Mark Anthony Eichhorn | RP | 1982, 1986-1988, 1992-1993 |
Mark Eichhorn was born November 21, 1960, in San Jose, CA. The Blue Jays drafted him in the 2nd round, 30th overall, in the 1979 amateur draft, out of Cabrillo College, CA, where he played shortstop and pitched. Mark quickly rose through Jays’ farm system and made 7 starts for the Jays as a September call up in 1982. They didn’t go well. He went 0-3 with a 5.45 ERA, and to make matters worse. He suffered a shoulder injury. The injury cost him the speed off his fastball.
Returning to the minors, he learned to throw submarine style in the fall instructional league in 1984. As a right-handed submarine pitcher, Mark threw, likely, the slowest pitches in the majors. He threw an extremely slow change-up, a ‘fastball’ and a slider. He had a massive split in his stats, releasing the ball from very low to the ground, coming from behind a right-handed batter. Righties couldn’t hit him at all, while lefties did pretty well against him. In 1986, his return year to the majors and his best season as a Jay, right-handed batters only hit .135/.186/.165 against him, while lefties went .259/.345/.434.
In 1986 Mark had the best season ever for a Jay reliever. He pitched in 69 games, throwing a fantastic 157 innings and finishing with a 1.72 ERA. Manager Jimy Williams offered to let him start in one of the season’s final games so that Mark could have enough innings to get the ERA title, but he passed. Had he not spent a couple of weeks on the DL at the start of the season, he would have likely had the ERA title. Fangraphs has him at a 5.3 WAR that year. The Sporting News selected him as the Rookie Pitcher of the Year. He also finished 6th in Cy Young voting and 3rd in Rookie of the Year voting, trailing Jose Canseco and Wally Joyner. Williams often used him for multiple innings, pitching as many as 6 innings in a game out of the pen and going 3 or more innings several times. No one would use a star reliever like that now.
It is hard to blame Williams for overusing Eichhorn. When you have a ‘get some shutout innings free card,’ you tend to use it. Mark was terrific, finishing the ‘86 season 14-6 with 10 saves. He gave up only 105 hits in the 157 innings, striking out 166 while walking 45. Rob Neyer rated this as the best season ever for a Jay reliever.
In 1987 Mark wasn’t as good but still was very useful with a 3.17 ERA in 89 games, setting the Jays record for games pitched in a season. It is still the team record. He won 10 games and saved 4 more, serving as a setup man for Tom Henke. Even though he pitched in 20 more games than 1986, he threw 30 fewer innings; though Williams still would have him out there for 3 or more innings on several occasions, he also used him to get one or two right-handers out several times. Jimmy used him as an all-propose reliever, sending him out there in any situation. Eichhorn made the most appearances and faced the most batters of any AL reliever. As always, he had a large split with a .642 OPS vs. righties and a .760 OPS vs. lefties.
In 1988 he was on pace to get into many games again, but he suffered an injury in early June that kept him out till September. Baseballlibrary.com says that he altered his delivery to make it harder for runners to steal on him, which cost him some effectiveness. His ERA jumped to 4.19, but I would think that was because of the number of innings he pitched over the last couple of years since some of his effectiveness might have been due to batters not being used to his strange delivery. With Mark throwing so much, batters may have been able to get comfortable with it and maybe had an easier time picking up the ball when he released it. And, even throwing sidearm, that much work has to cause some wear and tear.
After the 1988 season, feeling he had lost his effectiveness, the Jays sold Eichhorn to the Braves. After a pretty average season in Atlanta, the Angels signed him as a free agent. There he was again a useful pitcher. After 2.5 good seasons with the Angels (he appeared on Halos Heaven Top 100 Angel’s list), the Jays traded Rob Ducey and Greg Myers to get him back on July 30, 1992, just in time for Mark to get 2 World Series rings. He pitched 4.1 shutout innings, over 4 games, in the two postseasons.
In 1993, he pitched in 54 games and had a 2.72 ERA. Cito started the season using him as a multiple inning reliever, but as the season went on, he was used more like a 1 inning or less late-inning setup man. After the second World Series win, he signed as a free agent with the Orioles. Near the end of an excellent season with the O’s, he was injured and missed the 1995 season. He signed back with the Angels in 1996 but didn’t do well. After that, he bounced around the minors, including pitching in the Jays system in 2000. He never made it back to the majors.
One of the things I’ve always wondered is why we don’t see more sidearm/submarine type pitchers in the majors. The ones we do see have success; I think if I were a minor league pitcher who wasn’t likely to make the majors, I’d give it a try or try a knuckleball. In the ‘70s and ‘80s, Kent Tekulve and Dan Quisenberry were very successful submarine-style closers. As a group, sidearmer’s tend to have good control, but they don’t have much in common beyond that. Some have been hard throwers, some have had great curves or sliders, some throw sinkers, Dan Quisenberry even threw a knuckleball for a while, and Eichhorn got by with a slow change. You can see Mark Eichhorn’s delivery in this YouTube video.
Sidearmers tend to be durable and have, on average, had long careers. Carl Mays, the most infamous one, stands as the only major league pitcher to have killed a batter with a pitch. Likely the strange delivery had something to do with why Ray Chapman didn’t pick up the ball and get out of the way. There were many other factors. Balls weren’t changed out much back then and tended to be dirtier. With no lights at the stadium, the ball would have been hard to see in the late afternoon. But I digress. Mays was a straight underhand pitcher who threw very hard, an excellent starting pitcher, just short of being a Hall of Fame type.
Mark ended his career with a 3.00 ERA in 885.2 innings over 563 games. In his six seasons with the Jays, he had a 3.03 ERA in 279 games. In 493 innings, he allowed 167 walks and 372 innings.
His son was drafted in the 3rd round 2008 draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks. Mark coached his son’s little league team, featured in a documentary movie called Small Ball, A Little League Story in 2002. It was about their team trying to make the Little League World Series. He also helped out at ‘Kelly Gruber’s Baseball Camps.’
Eichhorn was a personal favorite of mine. I always liked the guys with a different throwing style. Mark pitched a ton of innings for the Jays and seemed like a good guy.
My father-in-law threw sidearm, much the same as Eichhorn’s delivery. He tore a muscle in his upper arm, and, having a distrust of doctors, he never had it fixed. He couldn’t raise his arm, but man, could he whip a ball. Playing catch with him, I’d always back up about as far as I could throw. Course, he was throwing to his son-in-law, who he didn’t like all that much, and likely wanted to prove a point. He also had a nice natural curve on his throws. But, again, I digress.
And he sings and plays keyboards in a band named “Soulwise”. They make music with a reggae beat. You can find videos of them on YouTube.
Mark Eichhorn’s place among the Jay all-time pitching leaders:
Wins: 31st, 29
Games Single Season: 1st, 89 in 1987
Games: 17th, 279
Innings: 37th, 493
Strikeouts: 31st, 372
Hit Batters: 17th, 24