From the mound to Cooperstown   Leave a comment

The position players are finished – you have been reading my other Hall of Fame posts, right? – and we’re ready to look at the pitchers on the BBWAA ballot now.  Not all of them, though; I drew an imaginary line above Kenny Rogers’ name, and he, along with several other hurlers on the list, just did not make my cut.

The seven men listed below did.  In my previous posts, I also listed other similar candidates who had either recently retired, or are still active and playing at an elite level.  For example, in examining Jeff Bagwell’s case, I also looked at Jim Thome, Joey Votto, and a bunch of other great first basemen from the last 20 years.  However, I’m not going to do that in this blog.  Trying to predict how a pitcher’s career is going to go is too tricky.  Dwight Gooden was incredible in his first five major league seasons: he averaged 18 wins, 213 strikeouts, a 2.62 ERA, and a 1.10 WHIP.  He also averaged a staggering 235 innings per year, from the ages of 19 to 23, and Doc’s arm really wasn’t the same after that.  Bret Saberhagen also had a five-year run early in his career where he won two Cy Young awards, and he won 92 games before he turned 26.  Unfortunately, neither man has a plaque in Cooperstown.

So let’s look at the magnificent seven, shall we?

First Last Position Top 100 WAR, Total % WAR,
Season Season Rank Rank 2001-now WAR post-Abstract
Roger Clemens 1984 2007 11 49 30.5 139.4 21.88%
Greg Maddux 1986 2008 14 92 22.9 104.6 21.89%
Tom Glavine 1987 2008 60 n/a 22.7 74 30.68%
Mike Mussina 1991 2008 n/a n/a 35.1 82.7 42.44%
Curt Schilling 1988 2007 n/a n/a 41.3 80.7 51.18%
Jack Morris 1977 1994 n/a n/a 0 43.8 0.00%
Lee Smith 1980 1997 n/a n/a 0 29.4 0.00%
Average WAR,   SP = 72.6

I’m going to start with Lee Smith, because – ironically? – he is the only reliever on the chart.  Smith had a distinguished 18-year career, and has been on the ballot for 11 long years.  For the past few years, he’s been stuck in neutral, gaining less than half of the total vote (last year, it was 47.8%).  Big Lee led his league in saves four times, and placed second four more times.  When he retired in 1997, he was the all-time saves leader with 478, and he held the record until Trevor Hoffman passed him in 2006.  Since then, of course, Mariano Rivera passed both men.  Smith also finished in the top five for Cy Young voting three times, but never won the award.

There are only five relievers in Cooperstown.  By most metrics, he ranks considerably below three of the HoFers above him (Dennis Eckersley, Hoyt Wilhelm, and Rich Gossage), and slightly better than the other two (Rollie Fingers and Bruce Sutter).  In terms of total value, there aren’t many pure relievers – pitchers who pitched exclusively from the bullpen their entire careers – ahead of him.  By WAR, he ranks 11th on baseball-reference amongst “relievers”; however, only three of those men started 50 or fewer games in their careers.  As far as modern-era closers go, Smith is one of the game’s all-time greats, and better than I initially gave him credit for.  However, he is not going to go into the Hall this year, and probably not on the BBWAA ballot at all.

Now, that Roger Clemens guy.  This is his second year on the ballot.  He only earned about half of the required 75% vote total last year, despite (deep breath) 354 wins, 4,672 strikeouts, and seven Cy Young awards.  I could list the many, many other things he has accomplished in his long career – for example, he ranks third in career pitching WAR, behind only Cy Young and Walter Johnson – but you know who Clemens is.  “The Rocket” would be no borderline choice if he got inducted into Cooperstown.  Back in 2001, Bill James thought he was the 11th greatest pitcher of all-time, and that was before he won the last two of his Cy Youngs, winning an additional 94 games in the process.  However, there are those PED allegations and the perjury trials, and even after being found not guilty in 2012, many lump him in with the McGwire/Bonds/Sosa gang.

Greg Maddux didn’t trail Clemens by that much in James’ estimation (14th all-time, and the 92nd greatest player ever), and I’m confident that he has risen up those ranks, too.  Maddux is a rookie on the BBWAA ballot, and if anyone is a no-doubter on this year’s card, it’s him.  Early HoF polling, in fact, pegs him as an unanimous choice, though that most certainly will not occur.  I’m just going to list a couple of his resume highlights, if for no other reason than to give an impression of some sort of “analysis”: more lifetime wins than any pitcher living today; 17 straight seasons of 15 or more wins; four consecutive Cy Young awards; 18 Gold Gloves; zero PED scandals or mentions.

The third pitcher James included in his list of pitchers was lefty Tom Glavine, who pitched alongside Maddux with the Atlanta Braves for many years.  James ranked him 60th back then; I daresay the 97 wins he earned after the 2000 demarcation date would now place Glavine in the top 25 to 30 hurlers.  Like Clemens and Maddux, Glavine broke the 300-win mark, which is one of those magic numbers voters like.  He won 20 or more games five different times, won two Cy Young awards, and finished top-three four other times.  He wasn’t an overpowering pitcher – he never struck out 200 hitters in a season – but he was obviously a highly effective one.

