Could O's Johnson become MLB's second 50-50 closer?

Could O's Johnson become MLB's second 50-50 closer?
May 6, 2013, 10:00 pm
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In his piece evaluating the Orioles at the 20 percent mark, baseball maven Rich Dubroff notes how closer Jim Johnson is on a pace to follow up his 51-save season of 2012 with 55 saves this year. Sure, there is awfully long way to go this year, but should Johnson pull off another 50 saves, he would be in most rare company in baseball history.

Only two major-league players have ever had two 50-save seasons — Eric Gagne and Mariano Rivera. And only Gagne, in 2002 and ’03 with the Dodgers, has done it back to back.

Now, you can argue that some of the greatest relievers of all time — Rich Gossage, Bruce Sutter, Rollie Fingers — never reached 50 because closers in their day used to pitch longer in each outing, meaning they weren’t able to have as many opportunities, but the fact remains that just 10 pitchers have ever hit the 50 plateau. Here they are:

Rod Beck (1998), Dennis Eckersley (1992), Gagne (2002-03), Trevor Hoffman (1998), Johnson (2012), Randy Myers (1993), Rivera (2001, ’04), Francisco Rodriguez (2008), John Smoltz (2002) and Bobby Thigpen (1990).

Somewhat ominously, making it to 50 saves also marked the beginning of the end for a couple of relievers. Beck never had more 10 saves after his biggest year, and Gagne had one more big season and that was it. But for others, especially the Yankees’ remarkable Rivera, 50 was a high-water mark in a closing career that kept going.

So, Orioles fans, if Johnson makes some more baseball history this year, he just may keep on going.