This is what should be our favorite time of the year at the Hall of Miller and Eric, the time leading up to the reveal of the BBWAA ballots. Alas, no matter what the results show next Wednesday, we’re going to be disappointed. See, there are fourteen players on this ballot already in the HoME, and there at least a few interesting first-time candidates. Since writers can vote for a maximum of ten players, there’s no mathematical way we won’t be at least a little disappointed.
Then again, four players got in last year, including backlogger Craig Biggio. How many will we get this year? Another four spot, while well shy of ideal, would be oh so satisfying.
But that’s not going to happen, right? And that’s why we have the Hall of Miller and Eric. As we did last year, we’re going to review each of the 32 candidates. Today we’ll take the seven pitchers, and on Monday we’ll discuss the 25 hitters.
Years on ballot: 4
Strengths: Best pitcher since Walter Johnson retired
Flaws: Steroids taint
Key question for voters: Am I still angry at him?
Something about him I didn’t know before: Miller hates this guy’s guts—but not because of steroids
Best-case scenario: He gets to 40%
Worst-case scenario: He drops to 35%
Years on ballot: 1
Strengths: Best hitting pitcher of the DH era
Flaws: Among the worst contracts of the free-agent era
Key question for voters: Was it really the school system that attracted him to Colorado?
Something about him I didn’t know before: He was once traded for failed uberprospect Eric Anthony.
Best-case scenario: Best pitcher who shares a name with a national hotel chain.
Worst-case scenario: He doesn’t get a courtesy vote.
Years on ballot: 1
Strengths: The thing Hoffman has going for him is that the BBWAA is a decade, give or take, behind the brilliant minds currently in the game. See, Brian Cashman knows that innings seven and eight are incredibly important. That’s why he signed Andrew Miller to pitch the ninth and let Dellin Betances set up. Dave Dombrowski knows that it’s not just the ninth inning too. That’s why they’re collecting closers, adding Craig Kimbrel and Carson Smith to Koji Uehara. Yeah, saves are great, and the ninth inning, on average, is more important than the eighth. But we’re still talking about getting three outs in a game that requires 27 of them. Still, Trevor Hoffman saved 601 games. Only Mariano has more. Another strength is that he was a more valuable pitcher than two current Hall closers, Bruce Sutter and Rollie Fingers.
Flaws: He wouldn’t be in the top half of closers in the Hall. Dennis Eckersley, Goose Gossage, and Hoyt Wilhelm were all better. With my reliever adjustments, he’s similar in value to Mark Gubicza and John Candelaria. He’d make the Hall worse.
Key question for voters: Do we really need another closer in the Hall? And if so, can’t we just wait until 2019?
Something about him I didn’t know before: He’s 14th all-time in ERA+. Of course, he trails Mariano, Wilhelm, and Dan Quisenberry on that list. Jim Devlin and Brandon Webb too.
Best-case scenario: He gets in.
Worst-case scenario: He gets in. What might be worse than that is that he gets incredibly close this year, clogging up the ballot for another year or three, and then he gets in.
Years on ballot: 3
Strengths: He’s one of the 30 best pitchers in big league history.
Flaws: The voters think every pitcher they elect should be nearly as good as Walter Johnson.
Key question for voters: Do I think of Ted Lyons was an undeserving Hall of Famer? Now that may seem like a strange question to ask, after all, I’ve never heard one person decry Lyons’ election to the Hall. Lyons, in fact, is pretty much right in the belly among Hall of Fame pitchers. No one mistakes him for Greg Maddux but no one thinks he’s Waite Hoyt either. Well, check this out. We’re looking at pretty traditional stats here. No WAR or FIP or SIERA or anything:
NAME W-L WIN% INN ERA H/9 K/9 BB/9 K/BB ERA+ WHIP ========================================================= LYONS 260-260 .531 4161 3.67 9.7 2.3 2.4 0.96 118 1.348 MOOSE 270-153 .638 3563 3.68 8.7 7.1 2.0 3.58 123 1.192
We all see the same thing, right? Mussina kicks butt. For those disposed to such things, Lyons has 32 points of black ink and 189 of gray. His Hall of Fame monitor is 65. Mussina has 15 for black ink, 250 for gray, and 121 on the monitor. Remembering that it’s harder to get ink in a 30 team league than a 16-team league, Mussina is clearly not worse than Lyons. Right? So being better than a solid Hall of Famer makes a guy…a Hall of Famer. Right? Not according to three-quarters of the BBWAA. What they are smoking I can’t say, but every time we see a ballot that includes Hoffman, Smith, Wagner, Kent, or McGriff and not Moose, I remember that the people doing the actual voting don’t seem to have any logical idea what they are doing. They seem to have no benchmarks even though there are obvious ones in front of them—you know, the Hall’s actual membership. To be honest we can add Walker, McGwire, Sosa, and even Trammell and Edgar to that list above because Mussina is that good of a pitcher. From a mostly trad-stats point of view, and remembering that the Hall includes 62 starting pitchers,:
- His 2813 strikeouts are 19th all time
- His 270 wins are 33rd all time
- His 536 games started are 33rd all time
Now let’s filter out any starting pitcher with fewer innings than Dizzy Dean (1,967, the lowest total innings by a Hall of Fame starter) as well as relievers and active players and look at rates. This leaves us with 404 pitchers:
- His 3.58 K/BB is 13th all time
- His .638 winning percentage is 22nd all time
- His 7.11 K/9 is 40th all time
- His 123 ERA+ is 49th all time
- His 1.98 BB/9 is 53rd all time
Let me also rush to point out that in a lot of categories, pitchers from baseball’s first 50 years dominate due to olde tyme rules about when balls were called and whether a foul ball was a strike, due to the deadball era lowering hit rates and scoring, and also the prevalence of errors in the early game reducing ERAs. Mussina’s high level of excellence despite these indicates exactly what the Ted Lyons comparison suggests. Namely that Mike Mussina is more than well qualified as a Hall of Famer and that his selection would increase the standards of the Hall.
