Tuesday, March 15, 2005

March 15th, 1949

Jim Kern Born

Jim Kern was a relief pitcher for a variety of clubs in the 70s and 80s. He was most successful with the Indians and Rangers, and his 1979 season in Texas is a demonstration of the value that a "closer" can have if used outside of the LaRussaian mold that virtually all are locked into in the modern game. Kern saved just twenty-nine games, a total which would have placed him outside of the top five in the American League in every season since 1987, but Kern also won thirteen games (third on the team) and pitched one hundred forty-three innings (fourth on the team).

Kern was able to accumulate these totals in part because early in the season he was used by manager Pat Corrales as the long man, but also because once it became clear Kern was his best reliever, Corrales was willing to use him in situations modern managers would never consider. This allowed Kern to pitch more innings and not only serve the team by earning saves but also wins when he pitched in tie games that the Rangers would go on to win. Of course, the converse of this is that while Kern was excellent in 1979 with a 1.56 ERA, he was never that good again, and especially in 1980 as he went 3-11 with a 4.83 ERA. Kern also suffered a bizarre injury in 1980 when he suffered a concussion, a cut that required nine stitches to close and mild amnesia when he was hit by a return throw from his catcher while warming up.

The question must be asked then, if a season like the one Jim Kern had in 1979 will ultimately drain a pitcher and rob him of his effectiveness. If it does, how many one hundred to one hundred forty inning seasons can be the team expect out of a reliever before he hits a wall, and is it in their best interests to ride a player as far as he will go? There isn't a simple answer to either of these questions, but it is unfortunate that the modern game seems to not even make an attempt to answer them.

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