One of the top left-handed firemen of all-time, Assenmacher was a valuable relief pitcher throughout the 1990s. Early in his career he would work multiple inning stints but thanks to the “specialist explosion” of the 1990s, Paul became arguably the best left-handed specialist in the Majors. The southpaw from Michigan always posted elite strikeout numbers, ending his career with a stellar ratio of 8.5 strikeouts per nine innings of work.
Assenmacher went undrafted out of Aquinas College and signed as an amateur free agent with the Braves in 1983. By 1986, the overlooked prospect was in the Majors. Paul enjoyed a remarkable rookie season out of the Atlanta bullpen with a 2.50 ERA and .700 winning percentage. He established himself as a top-of-the-line setupman in his freshman season but like many players before him, suffered from the fabled Sophomore Jinx.
Paul put a rough second season behind him and got back to business in 1988. The southpaw worked 79 innings and averaged 8.1 strikeouts per nine innings. The job of a fireman is to limit damage when the opposition starts an uprising and the best way to do that is by striking out batters with inherited runners on base. Assenmacher whiffed 64 batters in 58 innings for the Braves in 1989, but this was before the Bobby Cox era when the Braves were a second division club. Late in the season Paul was dealt to the Cubs for prospects Kelly Mann and Pat Gomez. He was able to make his first postseason appearance with Chicago but they failed to advance to the World Series. Paul would eventually work in 36 postseason games before he retired.
The Cubs didn’t limit Paul to left-handed batters. He was a workhorse out the Cubs pen. Assenmacher posted back-to-back 100 innings pitched seasons with the Cubs in 1990 and ’91. Paul saved 10 games in 1990 before reaching his career high of 15 in 1991. That ’91 season was a great one for the Detroit-area southpaw. He worked 103 innings and fanned 117 batters, which gave him an amazing average of 10.3 whiffs over nine innings. In 1992, he posted his third straight season of 70 or more games pitched before the Cubs swapped him to the Yankees at the end of the ’93 season. By this time, the specialist craze was beginning to take hold and Assenmacher was used to stymied the best left-handed bats in the business.
Traded to the White for the 1994 season, Paul pitched one year for the Pale Hose before he landed with the Indians as a free agent. His most productive years–as far as October play is concerned–came with the Tribe. A powerhouse under skipper Mike Hargrove, Cleveland was a common face in postseason play during the mid-to-late 1990s. Paul was the man they used to silence the booming left-hand bats in the American League. From 1995 to 1999, Paul and the Indians would make the postseason every year. In his first year with the Tribe he fanned an average of 9.4 batters over nine innings as Cleveland made the World Series. Untouchable in the Division Series and ALCS, Paul worked six games without surrendering a hit. But he wasn’t as lucky in the Fall Classic and his old team, the Braves, defeated Cleveland.
After losing to the Orioles in 1996 Division Series, Assenmacher’s Indians made the World Series again in 1997. During the regular season Paul had a perfect 5-0 record and during the postseason he was used in 14 contests. In the World Series he worked five games and went unscored upon but the Tribe again lost, this time to the Marlins. He had one good year left in 1998 when he worked in 69 games for Cleveland but the Indians were toppled in the ALCS by the Yankees. He pitched one final year before calling it a career.
W 61/L 44/PCT .581/ERA 3.53/G 884/SV 56/IP 856/H 817/BB 315/SO 807