In days of yore, before the set-up man, the LOOGY and the closer, you had pitchers. Sometimes, these pitchers mostly started. Sometimes, they mostly relieved. Beyond that, there was often a great deal of flexibility regarding at what point a pitcher entered any particular game.
A bit like the uncle you grew up with who could remove an entire engine from a car, take down a gnarled old tree in his backyard, teach the neighborhood kids how to grip a curve-ball, and, in his spare time, re-wire your house, pitchers of earlier generations were not above tossing a complete game one day, then coming in to pitch 1 2/3 innings of relief a couple of days later.
One thing I happened to notice while looking at the career stats of some pitchers from earlier generations is that several of them managed to toss a shutout and pick up a save in the same season. At first blush, it might not seem to be that big a deal, but if you stop to consider how few pitchers today are used as “swing-starters,” pitchers who might be used as a fifth-starter, and who would pitch in relief in between, shutouts and saves are not a combination we are used to modern pitchers producing.
I have compiled an admittedly random list of pitchers who did earn a save in the same year they pitched a shutout. Some of the names may surprise you. Some of the pitchers may be men you’ve never heard of before. Each of them demonstrated a flexibility that we don’t see much anymore.
1) Tom Seaver – In Tom Terrific’s sophomore season, 1968, he made 35 starts and pitched 278 innings. On July 7th, at Philadelphia, Seaver was tapped to close out the second game of a double-header. With one runner already on base when he entered the game, Seaver struck out Dick Allen looking, then retired Johnny Callison and Tony Taylor on fly-balls. It was the one and only save he recorded in his entire career. That same season, Seaver hurled five shutouts.
2) Jim “Catfish” Hunter – Oddly, 1968 was the year Catfish Hunter also recorded the only save in his career. The first season the A’s were in Oakland (having moved from Kansas City), the 22-year old Hunter was already in his fourth Major League season. Though Hunter had pitched a few games in relief in his first couple of seasons, by ’68, he was a regular starter in the A’s rotation. Jack Aker led the A’s with only 11 saves that season, so the A’s didn’t really have a closer, per se’. Hunter just happened to be in the right place at the right time. Incidentally, he also threw a couple of complete game shutouts that year.
3) Bill Bonham – In 1974, 25-year old Cubs right-hander Bill Bonham led the N.L. with 22 losses. He really wasn’t as bad as that. His FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) was 3.12, while his actual ERA was 3.86. In other words, he was particularly unlucky with balls in play. Regardless, in addition to his 36 starts, of which he completed 10, he also appeared in eight games in relief. He had already recorded a total of ten saves during the previous two years, but he would record his eleventh and final career save in the ’74 season. His two shutouts in ’74 provide some indication that he was not a useless MLB pitcher, despite his 22 losses.
4) Walter Johnson – For sixteen consecutive seasons (1908-23), Johnson recorded at least one save in each season, posting a high of four saves in 1915. In each of those 16 years, he also recorded at least one shutout, tossing a career high of 11 in 1913. In addition to his all-time record of 110 shutouts, he also saved 34 games. For good measure, he belted at least one home run in 12 of those sixteen seasons, hitting nearly as many home runs as he surrendered. Oh, and he managed 41 career triples as well.
5) Rube Waddell – When not chasing fire trucks, being distracted by shiny objects or going fishing without telling anyone, Waddell started 36 games for the 1908 Browns, and made seven relief appearances as well. In his last outstanding season, the 31-year old Waddell pitched five shutouts, and posted a 1.89 ERA. He also saved three games, which led the team. He also hit a homer in ’08, one more than he surrendered the entire year.
6) Lynn McGlothen – McGlothen pitched for several teams during the decade 1972-82, most successfully for the Cardinals, where he was named to the 1974 N.L. All Star team. Used almost exclusively as a starter for the first seven years of his career, he landed on the Cubs for the ’78 season, and 1979, he was a swing-man, alternating between the bullpen and the rotation. He completed six of 29 starts, posting a record of 13-14 along the way. One of those complete games was a shutout, one of 13 he would pitch in his career. That same season, he recorded the only two saves he would ever earn. Three years later, at the end of the 1982 season, McGlothen was killed in a fire in a mobile home while visiting his girlfriend in his native Louisiana. According to his New York Times obituary, she died when she ran in to save him after saving her daughters. In his lifetime, it would have been the only save that truly mattered.
7) Steve Barber – Barber was a very good pitcher for the Orioles during the early to mid 1960’s, winning a career high 20 games in 1963. In 1961, he won 18 of 34 starts, leading the A.L. with eight shutouts. He also appeared in three games in relief, saving one ballgame. The previous season, he had saved two games while throwing one shutout. After the ’61 season, despite playing for thirteen more years, he would never again toss a shutout and save a game in the same year, though he recorded more of each category in different subsequent seasons.
8) Rollie Fingers – It’s hard for me to think of Rollie Fingers as anything but a relief pitcher. But even Mariano Rivera made ten starts (in his rookie season), so obviously things can change drastically, given enough time. Fingers appeared in 944 games in his career, but started only 37 times. About half of those starts (19) came in one year, 1970. Fingers tossed one shutout in eight starts in 1969, and one more shutout, again in eight starts, in 1971. Those were the only two shutouts of his career. He would save 12 and 17 games, respectively, during those two years, on his way to 341 saves for his career.
9) Phil Niekro – In a way, Niekro was the Walter Johnson of his era. What I mean by that is even though Niekro was generally the ace of the staffs on which he pitched for many years, his team was not afraid to use him in relief, even in save situations a surprising amount of times. In fact, in eight seasons Niekro recorded at least one shutout and one save. He recorded a high of nine saves in 1967, a season in which he made 20 starts and pitched in relief in 26 other games. He tossed one shutout that season. Several years later, in 1974, he threw a career high six shutouts in 39 starts, yet also managed to find the time to save one game. In his 24-year career, Knucksie threw 45 shutouts and saved 29 games.
10) Hoyt Wilhelm – Wilhelm didn’t throw his first shutout until he was already 35-years old, with the Orioles in 1958. Earlier that same year, he also pitched for the Indians, where he was credited with five saves. In 1960, still with the Orioles, he threw one more shutout, the last of his career, and saved seven games. Already 37-years old at this point, his career wasn’t even half over. Wilhelm would go on to record double-digit saves nine times over the next decade, on his way to over 1,000 appearances in relief. By comparison, he started just 52 games, and recorded five career shutouts.
11) Roy Halladay – O.K., so there is at least one modern pitcher who recorded a shutout and a save in the same season. In the second year of his career, 1999, Halladay pitched in 36 games, divided exactly evenly between starting and relieving. He pitched one complete game shutout that year, and recorded the only save of his career. After the 2001 season, Halladay would never pitch in relief again, making 390 starts in his career, and completing an impressive (for our era) 67 of them. Twenty of those were shutouts.
12) Bill Lee – In his first four seasons with the Red Sox, Lee was primarily a relief pitcher, managing just nine starts in his first 125 appearances. Not necessarily the team’s closer, however, he also recorded just eight saves during those four years. In 1973, however, Lee was a full-time member of the Red Sox starting rotation (supplanting the aforementioned Lynn McGlothen, who was traded to St. Louis.) Lee made 33 starts, against just five relief appearances, pitching 18 complete games, including one shutout. He also saved one game in those five relief appearances. From that point on, Lee threw nine more shutouts in his career, and saved ten more games, on his way to a record of 119-90.
I’m sure you can come up with many more pitchers who recorded a save and a shutout in the same season at least once in their careers. Let me know who you find.