Take a look back at the Chicago Cubs’ five best relief pitchers since 1970. What pitchers have helped the Cubs the most in this era of closers and saves?
5. Mitch Williams
Following the 1988 season, the Chicago Cubs traded Rafael Palmeiro, Jamie Moyer and others to the Texas Rangers for a number of players including relief pitcher Mitch Williams. At least for one season, the trade worked out great for the Cubs. Williams made one of the most memorable debuts in Cub history when he entered the game in the ninth inning with a one-run lead, walked the bases loaded, then struck out the side to preserve the victory against the Phillies. Performances like this in ’89 led to Williams being dubbed the “Wild Thing.” Williams went on to become an All-Star in ’89 and his 36 saves helped lead the Cubs to the National League Eastern Division championship. Unfortunately, Williams was far less successful in 1990, recording only 16 saves and he was subsequently traded to Philadelphia. Mitch Williams finished with 52 saves in just two seasons with the Cubs.
4. Ryan Dempster
Many baseball observers feared that Ryan Dempster’s career was over in 2003 following a devastating elbow injury. However, the Cubs signed him to a free agent contract and he pitched surprisingly well in the second half of the 2004 season. In fact, he was so impressive that the Cubs named him their closer in 2005. Primarily a starter for the Florida Marlins and Cincinnati Reds, Dempster quickly adapted to his new role and successfully converted 33 of his 35 save attempts in ’05. Over the next two years, Dempster accumulated 52 more saves, giving him a total of 87 for the Cubs. In 2008, Dempster returned to his starter role and his 17 wins earned him a trip to the All-Star game and helped the Cubs garner their second consecutive NL Central Division championship. As of May 9, 2010, Ryan Dempster is still pitching effectively as a starter for the Cubs.
3. Randy Myers
Following a number of outstanding seasons for the New York Mets, Cincinnati Reds and San Diego Padres, Randy Myers signed with the Chicago Cubs prior to the 1993 season. That year, Myers accumulated 53 saves for the Cubs, which set a National League record and he won the NL “Relief Man” award. During the next two seasons, Myers amassed 59 more saves for the Cubs and he was named an All-Star in 1994 and 1995. Myers once again led the league in saves for the Cubs in ’95 when he collected 38. After leaving Chicago following the ’95 campaign, Myers had three more successful seasons as a relief pitcher. Randy Myers ended his career with 347 saves, 112 of which came with the Cubs.
2. Bruce Sutter
Bruce Sutter is one of the most innovative pitchers in the modern era of baseball. While pitching in the Cubs’ minor league system, Sutter learned how to throw the “split-fingered fastball.” Though not the first to use this pitch, Sutter quickly became dominant as most batters had never seen this offering. Despite playing for a sub-par ball club, Sutter was clearly the best relief pitcher in baseball during his time in Chicago. While pitching for the Cubs, Sutter was named an All-Star four years in a row from 1977-1980. He led the National League in saves in ’79 and ’80. Perhaps his best year for the Cubs was 1979 when his 37 saves earned him the NL Cy Young Award, a rare feat for a relief pitcher. Sutter had several more outstanding seasons while pitching for the St. Louis Cardinals, before struggling with the Atlanta Braves. Bruce Sutter’s 133 saves for the Cubs helped him get elected to the Hall of Fame in 2006.
1. Lee Smith
Following the departure of Bruce Sutter in 1980, the Cubs struggled to find an effective closer throughout the 1981 season. In 1982, Lee Smith began to get save opportunities and the Cubs quickly realized they had found their closer for many years to come. From 1983-1987, Smith was remarkably consistent, totaling at least 29 saves each year. His 29 saves in ’83 led the National League and earned Smith a trip to the All-Star game. In 1984, Smith increased his season save total to 33 and helped earn the Cubs the NL Eastern Division crown. Ironically, Smith’s best year in Chicago was 1987 when he converted 36 saves for his last place team. Sadly for Cub fans, Smith was traded to the Boston Red Sox for Al Nipper and Calvin Schiraldi. Lee Smith continued to pitch well after leaving Chicago, accumulating a career total of 478 saves, 180 of which came for the Cubs. Along with Ron Santo, Lee Smith is one of the greatest baseball players in history, not elected to the Hall of Fame.
All statistical references found at mlb.com
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