Eighteen years ago today, on the heels of winning the first World Series outside of the United States, the Blue Jays re-signed right-handed submarine reliever Mark Eichhorn to a one-year, free-agent contract.
A 1979 2nd round draft pick by the Jays, Eichhorn was easily one of the most interesting players to watch on the mound.
After making his Major League debut in 1982, Eichhorn was sidelined by a brutal shoulder injury that robbed him of all velocity on his fastball and forced him back to the Minors. It was there, in the Florida Instructional League in 1984, where he started to work on his now trademark submarine/sidearm delivery, where he would release the ball at either belt height or below.
He would never regain his velocity, as he was one of the slowest pitchers in the game, but his unorthodox delivery and ability to work quickly made him effective throughout his 11 Major League seasons.
He re-joined the Jays in 1986 for the entire season this time, and it was arguably the best of his career. Hitters were completely lost at the plate when facing Eichhorn, and it showed in his statistics.
Eichhorn finished 6th in 1986 Cy Young voting and 3rd in Rookie of the Year voting, with good reason. In 69 games, he fashioned a 1.72 ERA to go along with a 0.955 WHIP and career-high 9.5 K/9.
Great, but not exactly Cy Young consideration material right?
While he appeared in a respectable 69 games, he threw a whopping 157 innings with 166 strikeouts versus 45 walks. By comparison, Matt Belisle of the Colorado Rockies led the Majors in relief innings pitched in 2010 with 92.
What was even more interesting about that impeccable 1986 season was that then-Jays manager Jimy Williams offered Eichhorn a chance to start in one of the Jays’ final games of the year because Eichhorn was 5 innings shy of qualifying for the ERA title. Eichhorn politely declined, stating that he didn’t want to cheaply attain it by “slipping in the back door”.
After the shock value of Eichhorn’s delivery wore off, hitters grew more accustomed to what they were seeing from him on the mound. After another very good 1987 campaign and average 1988 season with the Jays, Eichhor went on to pitch one mediocre season for the Atlanta Braves, and then 2+ seasons with the California Angels before the Jays re-acquired midway through the 1992 season for their World Series run.
The Jays re-signed Eichhorn to a one-year deal on January 6th, 1993, and he pitched 4.1 hitless postseason innings during his second stint with the Blue Jays.
He’s the franchise leader in relief appearances (89), relief innings pitched(157), most decisions in relief (20), most relief wins in a season (14), and balks (6).