Mike Mussina did not win 300 games.  He never won a Cy Young, never won a World Series, never led the league in strikeouts, and only won 20 games in a season once – his final one.  However, “Moose” definitely belongs on the BBWAA ballot.  He won 270 games, more than Jim Palmer, Bob Gibson, and many other Hall of Famers.  He struck 2,813 men out, ranking 19th all-time.  In over 3,500 innings, all of them as a member of an American League East team, he allowed less hits than innings pitched, two walks per nine IP, and an ERA+ of 123, meaning that the AL’s cumulative ERA was 23% higher than his.  Mussina had six top-five Cy Young finishes, and fielded his spot very well, winning seven Gold Gloves.  Lastly, his career WAR of 82.7 ranks 24th all-time (ahead of Glavine, amongst others): there are 19 Hall of Famers ahead of him, ballotmates Clemens and Maddux, and next year’s newcomers, Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez.  In terms of WAR, that’s it.  He sure sounds like a Hall of Famer, doesn’t he?  However, I suspect he’ll get less than overwhelming support from the writers next week…

… sort of like Curt Schilling received last year, his first on the BBWAA ballot.  Schilling got just 38.8% of the vote – a number I don’t think Mussina will accrue, by the way – which I suspect was based primarily on his meager win total of 216.  That’s a pretty impressive number, but that’s also a number Charlie Hough matched, and no one thinks he’s a Hall of Famer.  Jerry Reuss won 220 games; David Wells won 239 games, and he nabbed just 0.9% of the vote in his only year on the ballot.  So, there must be other reasons Schilling is worth examining – maybe the 3,116 career strikeouts matter.  Or the three 20-win seasons that coincide with each of his runner-up Cy Young finishes.  Or the 4.3826 strikeout-to-walk ratio that ranks second all-time, behind a guy that pitched his last game in 1884.  Or the 11-2 post-season record – that’s a great reason.

Schilling will slowly work his way up to the 75% needed to get into Cooperstown, but it will take a while.  He was a dominating pitcher for a few years, but he also had several mediocre seasons as well, and he didn’t become an MLB starter until he was 25 years old.  Would I vote for him?  Well, I do have one more Cooperstown blog to write, you know… and we’re getting there.

The final pitcher on the BBWAA ballot is Jack Morris.  This is his 15th and final shot at “regular” induction – should he not make it this year, his fate will be determined (perhaps several times) by the Veterans’ Committee.  If you’ve read this far, then you probably know the pros and cons of Morris’s case, and I don’t need to rehash most of them here.  In fact, your opinion on the matter might already be formed.  I am only going to highlight one part of the argument for him (and in doing so, you’ll probably guess which side of the fence I’m on.)

Morris’s supporters often mention that he was the winningest pitcher of the 1980s, and (according to some), that makes him the premiere or most dominant pitcher of that decade, and such a track record of dominance should therefore qualify him for a spot in Cooperstown.  However, despite all of those wins, the voters back then didn’t think he was very dominant, either.

I made up a spreadsheet that added up all of the Cy Young voting points that every pitcher earned from 1980 to 1989.  Winners obviously fared better, as any first-place vote was worth more points (five) than a second (three) or third (one).  After putting them all down on virtual paper, I grouped the men who earned Cy Young votes in three or more seasons; I wanted to rank pitchers that had, for lack of a better term, a real track record during the 80s.  Therefore, I didn’t include some good pitchers who had one great season, like John Denny or Mark Davis, CYA winners both.  Nor did I include two-time winner Saberhagen, who never earned a single point during that decade other than in his award-winning years.  In all, 20 pitchers fit the criteria.

Morris, the pitcher who won the most games during that time span, finished 12th.

Steve Carlton 280
Roger Clemens 272
Dan Quisenberry 208
Rick Sutcliffe 189
Fernando Valenzuela 187
Dwight Gooden 178
Mike Scott 172
Orel Hershiser 158
Frank Viola 145
Dave Stewart 128
Ron Guidry 95
JACK MORRIS 76
Mario Soto 64
Bert Blyleven 63
Bruce Sutter 59
Nolan Ryan 46
Steve Rogers 45
Rich Gossage 43
Dave Stieb 39
Joaquin Andujar 1

Despite all of those wins, he never won a Cy Young.  He had two third-place finishes, a fifth, a seventh, and a ninth – some impressive showings, but not once in those ten years did the voters collectively consider him to be the best, or even second-best, pitcher in the American League.  And in case you think, “The competition must have been fierce those years, it’s just a fluke”… well, I suppose the competition to win any individual award is fierce.  However, there is only one starting pitcher ahead of him on that list that currently sports a plaque in Cooperstown, and that’s Steve Carlton.  He did earn more decade votes than HoFers Bert Blyleven and Nolan Ryan, but the purpose of this was not to illustrate that Morris is somehow equal to those three men.  It simply was to show that he simply wasn’t the best pitcher of his era.

I have one more post left on the matter, and that will be my incredibly inconsequential and hypothetical ballot.  Stay tuned.

mg

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Posted January 4, 2014 by JasonMacAskill in Uncategorized

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