What's interesting about this offseason is how the rich teams of the AL East have decided to emulate the success of the small-market Royals. The Yankees acquired Aroldis Chapman to go with Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances, giving the Yankees all three of the relievers who struck out 100 batters in 2015. The Red Sox paid a steep price to get Craig Kimbrel from the San Diego Padres and then traded for Carson Smith, who fanned 92 batters in 70 innings as a rookie with the Seattle Mariners. The Blue Jays acquired Drew Storen from the Washington Nationals to add to their bullpen depth. Even the Houston Astros, after ranking sixth in the majors in bullpen ERA and third in strikeout rate, decided they needed more relief help and traded for Philadelphia Phillies closer Ken Giles.
The Yankees, with that imposing trio, certainly have a chance to be one of the most dominant bullpens we've ever seen, although the truly great bullpens are usually more than three relievers deep. It's also important to note that Chapman is essentially replacing Justin Wilson, who was traded to the Detroit Tigers after a good season in 2015, when he went 5-0 with a 3.10 ERA and 66 strikeouts in 61 innings. Joe Girardi has said Chapman will be the team's closer, although the team has to wait and see whether he faces a suspension as Major League Baseball continues its investigation into domestic violence accusations against him.
Anyway, I thought it would be fun to look at some of the best bullpens of all time. Since bullpen usage has changed so much over time, it's difficult to compare across eras, so let's go decade-by-decade, starting with the 1960s, when bullpens first starting resembling modern usage patterns (prior to that, you'd often see starters pitching in relief).
1. 1967 Chicago White Sox (89-73): 26-18, 2.14 ERA, 39 saves, 66-2 when leading after seven
In the late '60s, helped by a pitching-friendly environment, the White Sox had a string of dominant bullpens. The 1967 team is tied with the '68 Dodgers for lowest bullpen ERA of the decade and the 1965, 1966 and 1968 teams all rank in the top 11. In 1967, Bob Locker went 7-5 with a 2.09 ERA and 20 saves, Hall of Famer Hoyt Wilhelm posted a 1.31 ERA in 89 innings, Don McMahon had a 1.67 ERA in 91.2 innings and Wilbur Wood -- a second knuckleballer alongside Wilhem -- had a 2.45 ERA. Despite a lineup in which no regular hit above .241, Eddie Stanky had his troops in the pennant race until losing a doubleheader in the final week.
1964 Cincinnati Reds (92-70): 20-12, 2.59 ERA, 35 saves, 75-6 when leading after seven
The pen had four primary relievers: Sammy Ellis, Billy McCool, Bill Henry and Ryne Duren, with some of the starting pitchers appearing in relief as well. Overall, the '64 Reds bullpen had the best SO/BB ratio in the decade. Henry posted a 0.87 ERA in 53 innings, but two rookies were the revelation. Ellis, 23, pitched 122 innings and had the third-best SO/BB ratio in the majors among pitchers with at least 100 innings. McCool was a 19-year-old rookie left-hander with a blazing fastball who posted a 2.42 ERA with 87 strikeouts in 89.1 innings. Ellis converted to the rotation in 1965, where he lasted four years before hurting his arm. He later became a longtime pitching coach in the majors. McCool was the team's top reliever in 1965 and 1966 but hurt his elbow and was finished at age 25.
3. 1969 Baltimore Orioles (109-53): 31-15, 2.32 ERA, 36 saves, 85-7 when leading after seven
These Orioles were known for their starting pitching, defense and the power of Boog Powell and Frank Robinson, but the bullpen was excellent as well. Eddie Watt and Dick Hall had ERAs under 2.00, Pete Richert had a 2.20 ERA and long man Dave Leonhard had a 2.49 ERA. Since Earl Weaver's starters threw 50 complete games, the bullpen wasn't heavily taxed, with nobody throwing more than 77 innings. Watt, Hall and Richert were part of many successful Orioles bullpens from the mid-'60s into the early '70s. The one key difference between this group and modern pens was that the three shared saves, with no set "closer."
OK, this will be too long for one blog ... check back throughout the day for the best bullpens in other decades.