Blue Jays: Top-five greatest relief pitchers in franchise history

Graeme Wallace
Division Series - Texas Rangers v Toronto Blue Jays - Game Three
Division Series - Texas Rangers v Toronto Blue Jays - Game Three / Vaughn Ridley/GettyImages
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The Toronto Blue Jays have had some great relief pitchers throughout the course of the team’s rich history.

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Some were drafted and developed, and others were traded for or signed as free agents, but they are remembered fondly. 

Here are the top five relievers in Blue Jays' history.

5. Paul Quantrill

During his time with the Jays, Paul Quantrill was an absolute workhorse and logged 65 or more appearances four times.

In the first of those years, 1997, Quantrill enjoyed his best season, going 6-7 with a 1.94 ERA (234 ERA+), five saves, and a 3.2 WAR. He followed that up by making the most appearances of his Jays career (82) while tallying a career-best seven saves. 

Quantrill did not rack up the strikeouts, as evidenced by his paltry 5.8 SO/9IP for his Blue Jays career, but his control, toughness, and durability defined his time in Toronto.

4. Casey Janssen

Casey Janssen had a remarkable run of reliability during his eight-year Blue Jays tenure and played in the fifth-most games (389) in team history while filling several different roles.

He began as a starter and then moved through various bullpen roles, including middle-relief, set-up, and closer. His best years came in 2011 when he went 6-0 with a 2.26 ERA, and 2012-2013 when Janssen notched a combined 56 saves with a WHIP under one and averaged a strikeout per inning.

3. Mark Eichhorn

Mark Eichhorn remains one of the Blue Jays' most overlooked and underrated players ever.  After suffering a damaging shoulder injury early in his career, Eichhorn was forced to adjust to a sidearm delivery upon his return in 1986.

That year Eichhorn had one of the best seasons by a relief pitcher in recent memory, going 14-6 with a 1.72 ERA and 10 saves over 157 innings of work. He finished as a Rookie of the Year finalist, placed sixth in Cy Young voting, and achieved a 7.3 WAR, an astronomically high number for a reliever.

Eichhorn won another 10 games and led the AL in games pitched the following year before leaving via free agency for the California Angels. He was dealt back to Toronto at the trade deadline in 1992, was retained on a one-year deal for the ‘93 season, and was a key part of the  World Series-winning teams.

2. Tom Henke

Known as "The Terminator", Henke was lights-out as the Blue Jays' closer from 1985-1992. He recorded at least 20 saves six years in a row, including 30+ from 1990-1992 and an American League-high 34 in 1987.  

Henke finished in the top-20 of AL MVP voting twice and was named an All-Star in ‘87. Like any great closer, Henke was at his best at the most vital of moments. He was 2-0 with a 1.83 ERA in the postseason with five saves, including two in the World Series in 1992.

Henke represented greatness throughout his time with the Blue Jays, from the teams in the 80s that captivated a nation but ultimately fell short, to the early 90s squads that culminated in the 1992 World Series triumph. Henke is the team’s all-time saves leader, with 217. 

1. Duane Ward

Once Ward found his footing, during the 1988 season, he was the heart and soul of the Blue Jays bullpen. He went 9-3 with a 3.30 ERA and 15 saves over 111.2 innings, the first of five straight seasons in which Ward eclipsed the 100-inning mark despite making zero starts.

The best of those years may have been in 1991 when Ward went 7-6 with a 2.77 ERA while making an AL-high 81 appearances. He achieved a 1.05 WHIP and a career-best 11.1 SO/9IP and placed ninth in Cy Young Award voting. 

When it was his time to take over as the closer following the departure of Henke, Ward was masterful. His 1993 season remains the gold standard to which all other Jays closers are compared. Ward locked down a franchise-record 45 saves, with a 2.13 ERA and a career-high 3.0 WAR. He was named an All-Star and was fifth in Cy Young voting. 

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