MLB relief pitcher Willie Hernández has passed away at the age of 69, the Tigers announced on Tuesday. Hernández, a lefty, started his professional career as an amateur free agent in 1973 with the Phillies before reaching Triple-A. He was later selected by the Cubs in the Rule 5 draft and had varying success as a reliever for them over parts of seven seasons, including a standout rookie year in 1977 when he had a 3.03 ERA in 110 innings of work, earning him good for 3.2 WAR.
During the 1983 season, Hernández was traded back to the Phillies before being shipped to the Tigers in a four-player swap that would prove to be pivotal in his career. The deal marked the beginning of his most successful season as a reliever, which included his development of a screwball and cutter. That season saw Hernández save three games and have an outstanding performance throughout it all. The regular season ended with him appearing in 80 games out of the bullpen and going 9-3 with 32 saves in 33 chances while having a 1.92 ERA and WHIP with just two walks against over three strikes per walk ratio. He earned himself one of the highest WAR marks ever by a reliever with this performance, making him one of only five relievers to win both an MVP and Cy Young award that year.
The lasting memory that baseball fans will have of Hernandez is his incredible performance during that memorable season where he closed down Game Five of World Series for two innings with ease while earning his second save during this series after saving Game Three earlier on.”