|Name:||Eric Vaughn Plunk||Position:||Relief Pitcher|
|Best Season (1996)||36||23||0.610||3.25||373||26||462.0||393||167||42||217||460||1.32||9.0||.221|
|Post Season Career||1||3||0.250||8.93||12||0||12.1||11||12||4||10||13||1.74||9.7||.233|
Eric Plunk may not be remembered as an all-time great because of his disappointing final appearances with the Indians, but he really was one of the greatest relief pitchers in Cleveland history. Starting with the bad and ending with the good, Plunk was an integral member of the 1997 AL Champion Indians' bullpen. While Jose Mesa was still the closer, Plunk was a primary set-up man and threw in three of the seven games. All three games ended as losses for the Indians and one was his fault as he picked the worst possible time to lose it, giving up four runs (three earned) in 2/3rds of an innings in game three against the Marlins. The Indians ended up losing the game 11-14 with Plunk taking the loss. The Indians ended up losing the series in seven games, almost completely due to the break down of the previously great bullpen.
Plunk originally joined the Indians during his second free agency in 1992 after playing his first few years with the Yankees and Athletics. He wasn't very impressive during those first few seasons, (4.11 ERA and 1.52 WHIP) and it allowed the Indians to sign him for the league minimum. In 1992, the Indians used him 58 times for 71.2 innings, finishing with nine wins, but an ERA of just 3.64. He would only get better from there.
From 1993 through 1994 Plunk established himself as the Indians primary set-up man while the rest of the roster was being polished. After his successful first season, Plunk was tried in the closers role, but converted starter Jose Mesa was fated to take that job. Each of his first three seasons Plunk through 71 innings and allowed 61 hits, the model of consistency. He did improve his strike out rates, including 77 in 1993 leading to a 9.0 career K/9, which still ranks among the top five all time in Indians history.
In 1995, the Indians were ready to compete and Plunk was in his prime. He finished the year with a 2.67 ERA in 57 games and hit his career high with a 10 K/9. Despite his success during the regular season, he struggled in the post-season, a sign of times to come. He allowed two runs in two innings against the Mariners in the ALCS and was kept out of the World Series entirely.
1996 was Plunk's final great season with the Indians and was likely the best in his career. He set a career low with a 2.43 ERA and career relief high with 85 strike outs. In that post-season, he struggled again, throwing four innings in three games against Baltimore and allowing three runs. He struggled again in 1997 during the regular season and as already mentioned in the play-offs. Things didn't change for the 34 year old Plunk in 1998 and with the fans disgruntled, he was traded to Milwaukee for Doug Jones. Of course Jones was even older at 41, so the deal was more to remove Plunk from Cleveland than for any other reason.
Plunk played one more season with the Brewers before calling a career and going out on-top (relatively), throwing 75.1 innings and striking out 63. In addition to his impressive Indians strike out numbers, he still ranks 26th all time in MLB history in K/9. As pitching roles have become more clearly defined, many players have surpassed him in the past decade, but when he retired in 1999, he ranked 10th all time. Despite his post-season failures, the Indians would have had a hard time manufacturing all those come from behind wins without him being there to keep things close in the regular season. In the end, Plunk was arguably the best right handed reliever in Indians history and certainly deserves credit as an all time great.