Seasons in Boston: 1962-1966
Honors: 2x All-Star, 1962 & 1964 Fireman of the Year Award, 2x American League Saves Leader
Red Sox Numbers: 2.65 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 49 W, 104 SV, 627 K, 69 ERA-, 10.1 fWAR
Signature Season (1964): 157 IP, 181 K, 16 W, 29 SV, 2.29 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 2.9 fWAR
One of the best parts of putting together this roster has been the research I’ve been able to do and the amazing players I’ve learned more about. Before putting this list together I had no idea who Dick Radatz was even though he is quite possibly the most dominant reliever in Red Sox history. Radatz was known as “The Monster” due to his 6’6”, 230 pound frame but also for the fear he instilled in his opponents. From 1962 through 1964, he put together a truly ridiculous run of success pitching in a multi-inning relief role. Over those three years he averaged exactly two innings pitched per appearance while leading all relievers in saves, games finished, innings pitched, K%-BB%, and strikeouts, all while posting a 2.17 ERA (55 ERA-, the second best in baseball) and 1.07 WHIP. All of this led Baseball Hall of Fame historian John Thorn to list him as one of the ten best relievers ever to pitch in the major leagues back in 1985.
Like many great relievers, Radatz began his career as a starting pitcher. He was by no means unsuccessful in the minors as a starter, posting an ERA in the mid-threes in the 1959 and 1960 seasons, but his 1961 manager, Johnny Pesky, convinced him to convert to a full-time relief role, selling it as the quickest path to the majors. He bought into Pesky’s plan and dominated in relief during the ‘61, season posting an ERA of 2.28 over 71 innings pitched for the Triple-A Seattle Rainiers. Following that success, he made the Red Sox out of spring training in 1962 and began a magical three-year run of dominance in the majors. From 1962 through1964 he threw a whopping 414 innings with 40 wins and 78 saves. His enormous win total wasn’t just the best among relievers over those three seasons, it was more than all but 24 starters as well.
In 1962, Radatz led the league with 24 saves and 53 games finished to go with nine wins and a 2.24 ERA, a performance that earned the Sporting News’s Fireman of the Year Award, him third place in Rookie of the Year voting, and 21st in MVP voting. This would begin a stretch of three seasons in a row in which he would receive MVP votes, with his 1963 season earning him a career-best fifth place finish. After having thrown a massive workload of 124.2 innings in 1962, he upped that total to 132 ⅓ innings the following year while still lowering his ERA to 1.97. Although he didn’t win his second Fireman of the Year Award, he did make his first All-Star team and win 15 games in relief. During his 1963 All-Star game appearance Radatz struck out five of the eight batters he faced including Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Dick Groat, Julian Javier, and Duke Snider—that’s three Hall of Famers and three MVP winners for those keeping track at home.
Radatz’s 1964 season is arguably the most impressive of his three years. For the third season in a row the team upped his usage, this time to a now-unfathomable 157 innings. He continued to dominate, leading the league with 29 saves, winning an incredible 16 games, and setting a major-league record for strikeouts by a reliever, which still stands today, with 181. He made his second straight All-Star team, won his second Fireman of the Year Award, and finished ninth in the MVP voting. During his dominant three- year run Radatz was worth 8.8 FanGraphs WAR, nearly three wins better than second place Hoyt Wilhelm at 6.1 WAR.
Of all the relievers the Red Sox have ever had, none were dominant in the same way as Radatz. The volume and quality of innings that he threw from ‘62 through ‘64 is unlike anything in franchise history. Radatz began to show his mortality in the 1965 season, finishing the year with a 3.91 ERA. He continued his slide in 1966 by pitching to a 4.74 ERA in the first half before being traded to the Indians. He finished his career with the Red Sox as the all-time leader in strikeouts by a reliever, second in innings pitched and wins by a reliever, third in fWAR by a reliever, and fourth in saves. He owns four of the five top strikeout seasons by a reliever in team history, including each of the top three marks. Radatz also owns the team record for most consecutive scoreless innings pitched in relief with 33 from May 15 1963 to June 14 1963. Over this span he struck out 43 and allowed just 11 hits.
Radatz’s decline was likely due to some combination of overuse and mechanical issues, and he was also treated for a pinched nerve in his shoulder later in his career. He would never again regain the dominance he showed in those initial three seasons, but because of his transcendent dominance this All-Time bullpen wouldn’t be complete without him.