Tommy Lasorda has been quoted as saying that, “Championships are won or lost in the bullpen.” As Dodger fans we have been witness to some terrific talent emerging from the left field bullpen late in games and high tension situations. The first, and maybe still greatest of those talents, is my submission for induction into the Walter O’Malley Suite of the Vin Scully Lords of the Ravine: Ron Perranoski.
Perranoski pitched for the Dodgers for seven full seasons (1961-1967) and a very brief return later in his career (9 games in 1972). During his time with the team, Perranoski pitched in 457 games (4th of all Dodgers) recorded 101 saves (5th of all Dodgers) and 54 wins to go along with an ERA of 2.56 (1st of all Dodgers with at least 500 IP). These numbers are impressive, but they need some context to be fully appreciated.
Perranoski’s ERA+ with the Dodgers was 131, which is tied for second on the team’s all-time list. The man he is tied with? Sandy Koufax. During the championship season of 1963, Perranoski posted a personal best ERA+ of 179. At the end of that year, Perranoski had a record of 16-3 while recording 21 saves. His 1.67 ERA for that year remains the second best single season Dodger ERA. In five of his seven full seasons with the Dodgers, his ERA+ was greater than 125.
While some of Perranoski’s peripherals seem rather pedestrian or weak (WHIP 1.30, 5.4 K/9, 1.59 K/BB), there are others that go a long way in explaining his dominance. He allowed opposing hitters an OPS of just .639 with no season over .700. Over those seven seasons the opposition was also only able to muster an ISO .074. In 766.2 innings pitched, Perranoski allowed only 28 homeruns while never allowing more than .5 HR/9. In 1962 he surrendered just one homerun in his 107.1 innings pitched. Despite unimpressive strikeout ability, Perranoski’s ability to limit flyballs and homeruns resulted in a Dodger career FIP of 3.03.
The highlight of Perranoski’s Dodger career may be the workload that he shouldered while delivering quality relief. In four of his seven seasons with the team he threw more than 100 innings while never throwing less than 80. Perranoski also appeared in at least 70 games in three of his seasons while leading the National League in appearances three times. His 273 games finished is second highest total for any Dodger pitcher.
After ending his playing career, Perranoski returned to the Dodgers as a minor league pitching coordinator in 1973. During his eight years in this role, Perranoski would aid in the development of a number of great arms that included: Rick Sutcliffe, Dave Stewart, Bob Welch, Steve Howe, Alejandro Pena, Orel Hershiser, and Fernando Valenzuela. Three of these pitchers (Sutcliffe, Howe, and Valenzuela) would receive the Rookie of the Year award. Sutcliffe and Valenzuela, along with Hershiser, would go on to win the Cy Young Award. After being named the Dodgers' pitching coach in 1981, Perranoski would continue his work in continuing the greatest pitching tradition in baseball. Over the fourteen seasons that Perranoski served as pitching coach, the Dodgers led the league in team ERA five times. In only three of those seasons did the Dodgers fail to finish in the top five in team ERA. The Dodger team ERA for the Perranoski coached era is 3.34. The team ERA+ for the years with Perranoski as coach was 108 and includes eight seasons when the team finished with an ERA+ greater than 110.
It may be hard to justify putting a relief pitcher in the top tier of the Dodgers Hall of Fame, but if there is one that deserves it, its Ron Perranoski.