Something about him I didn’t know before: Among pitchers since the DH era began, Mussina ranks in the top 10 in wins (6th), K/BB (6th), winning percentage (7th), BB/9 (8th), and starts (10th). Keep in mind that era includes Clemens, Pedro, Johnson, Maddux, Glavine, Brown, and most of Blyleven’s career, not to mention Stieb, Appier, Hershiser, Finley, Schilling, Santana, Guidry, Halladay, Gooden, Pettitte, Oswalt, Cone, Reuschel, and on and on.
Best-case scenario: He creeps up to 35%.
Worst-case scenario: He stays put.
Years on ballot: 4
Strengths: He was awesome? Is that good enough? Not anymore, I guess.
Flaws: His big mouth—as of this writing, a net of three voters this year have dropped him from their ballots, perhaps his foolish Tweets and loudmouthing on ESPN play some part? That recently invoked character clause, donchaknow.
Key question for voters: What would Bob Gibson or Don Drysdale look like in the modern game? That’s exactly the kind of pitcher Schilling was. He was a tough competitor who for his time completed a lot of games. He struck out hitters by the bushel. He had great postseasons in 2001 and 2004. He was old school. Schilling’s record, in the context of his times when pitchers rarely completed games, when the homerun ruled, and when even outstanding hurlers rarely won 20 games, is just similar to those lions of the deadball, supersize-strike-zone, mound-higher-than-Denali 1960s. Don’t believe it? Schilling led in wins three times, starts three, complete games four, innings twice, strikeouts twice, batters faced twice, WHIP twice, and K/BB five times. Drysdale led in wins once, starts four times, complete games never, innings twice, strikeouts three times, batters faced twice, WHIP once, and K/BB never. Gibson led in wins once, starts never, complete games once, innings never, strikeouts once, batters faced never, WHIP once, and K/BB never. I cherry picked these, of course, but they give you an idea that each in their own times was about as durable, dominant, and effective as the other. And Schilling might even look just a little better. But why would we expect the baseball experts who vote on the Hall to look across generations as they prepare their ballots? Silly us.
Something about him I didn’t know before: Was part of three of the most retrospectively lopsided trades in recent memory. First in 1988, he and Brady Anderson went to Baltimore for a superannuated Mike Boddicker. Then in 1991, he, Pete Harnisch, and Steve Finley were swapped for Houston’s Glenn Davis. In 1992, the Stros dealt him straight up to the Phillies for Jason Grimsley.
Best-case scenario: Gains votes because the high-win starters ahead of him have been elected.
Worst-case scenario: Loses votes to a relief pitcher and ends up at 35%
Years on ballot: 14
Strengths: He’s been on the ballot a really long time, so voters are quite familiar with him. He has twice as many save titles as Hoffman (4-2). He wasn’t always a one-inning closer.
Flaws: He’s the third most valuable reliever on this ballot. His vote totals the last two years have been his lowest in thirteen tries.
Key question for voters: Will voters give him the final year bump next year?
Something about him I didn’t know before: Unless the rules change again, Lee Smith will be the last guy ever to appear on a 15th ballot.
Best-case scenario: The voting world remains in the dark about saves and intimidation for another decade or so, and Smith sneaks in through on the 2022 or 2025 Expansion Era vote.
Worst-case scenario: Smith becomes one of the very few players to ever receive over half of the BBWAA votes (2012) and not make it to the Hall.
Years on ballot: 1
Strengths: He was either injured (2000) or awesome (all other years). Aside from 2000, he never had an ERA above 2.85. Only four times was he above 2.50, and he was below 1.80 in four full seasons, including his last. In the final eight seasons of his career, he posted a 1.99 ERA. That’s over eight years!
Flaws: He was a reliever, and he only threw 903 innings over his career. That’s 13% fewer innings than Bruce Sutter’s Hall low. Also, he was extremely bad in the playoffs, giving up 13 runs in 11.2 innings.
Key question for voters: Will you give Wagner another chance?
Something about him I didn’t know before: Five different times, he gave up as few runs during the regular season as he did during all of his 11.2 playoff innings.
Best-case scenario: He sees another ballot.
Worst-case scenario: His inclusion on this ballot makes people look at his October performance.
Next time, the parade of hitters!