In November the Baseball Writers Association of America’s Hall of Fame ballot was released. The official ballot has 34 names on it, and more players who deserve induction than available ballot slots. Today we’ll discuss the pitchers on the ballot. Monday will be the hitters. We’ll have our “official” ballots and predictions on Tuesday morning. And on Thursday, we’ll add to the countless words all across the Interwebs about how the BBWAA failed at their job yet again—our reaction to their vote.
MILLER: Let’s start at the top, and by that, I mean at the bottom. Tom Gordon, Eddie Guardado, Troy Percival, and Jason Schmidt were all fine players, may have been great human beings as well. Not one, however, deserves to be in the Hall any more than you or me without a ticket. We can dismiss them from consideration now.
On the other hand, someone who’s not such a fine human being, at least in my estimation, does warrant our consideration.
- Key strengths: Roger Clemens is the third best pitcher ever. He trails only Walter Johnson and Cy Young. Assuming a non-strategic ballot, one where I simply vote for the ten best players, Clemens absolutely occupies a spot for me.
- Key flaws: He likely used performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs). He threw a bat at Mike Piazza. He probably lied to Congress, even if he wasn’t convicted. He didn’t like to carry his own bags.
- Key question for voters: For those who ignore PEDs, as I do, there’s no question. For those who don’t, the question is whether or not Clemens deserved the Hall prior to his PED use, which I would suggest began when he went to Toronto. The answer is he did. He had Tom Seaver’s peak and Fergie Jenkins’ career value in Boston alone.
- Something about him I didn’t know before: I didn’t know how much I loathe Clemens. Oh, wait, I knew that.
- Best-case scenario: Moralists will moralize, so there’s not a shot Clemens gets in this election. The best he can do is to stop the vote loss that occurred between 2013 and 2014. Maybe he can get to 40%?
- Worst-case scenario: Maybe he could lose a few more votes and possibly even fall below 30%. That scenario would bode quite poorly for his eventual election, and I don’t think it’ll happen. But it’s possible.
ERIC: Let’s turn to a pitcher who won’t get the Clemens treatment by the BBWAA.
- Key strengths: 300 wins, 4,875 Ks, 4135 innings, a pitching triple crown—who needs advanced metrics?
- Key flaws: He’s a first-timer on the ballot so he won’t be unanimous thanks to some old sticks in the mud.
- Key question for voters: Who’s cooler, him or Pedro?
- Something about him I didn’t know before: Johnson batted righty. Which must have helped him hit his one and only homer against lefty Doug Davis.
- Best-case scenario: Unanimity.
- Worst-case scenario: Pedro miraculously outpolls him, though realistically, RJ feels like he should beat Martinez by seven to ten percentage points.
MILLER: If Johnson beats Pedro by seven percentage points, the voters have made a terrible mistake. There’s no way in hell Pedro should come in below 93%.
- Key strengths: He’s one of the top-20 pitchers ever, maybe one of the top-15; baseball’s most valuable pitcher of the last 20 years other than Randy Johnson.
- Key flaws: I remember people saying he was too skinny and fragile. I don’t know. Maybe that’s still a concern.
- Key question for voters: Is this year’s ballot deep enough that they could deny a vote to an all-time great?
- Something about him I didn’t know before: In the last ten years of his career, he had as many ERA titles as shutouts, two.
- Best-case scenario: He gets the most votes on the ballot and headlines the Hall class of 2015.
- Worst-case scenario: There’s a shot, I suppose, that he doesn’t get in. But given how I see the electorate, I put that as a very small shot. Pedro was better than Tom Glavine, which I think the voters will see. I don’t think he’ll have to sweat the January phone call.
ERIC: But, but, Pedro’s only got 219 wins! Let’s see, RJ 303. Pedro 219. This next guy is nestled in between, so he should be a sure thing….
- Key strengths: 270 Wins, a .638 winning percentage, 123 ERA+, and 83 career WAR
- Key flaws: He had the temerity to go out on top instead of gutting it out to 300 victories. He never won the Cy Young and was rarely perceived as the best pitcher in his league. He won 20 only once.
- Key question for voters: What’s taking you so long? Mussina is basically his generation’s Ferguson Jenkins or Bert Blyleven. Not quite 300 wins in a time of several such pitchers. Jenkins needed three elections but went 52%, 67%, and then in, and the Dutchman…well you know that story. Mussina is stuck in no-man’s land thanks to the overfull ballot, so he’s looking at the Stairway to Blyleven
- Something about him I didn’t know before: On BBREF, Mussina’s .638 winning percentage is 39th all-time among pitchers with 320 games. Nearly every Hall of Famer except Koufax and Dean pitched in 400+ games. With that criterion, Mussina’s winning percentage among Hall starting pitchers would be 10th and among all starting pitchers would be 11th (because Roy Halladay joins the top ten).
