Wood, Marmol, Howry — The "Nasty Men"?
Above all, there was the bullpen. If you didn't outscore the Reds in the first six innings, forget about winning. Rob Dibble, Norm Charlton and Randy Myers constituted the deadliest combination of 95-mph (or better) fastballs, swaggering attitude and occasional mullets in the game. So much so that the trio earned a nickname derived from a pre-wardrobe malfunction Janet Jackson: the Nasty Boys.
— Jonah Keri, espn.com
When Lou Piniella's Reds swept the heavily favored Oakland Athletics right out of the 1990 World Series, his trio of fireballing young relievers led the charge. After combining for 44 saves and a 2.14 ERA over a total 235.1 relief IP during the regular season, the threesome made an indelible mark in Fall Classic history by throwing 8 2/3 innings and allowing the mighty A's no earned runs on just six hits. Dibble won Game 2; Myers earned a save in the clinching Game 4.
(The Boys were no slouches in the NLCS either. Myers, the series MVP, saved three of the four Cincy victories over the Pirates, Charlton had a win, and the Nasty Boys struck out 20 and allowed just six hits and one earned run in 15 2/3 IP.)
Watching Piniella's current club at work and appreciating how his bullpen, particularly young set-up man Carlos Marmol, has contributed to the team's early season success, I thought it would be interesting to see how the three stalwarts in Piniella's Cub bullpen compare to the Nasty Boys of 18 summers ago.
The Nasty Boys first:
|Charlton (relief apps. only)||27||40||50.2||2||3.02||.249|
Myers, who was acquired from the Mets before the 1990 season and would save 112 games for the Cubs between 1993 and '95, was the Reds closer. Consistent with the rest of baseball at the time, however, "closing" sometimes meant entering a game before the ninth. In fact, most of Myers' 31 saves, 18 to be exact, were earned in appearances of more than one inning.
Dibble was the chief set-up man, though he also saw 17 save opportunities and converted 11. Charlton also shared in the set-up duties until mid-season, when he was moved into the rotation. When the post-season began, however, Charlton rejoined the other Boys in the bullpen.
In all, Reds relievers accounted for 32% of all innings thrown by Cincinnati pitchers in 1990, which was right on par with the rest of the National League. The Nasty Boys accounted for 50% of all the Reds' relief innings.
I've got three top-notch relief pitchers on this ballclub, and that's one of the reasons we've been successful this year.
Now, the '08 Cubs trio, with projected Games, Innings Pitched and Saves, based on play so far, shown in parens:
||G (Proj.)||IP (Proj.)
|| Sv (Proj.)
|Wood||31||33 (84)||32.1 (82)||16 (41)||2.62||.178|
|Marmol||25||33 (84)||40 (101)||3 (8)||2.25||.134|
|Howry||34||30 (76)||32 (81)||1 (3)||4.50||.297|
(Note: to some degree, the Saves projections assume that the Cubs will continue to play .625 ball the rest of the way, which would be swell, but is unlikely.)
Wood, in the mold of the typical closer in recent years, averages almost exactly one inning per outing. Young Marmol has been brilliant, recording an NL-high 19 holds and embarrassing one professional hitter after another in his role as the set-up ace. And while Howry's numbers pale alongside those of the other pitchers' mentioned in this piece, he has been stellar since the 1st of May, pitching to a 1.93 ERA over 18 2/3 IP, with 19 K's against just 3 BB.
So far in 2008, Cub relievers have accounted for about 37% of the team's total IP (slightly ahead of the NL's overall 36%), and Messrs. Wood, Marmol, and Howry have thrown just under 50% of the Cubs' relief innings.
The innings pitched by the Reds' Nasties and the Cubs' projected IP are remarkably close when one accounts for the fact that Charlton spent only spent about half the season coming out of the bullpen.
Of course, there is at least one obvious but important difference between the '90 Nasty Boys and the '08 Nasty Men: the three Reds pitchers were all in their mid- to late-20s. In addition to the 25-year-old Marmol, Lou is leaning on the 31-year-old, oft-injured Wood and the 34-year-old Howry. While Myers, Dibble, and Charlton only appeared en masse in 8 games in 1990—again, Charlton was moved into the rotation in July—Wood, Marmol, and Howry have already appeared in the same game 8 times. Piniella alluded to some concern about overuse during his in-game interview on ESPN Sunday night and said he is at least trying to avoid using all three pitchers in the same game.
Will Lou be able to keep his three key bullpen arms fresh all season long? That would seem to depend on how well the starting pitchers perform and how tight the NL Central race remains and for how long into September. The '90 Reds, for instance, led the NL West from beginning to end in 1990, but saw their once formidable lead shrink to just 3.5 games over the Dodgers in mid-September, so those high-leverage relief innings still needed to be pitched, longer than Lou Piniella would have wished.
Finally, a cautionary note in all this:
As previously noted, Randy Myers had a long successful career post-1990, including that haul with the Cubs, And Charlton, the set-up man turned starter, pitched to age 38, through the 2001 season. He retired having appeared in 605 games, throwing almost 900 innings (all of them after 1992 as a reliever), and he finished with a 112 ERA+.
But Rob Dibble, the spectactular flamethrower and, as he demonstrated on more than one on-field occasion, the spectacular lunkhead, didn't have a long baseball life. After saving a combined 56 games in 1991 and '92, he got hurt in 1993, lost his velocity and control (42 BB in 41 2/3 IP) and pitched his last Major League game in 1995.
He did have this apt summation of life as one of the Nasty Boys, one which I would like to think also captures the way the Cubs relief trio feels about itself:
That was a very unified bullpen. We knew how good we were, and it was actually fun to torture hitters on other teams. It was a blast. I've never had so much fun. It wasn't just baseball, it was like you were in Little League again.