The role of the relief pitcher has changed extensively over the history of Major League Baseball and seems to be continuing to increase in importance. Left handed relievers are even more extreme. Since match-up relieving became the norm, the left handed relief pitcher has become the first pitcher to come into a game with the expectation of pitching less than a single inning. This hasn’t been a very strong position in Indians history, but there have been a few players in recent times that deserve some credit. Like the positions of closer and DH, this position is heavily slanted towards the present. Here are the top ten Indians left handed relief pitchers of all time:
10. Bob Allen – Years as RP 1961-1963, 1966-1967
Allen pitched the second most seasons as a LHRP for the Indians (behind Rafael Perez), but only threw 274 innings over that time. Allen’s first and last seasons were his best, throwing in 81.2 innings, all in relief, in his rookie year and keeping an ERA of 3.75. After three years of mediocrity, Allen finished his career strong with a 2.98 ERA through 54.1 innings in 1967. The three poor seasons in the middle of his career skyrocketed his ERA to 4.11, the second highest of all pitchers on this list.
9. Don Hood – 1976-1977, 1979
Hood played for five teams during a long career, but spent the most time with the Indians. Hood started 19 games for the Tribe in 1975 and 1978, two of his worst three seasons. These bring down his career averages despite pitching fantastically in three of his four relief seasons. His best year as a reliever was in 1977 when he threw 105 innings in 41 games (5 starts) and held a 3.00 ERA.
8. Harry Eisenstat – 1939-1942
Eisenstat was the most old school pitcher on this list, playing in the early 1940’s, when the next earliest pitcher started in 1954. Because he pitched in a time of fewer aggressive hitters, he has the lowest K/9 among the listed pitchers and one of the best WHIPs. He only threw 257 innings in his Indians career, but was among the top of those on this list by averaging more than 2 innings per outing.
7. Tom Hilgendorf – 1972-1974
Hilgendorf had a very short, but effective career in Cleveland, pitching three years in relief before being traded to Philadelphia. Although he only threw 190 innings, his 3.46 ERA and .256 BAA are among the most impressive on this list.
6. Paul Assenmacher – 1995-1999
Assenmacher was the preeminent left handed reliever during one of the most successful periods of Indians history. His average of two outs per appearance is the shortest average appearance of any Indians pitcher with more than 50 innings pitched. The combination of him with match-up happy manager Mike Hargrove lead to Assenmacher being the most specialized pitcher in Indians history.
5. Rafael Perez – 2006-2012
Perez was the Raffy Left part of the great Indians bullpen in 2007 along side Rafael Betancourt (Raffy Right). He ranks in the top ten in Indians history in K/9 and winning percent and is second all time in holds (first among lefties).
4. Don Mossi - 1954-1956, 1958
In 1954 (as part of one of the best bullpens in Indians history) Mossi had the greatest single season as a left handed reliever. He held opponents to an BAA of .167 and held an ERA of 1.94. He threw 93 innings (some during his five starts as well) and was altogether pretty unhittable. He did fall apart a little bit in the late 1950’s, bringing his career numbers down enough to keep him in fourth.
3. Jesse Orosco – 1981-1991
Orosco had a three year stopover in Cleveland right in the middle of a very lengthy career. He was possibly the best overall left handed pitcher ever to relieve for Cleveland and one of the best in the history of baseball, but his short time with the team keeps him as low as third place.
2. Tony Sipp – 2009-2012
Sipp leads all LHRP in K/9, WHIP and batting average against, a large function of his use against mostly left handed hitters, but also showing his dominance against that type of hitter. Only a lack of innings pitched keeps him from first place. If he can continue his career numbers for another 100 innings or so he will move into first.
1. Sid Monge – 1977-1981
Monge threw more innings than almost any other left handed reliever, despite only starting twice (Mossi threw more innings but started 36 games). During this time he was one of the most dominant season-by-season relievers and he maintained this success over five seasons. Monge was good enough to be used as the closing pitcher in 1979 and 1980 and held an ERA under 3.00 through his first two full years (1978-1979). His position on this list is precarious as there are two active pitchers below him and as baseball moves more towards specialized pitching roles.
Borderline: Fritz Coumbe, Derek Lilliquist, John O’Donoghue, Jamie Easterly, Mike Paul