Moe Drabowsky's '66 World Series is still one of the best Fall Classic performances by a reliever in MLB history. … Eddie Watt and Pete Richert had great years for dynamo Orioles teams of the late '60s and early '70s, when relievers were used much less often than they are in the modern game. … Sammy Stewart was a key member of pennant-winning teams in '79 and '83, and won the AL ERA crown in '81. … was excellent as the O’s closer for two years in the late '90s, leading the AL with 45 saves in '97. … was one of the AL’s elite relievers with Baltimore and Toronto from 2005-06 and an All-Star closer for the O's in '05, but he lacked the volume to make this list. … saved a franchise-record 51 games in '12 and 50 more in '13, leading MLB both years. … and are the two most accomplished relievers of the past decade to miss inclusion on this list.