Over the last little while, ESPN has been running a series that highlights the best bullpens of a certain decade. They started in the 1960s and have since worked into the 2000s.
During their article about the 2000s, they ruled that the Los Angeles Dodgers, led by Cy Young Award winner Eric Gagne, had the best bullpen of last decade.
David Schoenfield, an ESPN Senior Writer, had this to stay about that Dodgers bullpen:
Thanks to Gagne, the Dodgers were 76-0 when leading after eight innings. It wasn’t a one-man show, however, as the Dodgers recorded the lowest bullpen ERA of the decade, the second-best strikeout-to-walk ratio, the second-lowest batting average (.207), and the fifth-best K’s per nine. Guillermo Mota posted a 1.97 ERA in 105 innings, Paul Quantrill pitched in 89 games and had a 1.75 ERA over 77 1/3 innings. Paul Shuey (3.00 ERA in 69 innings) and lefty specialist Tom Martin (80 games, 51 innings, 3.53 ERA) filled out the top five. Yes, the pen had a losing record, but that was a reflection of one of the worst offenses in MLB history. The Dodgers scored just 574 runs when offense was still high — 68 fewer than any other NL team — even though the lineup included Adrian Beltre, Shawn Green, Fred McGriff and Paul LoDuca.
That season by Gagne was one of the best relief seasons of all-time.
At the time he did it, Gagne posted the 14th lowest ERA by a reliever in history, the best FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) ever for a reliever, and the best K/9 ratio for a reliever. Gagne’s 137 strikeouts in 82.1 innings seemed pretty unfathomable at the time, and it still seems pretty darn inconceivable now.
That 2003 season was the middle year during a three-year stretch of dominance by the right-hander. From 2002-2004, Gagne had a 1.79 ERA, 1.57 FIP, 152 saves, and fanned 365 batters in 247 innings. He struck out 38.6 percent of the batters he faced during that span.
As the ESPN piece notes, it wasn’t just Gagne who was superb. Guillermo Mota had a 1.97 ERA while striking out 99 in 105 innings, Paul Quantrill pitched the most games out of the bullpen that year and held opponents to a .227 batting average, Paul Shuey fanned 60 batters in 69 innings en route to a 3.00 ERA, and left-hander Tom Martin held lefties to a microscopic .189 batting average while he struck out 51 batters in 51 innings.
That 2003 Dodgers bullpen finished with a 2.46 ERA – the lowest ERA by a bullpen since 2000 – in 472.2 innings while holding opponents to a .207 batting average and .582 OPS.