Baseball Remembers: Troy Percival
There was a time, about 20 or 25 years ago, when Troy Percival was one of the top-5 relief pitchers in baseball. And that was the case from his very first year in the league.
In 1995, back when the Angels were still from California instead of some odd mix of Anaheim and Los Angeles, the team wasn’t very good. They’d finished the strike year with an abysmal 47-68 record, the worst team in the American League. They’d been outscored by 117 runs, a pretty nifty trick in a 115-game season.
Their bullpen posted a collective ERA of 5.47, and struck out just 5.8 hitters per nine innings. Both marks were even worse than their terrible starting pitching, so the team focused on finding relief help.
They signed Mitch Williams, who didn’t help them at all, and Lee Smith, who helped them quite a bit. They also called up a couple of prospects, Mike James and Percival, despite the fact that neither pitched very well at Triple A Vancouver the year before. Still, they had live arms, and the Angels desperately needed them.
With Smith holding down the closer spot, the bullpen actually gelled. The relievers collectively cut their ERA from 5.47 to 3.65, and their strikeout rate jumped from 5.8 to 7.2. Percival played a huge role in that. He was Smith’s most reliable set-up man, posting a 1.95 ERA and striking out 94 hitters in just 74 innings. He finished fourth in the Rookie of the Year voting, and gave the Angels enough confidence that he could handle the closer role that they traded Smith the following spring.
Percival flourished in the role. For the next nine seasons, he averaged 35 saves, a 3.15 ERA, and struck out 10.3 hitters per nine innings. He was in the top-10 (usually the top-5) in the American League in saves each of those years, and was selected to four All-Star teams. He pitched in three of those games, striking out four hitters in three innings and never allowing a run.
In the Angels’ 2002 run to the World Championship, Percival saved 7 of the team’s 11 postseason victories. He posted a 2.79 ERA and was on the mound when they won the franchise’s first, and so far only, title.
Percival was allowed to leave by free agency after the 2004 season, and that proved to be a smart move because it soon became clear that his best days were behind him. He bounced from the Tigers to the Cardinals to the Rays, missing the entire 2006 season due to injury, and was largely ineffective as a result. He retired in 2009, and has spent most of his post-career days coaching at the high school and college level.
He didn’t have a Hall of Fame-worthy career, and received only 4 votes in 2015 when his name appeared on the ballot for the first and only time. But Percival still holds the Angels’ franchise record for career saves with 316, and his 358 careers saves is still 13th on the all-time list. He was a four-time All-Star, won a World Series, and was the pitcher on the mound when his team won their only championship.
That’s a pretty good run, one worth remembering.
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