3. Dennis Eckersley
Dennis Eckersley, 1992, American League
Relief pitchers have won four MVP Awards: Jim Konstanty, Phillies, 1950; Rollie Fingers, Brewers, 1981; Willie Hernandez, Tigers, 1984; and Eck. Konstanty worked 152 innings that year, Hernandez pitched 140, and Fingers won his in the screwed-up split strike season that messed up everybody.
Eckersley, the prototype one-inning closer, pitched 80 innings on the year. Frank Thomas, with a .978 OPS, played 1424 innings for the White Sox that season. Did Eckersley contribute more to his team in those 80 innings than Thomas did in nearly 18 times as many? Or Kirby Puckett, league leader in hits and total bases and a Gold Glove centerfielder? Or teammate Mark McGwire, who had 42 homers and 104 RBIs with an OPS of .970 and won a Gold Glove as well? Closers are valuable – just ask Mets fans – but they’re disproportionately rewarded for how little they actually work.