- Best-case scenario: John Smoltz is elected. With no outstanding starting pitcher candidates arriving until 2019, he’s got some time to rally support. (And no, in 2018, Johan Santana won’t be taken seriously by the writers.)
- Worst-case scenario: He drops to 10% with three big pitchers now on board plus Bloody Sock and Clemens.
MILLER: And speaking of Bloody Sock…
But first, man, you have so little faith in these voters. There’s just no way that Mussina loses ten percentage points in his second year.
ERIC: Have you checked out Schilling’s percentages in his two seasons?
MILLER: Whoa! That’s something I didn’t know about Schilling, or at least something I’d forgotten. He dropped from 38.8% in his first year to 29.2% last year.
- Key strengths: It’s more than the bloody sock, the dominance of the 2001 playoffs, and the 11-2 record in October. Schilling pitched like an All-Star as many as nine times, and he was a 4-win pitcher for a dozen years. Those who have as many such seasons include Walter Johnson, Cy Young, Roger Clemens, Pete Alexander, Kid Nichols, Tom Seaver, Greg Maddux, Lefty Grove, Warren Spahn, Bert Blyleven, Steve Carlton, Eddie Plank, and Mike Mussina.
- Key flaws: Some voters still care about wins, and they forget that the Hall has elected Dizzy Dean, Addie Joss, Sandy Koufax, Lefty Gomez, Ed Walsh, Dazzy Vance, Rube Waddell, and others.
- Key question for voters: Does voting for the fourth or fifth best pitcher on the ballot makes sense given the strength of offense that’s also up for election?
- Something about him I didn’t know before: Clearly I hadn’t internalized what a tough time he’s going to have getting elected. That’s pretty amazing for the guy with the best K/BB rate of any pitcher with as many as 700 career innings since the mound was moved to 60’6”.
- Best-case scenario: I don’t know. Maybe his best-case is returning to return to his 2013 vote total. That’s pretty awful. But the truth is Schilling’s case is going to be heard for years to come.
- Worst-case scenario: Johnson, Martinez, and Smoltz replace Maddux, Glavine, and Morris, so that doesn’t help him. Pitchers need to clear off the ballot. The worst-case is another decrease in votes that leads to voters moving in another direction in future seasons and him falling off the ballot.
ERIC: These last two ballots have been a beast, something that our next candidate might very well learn.
- Key strengths: Long association with the Octobermatic Braves, Cy Young Award, outstanding October record, team-first move to bullpen, continued awareness thanks to post-career announcing gigs
- Key flaws: “Only” 213 wins, won 20 only once, 16 only two other times
- Key question for voters: Can one really vote for him and not for Schilling or Mussina? The BBWAA has magic powers of logic-twisting that will surely make this possible.
- Something about him I didn’t know before: Schilling is actually Smoltz’s number one most comparable pitcher on BBREF. Yes, there’s a theme emerging here.
- Best-case scenario: Juuuuuuust sneaks by in a squeaker of a four-man election in which he trails Biggio and the two great pitchers.
- Worst-case scenario: He debuts at 40%…just like Schilling did two years ago.
MILLER: We really disagree on how the voters will view Smoltz. I think they’re going to see the third guy in the Maddux, Glavine, Smoltz triumvirate. I think he’ll top 80%.
Let’s now discuss someone who won’t.
- Key strengths: He was baseball’s all-time saves leader from early 1993 until early 2006. And he was intimidating or dominant or whatever other adjective voters want to use to justify a vote.
- Key flaws: He wasn’t that valuable. As relievers go, he has some competition on this ballot even from Tom Gordon. And voters have gotten better about gaudy saves totals, as evidenced by Smith’s fall from over 50% of the vote three years ago to under 30% last year.
- Key question for voters: Will being in the group with Rollie Fingers and Bruce Sutter be enough to garner a vote, or will being in a group with John Franco and Jeff Reardon be enough to deny one.
- Something about him I didn’t know before: Only he and Gene Garber have both 200 saves and 100 intentional walks. Ooh, exciting.
- Best-case scenario: I don’t think there’s any good scenario for Lee Smith and his fans as it pertains to the Hall.
- Worst-case scenario: He drops in his 13th season, in his 14th season, and again in his 15th season on the ballot. The incarnation of the VC that reviews his case sees him for what he was, really good at his craft but not a standout. He never gets a whiff of the Coop.
ERIC: That’s the pitchers, or at least the ones that matter. With six of them being, in our opinion, easy Hall of Famers (or five for the anti-dopers), it’ll be tough for us, let alone the BBWAA to narrow the field. Lucky for us, we won’t have to do that until Wednesday. Unluckily for us, we don’t get to do it for real. In the meantime, see you Monday when we preview the hitters.