Published Aug. 11, 2014 1:17 p.m. ET

Kansas City relievers Greg Holland and Wade Davis have been tremendous this season. Someone asked ESPN.com's David Schoenfield if Holland and Davis are having a historic season, and he set to finding out.

The answer? Well, it depends on how one defines historic. By the very nature of modern relief pitchers -- they throw 65 or 70 innings rather than 100 -- they can't match the value of their forefathers. Still, Holland and Davis have obviously been key reasons for the Royals' fine season. But there's context! Schoenfield's big finish:

But keep in mind we're in the era of dominant relievers -- heck, 41 of 152 relievers with at least 35 innings have held batters to a batting average under .200 and 46 of those relievers are averaging at least 10 K's per nine. Back in 1990, when Rob Dibble, Randy Myers and Norm Charlton each averaged over 10 K's per nine for the World Series champion Reds, only six relievers did that.

There was a reason they were called the Nasty Boys.

If you're young, I mean really young, you probably don't need a reminder that things have changed so much. You don't need to contextualize what's happening now, because it's all you know. But if you can remember the 1990s or especially the 1980s, it can be difficult to make the adjustment. But the uniqueness of the Nasty Boys, in their time, is a good object lesson.

Here's another ... In 1990, Rob Dibble led all major leaguers by striking out 35.4 percent of the batters he faced (minimum 50 innings pitched). He actually led the majors by quite a lot; only Bryan Harvey managed to top 30 percent, and him just barely.


This season, 10 pitchers have higher strikeout percentages (minimum 40 innings) than Dibble, with someone named Brad Boxberger leading the way at 42.9 percent. Twenty-two pitchers are higher than 30 percent, including Zach Duke, Cody Allen, Jake Diekman, Josh Fields, and Will Smith.

It's still the same game. It's just being played differently.