Relief pitchers are hardly a big deal in the baseball card hobby. Of course, guys like Dennis Eckersley and Lee Smith have their fans and collectors. But, a lot of the best relief pitchers out there, even the most consistent, don’t have much of a following. Still, when you’re building a dynasty baseball team out of cards from the Junk Wax era from 1987-1993, it’s good to find some diamonds in the rough, guys like Dale Mohorcic.
Who? Sure, Dale Mohorcic was never a household name. But in 1987, his efforts in relief for the Texas Rangers earned him 3.1 Wins Above Replacement for the Texas Rangers. That was a follow-up to a decent 1986 in which he earned 2.2 WAR. I’m sure you won’t hear people wax nostalgic about Dale, but he did have a couple of pretty good seasons as far as results are concerned.
Of course, with a strikeout rate of 4.3 K/9, that leaves a lot of your success up to the defense. Mohorcic’s FIP of 3.98 and FanGraphs WAR of 1.0 in 1987 (and 0.9 WAR in 1986) gives you more of an idea of the pitcher Mohorcic really was. Indeed, both his 1986 and 1987 seasons were fluky. He had a strand rate of 81.1% in 1986 and 80.1% in 1987, both of which are very high. He also had a BABIP of only .248, which is crazy low – although it was a more sustainable .295 in his good 1986 season.
So, who is Dale Mohorcic? Where did he come from, and what happened to him?
Dale Mohorcic the Journeyman
Mohorcic began his quest through the minor leagues began in the short-lived independent Northwest League with the Victoria Mussels. He was the ace of their staff in 1978 with a 2.02 ERA! Dale caught the attention of the Toronto Blue Jays, who purchased his contract. He was underwhelming in their farm system, though, and was released.
The Pirates were intrigued by Mohorcic, though, as a reliever. He actually enjoyed a fine season in 1980 mostly as a closer. The Pirates held onto him until after the 1984 season, trying him again as both a starter and a reliever, but he never really caught on. They let him go before the 1985 season.
He caught on again with the Texas Rangers and enjoyed a decent 1985 season in relief at AAA. He returned in 1986 and found his way to the majors.
After his strong 1987 season, he scuffled early on in the 1988 season. The Rangers decided to move on from him, deciding to try out Mitch Williams – who himself would struggle but become a pretty good pitcher soon after. Williams himself would be traded to the Cubs after the season in an otherwise underwhelming package for Jamie Moyer and Rafael Palmeiro, The Rangers won that trade. The Yankees picked up Mohorcic for Cecilio Guante, formerly a pretty strong reliever, but he only gave the Rangers 0.3 WAR for the rest of 1988 and 1989.
Mohorcic, on the other hand, actually pitched very well for New York, and gave the pinstripes 0.8 WAR in only 22 and two-thirds innings. He was dreadful in 1989 though, being “worth” -1.2 WAR. Mohorcic even spent time in the minors, where he actually pitched very well. Probably because of those good minor league innings, he did catch on in 1990 with the Montreal Expos, pitching well at AAA, and had OK results with 0.6 WAR in 53 innings with the big club. He hung up his cleats after that.
Dave Mohorcic as a Closer?
To be fair, Mohorcic isn’t really someone you’d consider a prototypical closer type pitcher. He walked guys liked a power pitcher, but struck out guys like a finesse pitcher. When he limited the walks, he was pretty successful. But, like a lot of relief guys that pitched to contact, you rely so much on the defense that it’s hard to stay consistent for long periods of time.
Mohorcic hearkens back to the old days of grinding out game after game. This is before bullpens became more specialized. You were either a mop-up guy or a back-end guy like a set-up man or a closer. Mohorcic gained a reputation in the minors as being a shutdown relief pitcher. While he didn’t blow anyone away with peripheral stats, it’s actually possible that Mohorcic could’ve kept pitching and ate some late innings for a few more years.
For my Junk Wax dynasty, I’d consider Mohorcic as a great candidate to serve as a middle reliever or a late inning guy strictly against right-handed batters in a 3+ run game. His platoon splits weren’t great (.247/.309/.364 against RHB and a whopping .305/.351/.446 against LHB). This was a guy who tied Mike Marshall for the major league record of pitching in 13 straight games. It’s hard not to want a guy like that on your team. He showed up and gave his best. In an age of bullpen specialization like today, he’d actually probably have fared a lot better.