Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Well, last night K-Rod notched his 110th strikeout of the season, setting the Angel single-season record for whiffs registered by a reliever, passing up the immortal De Wayne Buice.

De Wayne Buice? Who the hell is De Wayne Buice?

I actually remember De Wayne Buice, and I think fairly well. He used to turn his back to home plate in the middle of his motion, serving well to hide the ball. Bryan Harvey had a similar motion when he came up, if I recall correctly. That said, I never would have guessed him as the holder of this Angel record.

Buice set the record in 1987, striking out 109 men in 114 innings (K-Rod has only 73 2/3, so he's obviously the far better strikeout man). Buice basically won the closer job that year, having a fine one. He had a 128 ERA+ and 17 saves.

Let's put ourselves in that season for a moment ... 1987 was a hopeful year for the Angel faithful, having come within one strike of the World Series a year before. Yes, the great Bobby Grich and Reggie Jackson were gone (Grich to retirement, Reggie to a farewell tour with the Oakland A's), but the farm system had produced their replacements in Mark McLemore and Jack Howell; Devon White was also ready for the major league stage, putting the aging Ruppert Jones into a declining role.

Devon White hit decently (263/306/443, an OPS+ of 99) and played great defense, and while Jack Howell had a pretty nice year with the bat (245/331/461, an OPS+ of 110), he spent much of the year out of position in the outfield (he was a primo third base prospect, and was waiting for Doug DeCinces to retire). Mark McLemore, however, struggled, hitting 236/310/300 for an ugly 66 OPS+.

Meanwhile, thirty-six year-old DeCinces hit the wall, hitting a mere 234/337/391, and earning an unconditional release near the end of September. And Gary Pettis, defensive marvel, dropped from a tolerable 88 OPS+ in 1986 to a cover-your-eyes 53 in 1987. Needless to say, the team was a disappointment, finishing last in the division.

Another big problem that year was the pitching, as the team ERA dropped from 2nd in the league to 7th. Injuries to Donnie Moore damaged the bullpen, as did a decline from the young Chuck Finley. But comparing the two years shows you who the hero of the '87 bullpen was:

Primary Angels Bullpen

1986 1987
Moore 2.97 72.7 138 2.70 26.7 161
Corbett 3.66 78.7 112
Forster 3.51 41.0 117
Lucas 3.15 45.7 130 3.63 74.3 119
Finley 3.30 46.3 124 4.67 90.7 93
Ruhle 4.15 47.7 99
Minton 3.08 76.0 173
Cook 5.50 34.3 79
Lugo 9.32 28.0 47
Buice 3.39 114.0 128
TOTAL 3.44 332.0 121 4.13 444.0 120
De Wayne Buice, a 29-year-old rookie, came out of nowhere to lead the Halo pen. He had bounced around from the San Francisco to the Oakland to the Cleveland organizations, never sniffing that elusive cup of coffee. The Angels picked him up in the winter of 1985, but he didn't make the majors until April 27, 1987. That was a middle relief appearance, but you can see how Gene Mauch gained confidence in Buice pretty quickly (splits found at Retrosheet):

Month   ERA    IP  GF

April 3.38 8.0 2
May 3.63 22.3 7
June 2.18 20.7 6
July 1.90 23.7 9
August 3.86 21.0 9
Gene Mauch loved having workhorse relievers, having once managed Mike Marshall, the patron saint thereof, and coming from an era where it was pretty common to see relievers notch a lot of innings. If you look back on his time in Minnesota, you see all kinds of random relievers notching over 100 innings -- Bill Campbell threw 167 2/3 innings, all from the bullpen, in 1976, going 17-5 with 20 saves. (Campbell moved on Boston the next year and had a similar season, pitching 140 innings.) With Campbell gone, Mauch gave 146 2/3 innings to Tom Johnson in '77 (he totally collapsed the next year) and gave Marshall a modest 99 in '78 before ratcheting him back up to 142 2/3 in 1979.

It seems clear, from looking at the record, that Mauch saw Buice in the mold of these men. But like Tom Johnson before him, it doesn't appear Buice was able to handle the large workload:

Month   ERA    IP  GF

Sept. 6.23 17.3 10
And, just like that, Buice was done. He had a 5.88 ERA the next season, was traded to Toronto, and had a 5.82 ERA in 1989. He was then out of baseball, after 172 1/3 innings.

Innings    ERA  K/BFP  H/BFP  BB/BFP  HR/BFP

1-95.7 2.92 .253 .170 .084 .027
96-172.1 5.87 .184 .240 .120 .026
Glory in sport is fleeting, and Buice's was more fleeting than most. A career minor leaguer got his chance, and was the bullpen ace on a last-place disappointment. And bang, whoof -- he's overextended, and it's just over. De Wayne Buice accomplished a lot more in baseball than 99.9% of people out there, and he can always look back on a terrific season. But now one chink of that glory is gone; never again will it say DE WAYNE BUICE at the top of the list of strikeouts by Angel relievers in a season. K-Rod is a better pitcher, and he deserves the record; but a part of me is sad that future generations will have less cause to look up De Wayne Buice's name, and that the memory of his golden season will be scattered like dust ...

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